Notes on "Glass Onion" (GO)
KEY a minor
FORM Verse -> Refrain -> Verse -> Refrain ->
Bridge -> Verse -> Refrain -> Outro (fadeout)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- In spite of its short length, compact form, frugal material, and
casual production values, this talking-blues/patter-song packs a
suprising amount of novelty, especially in its underlying musical
- The form has a schematic stick-figure feeling about it. This is
caused by the lack of an intro, the almost completely unrelieved
series of verse/refrain pairs, and the way in which musical phrases are
immediately repeated in each of those sections. The non-sequitor outro
serves to counteract what otherwise could have been a fatal complacency.
Melody and Harmony
- As is common in bluesy tunes that are set in a minor key, the tune
here leans heavily on the flat 5th scale degress, which coincides
with the (Eb) top note of the F7 chord.
- The harmony throughout is restless and meandering, never clearly
coming to a point. You could almost claim that the song is "atonal,"
not in the sense of being 12 tone music, but because it is without
a clearly defined home key.
- 'A' minor asserts itself as home key even though you'll search in
vain for any clear cadences (V-I, IV-I) that officially establish
it as such. Okay, you've got flat VII - I implied by the way in
which the start of each new verse is set up, but that's a relatively
tenuous way in which to define the home key.
- A small though strange group of chords is used; in order of their
appearance: a, F7, g, C, and D7. Only 'a' and 'C' are diatonically
indigenous to a minor. The F chord almost would be, *if* it weren't
sporting that flat 7th. The g minor chord taken in concert with
C Major points in the direction of a modulation to F Major.
Similarly, the D7 hints at a modulation to the key of G, though
the arrival on G can be ambiguously taken as a V chord hint at
a modulation to the key of C. I *told* you the sense of home
key was at least *slightly* unclear!
On an otherwise somewhat heavily overdubbed and indistinct backing
track with a double-tracked lead vocal and shaking tambourine, several
details are worth your straining to hear:
- The opening 3-4-!1! drum motif used throughout but mixed the
first time around with the reverb split onto the left track.
- The glissando of bowed strings every time the g minor -> C chord
progression appears; shades of the fireman's bell in
- A phantom wisp of falsetto backing vocal at the very end of the
- An electric piano glissando near the end of the bridge.
- A palpable instant of deafining clean silence in between the end
of the bridge and the start of the final verse.
- The way in which the The Fool On The Hill's
recorder lick is delayed
until the phrase *after* it is mentioned, and the phantom continuation
of it that can be barely heard mixed way the hell back in the phrase
- The verse has an unusual length of 9 measures. The third phrase
is one measure longer than the others, though all four are at least
loosely related to each other. I'd call the poetic pattern "(AA)
(A'A'') because the first two phrases *are* identical and the
last two phrases, while derived from the first one, are more
closely related to each other even though they do not make
quite an identical pair.
--------------- 2X --------------
|a G |F7 G |
a: i VI
|a |g7 |C |
i ii-of-VI V-of-VI
|g7 |C |
- The harmony leans heavily toward a modulation to F but never quite
- The early outtake of this song heard on Anthology 3 makes explcit
a G chord on the final beat of measures 1 & 2, though this is not
so clear on the official version.
- The refrain is only 6 measures long with an AAA' phrasing pattern
in which the final phrase differs from the previous two only in the
way it harmonically leads to G instead of D:
--------------- 2X --------------
|F7 |D7 |
VI V-of-flat VII
|F7 |G |
VI flat VII
- The bridge is 10 measures long, 8 of which are played over
a pedal harmony on a, and the final two of which echo the
middle voice|E |- |F |- |
chords |a |- |- |- |
|F# |- |G |- |
|- |- |- |- |
|F7 |G |
VI flat VII
- The chromatically rising middle voice develops your sense of
expectation over the course of the pedal point, though really
it's a bit of a tease; there's nothing in the way of harmonic
"progression" going on behind the building suspense.
- There is something ironic in the way this bridge relieves the
surrounding montony of verse refrain section pairs even though
the bridge, per se, only serves to reiterate and intensify the
same overall mood of the piece. You'll notice that John pulls
essentially the same stunt in "Dear Prudence".
- The final eight measures overlap with the downbeat of the final
measure of the refrain and present the followings strange chromatic
chord stream of dominant 7ths repeated twice into a fadeout during
which the tape is treated to an increasing amount of wow and/or
1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1
|G F7 |- E7 Eb7 |D7 |- Eb7 E7 |
- Just like the surprise ending in a good mystery novel, the
ending here works as effectively as it does, not because it
*appeared* totally out of the blue, but precisely because, on
later reflection, it only *seemed* to have done so.
The chord progression outlined at the end by the string ensemble
turns out to be the refrain opening in slight disguise, and the
glissando execution of chords was anticpated earlier in the second
half of the verses.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- Lewisohn describes this song as John's goofing on "those despised
people who dissected his lyrics ...," but I think you could also
call it self-parody in equal measure. While this one is certainly
not as heavily invested as, say,
"Strawberry Fields ..." or
you cannot help notice that several of the same
techniques and gestures made famous by those songs are found
here as well.
"Dig it to me! Dog it to me! Hot brown cow!" 071497#132
Copyright (c) 1997 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
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