Notes on "Doctor Robert" (DR)
KEY B Major
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Refrain ->
Verse -> Refrain -> Verse/outro (into fadeout)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- While "Doctor Robert's" most conspicuous claim to infamy may be
its oblique-yet-obvious reference to recreational drug usage, it is
musically most interesting for its harmonic/home-key trickery.
- I am also quite fond of the incongruity of the Christmas-Carol type of
arrangement given to the refrain, but I reiterate that the game played
here with the home key is (IMHO, of course) one of John's more daring
experiments with harmony this side of
"Strawberry Fields Forever",
"I Am The Walrus".
You might want to think of it as an "harmonic
hallucination," that (intentinally placed here for this reason or
not) is ironic in context of the song's lyrics.
- The lyrics make constant wordplay with the title phrase; mostly
as an interjection at the end of lines, but also, for the sake
of avoiding foolish consistency, you find it surprisingly fitting
in within the flow of the narrative just once in a while, and,
best of all, you also find it popping up at the start of lines,
where you'd least expect it.
- Overall, the song feels a bit "slight" in terms of its short form,
lack of an instrumental break, and no variation of the arrangement
later than the first refrain. It's interesting to contemplate
how one's perception of the "size" of a song is related as much
to matters of formal and instrumental complexity, as it is to
Melody and Harmony
- In the final analysis, I believe that B Major clearly asserts itself
as the home key of this song, but that opening on the A chord, which
is sustained so nonchalantly for a full eight measures, has a funny way
of getting things off to a tonally equivocal start.
- True, you *can* establish a sense of home key by droneful insistance of
a single chord, but one of the hallmarks of so-called "Western/Tonal"
music is the establishment of home keys by virtue of chord progressions.
In this song, the first real cadence in the song is the one to B Major
towards the end of the verse, and though as it unfolds it feels somewhat
like a modulation to B from A, I truly believe that one retrosepctively
interprets the A Major chord as flat-VII of B!
- The backing arrangement features a relatively rich mixture of
instruments, though the recording of it, to quote Lewisohn, is
rather "gimmick free." BTW, I hear no piano in the mix, regardless
of what ML says.
- There's some staggered layering in the arrangement. For example,
the backing vocals start in the second verse, and the lead guitar
overdubs commence just before the bridge. The bridge nicely
contrasts with the verses by virtue of the added harmonium and
the lush vocals mixed to sound like more than just 2 or 3 Beatles
- By the same token nothing new is introduced past the mid-point,
and given the group's solid track record in the area of avoiding
foolish consistency, it feels like a bit of a letdown when they
don't do it. In contrast, consider the value added in the final
verse of a song like
"We Can Work It Out" where, in the same place
where there always *was* a syncopated kick in the rhythm, they execute
the phrase in rather perversely equal eighth notes.
- John's lead vocal sounds automatically double tracked with each
of the two slightly-out-of-phase tracks split onto separate stereo
channels; this is a surrealistic "effect" we saw earlier in the
- The intro is a simple four-measure vamp on the A Major chord which,
at this point of the song, you'd think is the I, rather than the flat
- The most significant thing about this intro is the way the lead
guitar part introduces the 4->3 appoggiatura motif that shows up
later in both the verse and the bridge.
- The verse sounds like a relatively four-square, four-phrase song
section, but there's a rhetorical blip added to the third phrase
which pushes the total section length up to 18 measures:
-------------- 2X ---------------
|A |- |- |- |
|F# |- |- |- |- |- |
|E |F# |B |- |
IV V I
- The 4->3 melodic motif shows up here in the third phrase, on
the syllables, "bet-ter" and "un-der"(stand).
- The refrain sounds like a predictable eight-measure, two-phrase song
section, but very similarly to the verse, it rhetorically rounds itself
out to an unusual ten measures, the final two of which ellide with
the start of the next verse.
|B |- |E |B |
I IV I
|B |- |E |- |A |- |
- The E Major chord of the first phrase sounds unequivocally
like IV, but in the second phrase it sounds rather like the
"V-of-flat-VII;" think about it ...
- The 4->3 motif here is found on the second of the three "well,
- The official track is mastered to sound as though it were a typical
fadeout ending, but if you listen carefully, it appears that the take
in the studio may have broken down just where the track is quickly
faded. Note how when they reach the F# chord in this final verse,
the vocals drop out and the rhythm track moves back to B long
before 6 measures of F# have elapsed.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- Something subtle but nice was lost when "Doctor Robert" was pulled
from the American _Revolver_ album.
- "For No One" is in the key of B.
- "I Want To Tell You" is in the key of A.
- "Doctor Robert" is in the key of B, but it tries to trick you into
thinking it might be at least partially in the key of A.
- As such, it effects an interesting harmonic transition between the
the songs which surround it. Alas, when you put the song on _Yesterday
and Today_, the effect is lost.
"Well, not your real opinion, naturally. It'll be written out and
you'll learn it." 030595#100
Copyright (c) 1995 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
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