Notes on "Dear Prudence" (DP)
KEY D Mixolydian Major
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge ->
Verse -> Verse' -> Outro (fadeout)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- Here we've got another fine example of how John took that same
droney aesthetic with which George was so enthralled and went
much further with it in terms of synthetic creativity. George
may have felt both isolated and patronized by Lennon&McCartney
as a songwriting team and one some level; just because you're
rejection sensitive it doesn't mean they're not really out to
ignore you :-) However, I suspect that on an individual basis,
John at least took note of, and more than a passing interest in
George's musical preoccupations. Granted, this interest didn't
yield much in the way of direct collaboration; "Cry For A Shadow"
is something of a fluke, after all. But in terms of the more subtle
question of indirect influence and inspiration, the common thread
that runs through the likes of
"Tomorrow Never Knows,";
and the subject of this specific study is intruiging.
- "Dear Prudence" has not only a static harmonic profile, but even a
formally flat floorplan; a steady stream of harmonically identical
verses interrupted only once at the formal mid-point by a simple
bridge which, itself, is as harmonically single-minded as the rest
of the song.
- The impressive accomplishment is that such a satisfying
build up of tension and its release is achieved In Spite Of All
Stasis :-). The challenge is to create a sense of build up without
relying much at all on either harmony or melody. Instead, the
strategy is to carefully sustain an atmosphere within which texture
and dynamic crescendo are developed over the long run.
Melody and Harmony
- The tune is pentatonic in a style quite typical for John; the
4th and 7th notes of the scale are completely avoided, and the
melodic material comes in the form of rhetorically repeated
motifs, rather than in a more broadly spun out arch.
- The harmony is largely played out over a pedal tone on D. It's
the complete avoidance of the melodic 7th combined with the flat VII
harmonies that creates the Mixolydian modal feel.
- The piece is characterized by two ostinato patterns which, once
heard, stay under your skin forever. The first is an inverted cuckoo
clock motif that appears throughout as though part of the aural
wallpaper, plucked on the lead guitar near the bridge to give it
a distinctive tone that is somehow piercingly metallic even when
played mezzo-piano. The second is a semi-chromatic downward-walking
tenor voice played on the bass guitar.
- The arrangement is layered and coreogrgaphed with even more than
the the usual amount of care typically lavished by the Beatles on
such things at this point of the career. The overall gameplan
is one of starting off soto voce but becoming continually louder
and more intense, only to restore the sotto voce for the outro:
- Intro: just guitar and bass
- 1st verse: add lead vocal, bass note played on the 3rd beat of
the measure; add drums in the second half in which the bassline does
the stylistically Baroque trick of outlining both pedal bass and
walking tenor voice.
- 2nd verse: "all skate;" bassline continues the Baroque trick from
the start; backing vocals in the second half provide a sustained
chord sung in surreal falsetto,
- Break: add the unique appearance of male chorus in background singing
a mantra at first in imitation of the lead vocal, but which in the
final phrase becomes block chords sung in a glissando *with* the
- 3rd verse: as in verse 2, but add more guitar overdubs and handclaps.
- Final verse: as in verse 3, but add electric piano and much louder
drumming; and stretch out the harmonic rhythm for the "crux" phrase.
- Outro: a sudden reprise of the quiet intro. This is a very
nice matching bookends effect ("You're missing a great effect! :-)),
though you should compare it with coda of "Hey Jude" where the caravan
really does pass s-l-o-w-l-y. Here in DP, it rather turns a corner
and is quickly become history.
- The song opens with an intro to the intro; four measures of
drone harmony over which the lead guitar works slowly down
a scale that is ornamented by the cuckoo clock motif that
is one of the fixed ideas of the piece.
(F#) fade-in ...
|... E |D C |B A |G G |
|D |- |- |- |
|F# D F# D|F# DF# D|F# ...
|A C |B Bb |A
|D |- |-
- The cross fade of jet plane noise from the previous track obscures
the first two beats of this intro, but those two beats must be there,
"by implication," if nothing else.
- The predominating pedal tone makes you experience what otherwise
might be labelled a Roman numeral progression of
"I -> V7-of-IV -> IV -> iv -> I" more a matter of the the
upper voices "harmonizing" with the tenor voice that walkingly
descends the semi-chromatic cliche of D->C->B->Bb->A. I believe
this feeling persists even when, in the second half of the song,
the bassline begins to carry off the descent without continued
reference to the pedal tone.
- Contrast this with the very different effect created by the same
cliche as it is used in
"Magical Mystery Tour;" the major differences
being that in MMT the cliche always appears in the bassline (not tenor
the voice) and the harmonic terminus of the line is the V chord,
not just a direct cycling back to I.
- The verse section is 14 measures long with a phrasing pattern of
AA'B that is rounded out by an additional instrumental repeat of
the 2-bar ostinato; the latter being what I call the musical
equivalent of a mechanical washer:
----------------------------- 2X ------------------------------
|D C |B Bb |A C |B Bb |
|D |- |- |- |
----------- the crux ------------
|A C |B Bb | **rapdily walking bass ...
|D |- |- |C G |
|A C |B Bb |
|D |- |
- The only place in this section where the harmony explicitly moves
off the one chord is last measure of the third phrase, where a
suddenly very active bassline accompanies the familiar "Hey Jude"
- Both ostinato figures take a rest during the bridge though the
harmony remains static.
- The bridge is an unusual 5 and a half measures long and contains
three short phrases that make an AAB pattern; kind of like the verse
but in miniature. Yet another washer-like repeat of the ostinato
intervenes before the next verse.
|D |- |- |- |
-- ostinato resumes
|A C |B Bb |
|F |G |D |- |
flat-III IV I
- By funny coincidence, the same I -> flat-III -> IV progression
which sounds so haunting in this context turns out to be the same
one used to different effect in the previous song, BITU.
- The final verse provides several climax-underscoring gestures:
- The crux phrase (only!) is stretched out to twice it's usual
length by a double of the harmonic rhythm.
- This elongated phrase is accompanied by a rising series of
arpgeggions on the lead guitar; an extremely "classical" gesture,
I dare say.
- The two-measure "washer" phrase merely sustains the I chord without
embellishment this last time to lead, all the more smoothly into the
- If you had any doubt about my comment re: the missing-but-implied
F# at the start of the intro, do note how it *does* show up for the
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- The static quality of the music underscores both the sense of the
lyrics and the gist of the story which underlies them. You'll know
what I mean if you have ever tried to encourage, cajole or convince
someone you care about to detach themselves from someone or something
to whom (or which) they are self-destructively stuck.
"... sooner or later, she was to go completely beserk under the care of
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ..." 063097#131
Copyright (c) 1997 by Alan W. Pollack
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