Notes on "If I Fell" (IIF)
KEY D Major
FORM Intro -> Verse (original) -> Verse+extension -> Verse+extension ->
Verse (original) -> Outro (w/complete ending)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- This one was one of the most soulful songs L&M had yet written at
the time of its initial release, and the harmonic card trick contained
in its intro remains one of their most clever and daring ever.
- The form is also unusual. Instead of a discrete bridge or refrain
section, formal contrast is provided by a bridge-like extension that
grows directly out of each of the inner two verses.
Melody and Harmony
- The melody, though punctuated now and then by a leap or two, moves
primarily in step-wise fashion and contains a couple of extended
upward runs; the latter in spite of the theme of "falling" contained
in the lyrics.
- The motif of step-wise, scalar motion is curiously carried
forward in the harmony, as well, with the repeated use of the
I->ii->iii chord-stream. The harmony carries with it a strong flavor
of jazzy bittersweetness, largely the result of the prominence given
to the minor iv chord and the deployment of a pungent 7/9 chord at the
climactic point where the verse extension commences.
- The intro actually starts off in a different key (D flat Major)
from the body of the song, though as we'll see, this is not at all
immediately clear to one's ears as it unfolds in real time. Not
surprisingly, given such a tonally disorienting opening, the rest of
the song stays very closely rooted to the home key without the
slightest hint of a modulation.
- John solos in the intro, but the rest of the song finds Paul in
the lead with John singing harmony below him in their inimitably funky
style in which they sneak in those open fourths and fifths where you
least expect them. The overall melodic range is relatively wide,
though outside of the intro which is placed in John's baritone range,
Paul's lead remains on the high end of his own spectrum.
- The contrapunctal aspect of this particular vocal arrangement is
somewhat disguised by the rhythmically placid context and the
afore-mentioned predominance of step-wise motion in both parts. The
disguise is so successful that, if anything, you walk away with the
impression that the arrangement is more of a chordal setting for three
parts in the manner of "Yes It Is", but the
truth is that there is no vocal part here for George; just John and
Paul huddled, according to Lewisohn, closely around the same mike.
- The intro is eight measures long and built out of two parallel phrases
equal in length:
|e-flat |D (natural) |D-flat |b-flat |
D-flat: ii flat-II I vi
|e-flat |D (natural) |e7(natural) |A |
D: I ii V
- Quite unusually for L&M, we find here an old fashioned kind
of intro in the style of, say, Gerswhin or Porter. It's fully
developed as a section unto itself with material not heard in the
remainder of the song, and set-off from what follows by a different
texture in the instrumental backing track; examples of the latter
include John's four-in-the-bar rhythm guitar strumming punctuated on
the downbeats by George, and Ringo's delayed entrance until the verse.
- The harmonic shape of this section is another story entirely; hardly
at all "old fashioned" and rather both ingenious and clumsy at the same
time. At the very start you pretty much assume that the opening chord
(e-flat minor) is the i chord of the home key but as the music free-falls
first through D Major and then continues down to D-flat Major, you're
no longer so sure about that; in fact, for a couple measures, you're
totally lost and out to sea -- go ahead and admit it, it's good for
your soul :-).
- It's only after we come back to the e-flat chord in measure 5 that you
quite regain your bearings, only now, this e-flat chord feels much more
like a ii in relationship to the D-flat chord of the previous measure.
The real coup is in the way in which the second time around, the music
makes an harmonic pivot, using the same D Major chord that had appeared
more or less in passing during the first phrase, now as the I of the
actual home key of the song.
- This verse is ten measures long and breaks down into two parallel
four-measure phrases that are followed by a two-measure connector
which leads us back to the next verse:
mm. 1 - 4, 5 - 8
-------------------------------- 2X ------------------------------
|D e |f# f-nat. |e7 |A |
D: I ii iii flat-iii ii V
mm. 9 - 10
|D |g A |
I iv V
- On a subtle level, a kind of circular harmonic "open-ness" is another
unifying motif of the song in that both sung phrases of this verse, as
well as the connector, end on the V chord. For that matter, so does the
bridge-like extension below.
- The chord on the fourth beat of measure 3, which I've provisionally
labelled as "flat-iii diminished" is more accurately described without
any kind of 'roman numeral' as one of those chords that is the incidental
result of linear motion of the various parts as they transition between
the chords on either side of it:
"heart to you ..."
Paul: C# B | D
John: A G# G-natural
Bass: F# F-nat. E
- Note the vocal open 5th in the above example, as well as the similar
open 4th at the beginning of measures 9.
- The minor iv makes its quiet, first appearance in the final measures of
this section and it too recurs throughout the song.
Verse + extension
- The first eight measures of this alternate verse section are identical
to the original verse, but we find a new extension here starting in
measure 9 that's an asymmetrical seven measures long:
|D7/9 |- |G |
I ..... V-of-IV IV
|g |- |D |A7 |
iv I V
- One's sense of D Major as the home key remains crystal clear but is made
quite ironically bittersweet by some of the chord choices and the way they
are orchestrated; e.g. the yearning stretch in the vocals required for the
D7/9, and the small shift by John from B-natural to B-flat (on the words
"and I") in order to ominously change that Major IV to a minor iv,
accompanied as it is by Paul's literally trembling voice the second
- The phrase "sad if our new love" contains an unusual melodic
cross-relation between the F-natural (on the word "our") and the F#
two words later on "love." Also look out for the way that John, after
singing most of this phrase in parallel thirds with Paul, breaks out
of the pattern with a slide from E all the way down to A on the
downbeat of measure 14.
- The final verse is essentially identical to the initial one though it
leads into a brief coda. The open 4th in measure 9 is repeated here
again, though after the intervening general lushness of the texture,
it sounds hauntingly hollow coming as the final word.
- The coda, a terse, touching echo of the "sad if our new love" phrase,
provides the lead guitar with its solitary moment in the limelight. And
then the song gently ends on a surprisingly reverberated single chord.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- The lyrics are deceptively simply and full of elliptical, ambiguous
word play so typical of John's best work. Examples abound -- the
dangling question ("[would you] help me understand ?" -- understand
what ??), the use of "to/too/two" in close proximity to each other,
and the non-sequitur of the second repeat of the verse extension
("'cos I couldn't stand the pain") when it follows the line "she will
cry when she learns ..."
- But beneath the mere cleverness of it all, what makes this song
so potent is the desparate vulnerability it manifests; a veritable
obsession with the subjunctive "iffy-ness" of love, described as a
state in which people might run and hide and pride be hurt. For me
though, the greatest ambiguity of all here is in the tension between
the hero's begging for love's being requited on the one hand, while at
the same time holding back from freely offering it for fear of being
rejected. Is this ingenuous realism, such a lot of chutzpah, or
likely a bit of both ?
Alan (firstname.lastname@example.org OR uunet!huxley!awp)
"You won't interfere with the basic rugged concept of me personality,
will you, madam ?" 030192#50
Copyright (c) 1992 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
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