Mean Mr. Mustard

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Cover versions and notes on The Beatles' song "Mean Mr. Mustard".

Provenance
Written By: 
Lennon/McCartney
Year: 
1969
Primary Recording
By: 
The Beatles
On: 
Abbey Road
Lead Vocal: 
John Lennon
Cover Versions
Amazon MP3: 
Image of Mean Mr. Mustard
Manufacturer: Zimsong Productions
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Image of Mean Mr. Mustard/The End
Manufacturer: Salem Mill
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Image of Mean Mr. Mustard
Manufacturer: SubSpace Communications
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Alan W. Pollack's "Notes On"

Notes on "Mean Mr Mustard" (MMM)

KEY	E Major

METER	4/4

FORM	Intro -> Verse -> Verse' (segue al subito)

GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST


Style and Form

- "Mean Mr Mustard" (MMM) is more a "discontinued fragment," than a "bonsai miniature," and I say that without intending any pejorative connotations. In context the song makes an excellent fit of form-to-function. Following on the heels of the more substantial and self-contained previous two songs this one critically needs to pick up the pace and get the show on the road, medley-wise. In this case, the short track length, incomplete form, and the tighter, smoother coupling of the track at both ends to the songs that surround it seem as a group of factors to work out just right.

- The tempo of MMM is essentially identical to that of "Sun King", at least up until the final phrases, but the switch of backbeat from something that lazily flows to a painfully lumbering march that alternates with more syncopated material disguises that fact.

- Amazingly, no matter how awkwardly John is caught up with here, compositionally on the run, so to speak, we find him making the effort, expending the bandwidth to work in odd phrase lengths, more mosaic tiling, and a metric modulation. It's not fair to call this just a throwaway.

 


Melody and Harmony

- The pattering tune is based almost entirely on the downward melodic motif of a step followed by a third. The first phrase uses the motif in a scalebased downward sequence. Balancing upward motion is provided in the other two phrases by presenting the motif from a variety of higher locations in the scale.

- Only four different chords are used, with the predictable I and V being supplemented by flat IV and flat VII, both of which are arguably borrowed here from the "natural" parallel minor mode of the home key.

 


Arrangement

- The backing track is dominated by bass, drums, and guitars and is mastered as a bit of a wall of sound, at least by Beatles standards. Note especially the extra measure of heft provided by Paul's often playing a pair of eighth notes on the downbeats of his tuba-like bass part instead of a plain quarter note.

- Shades of a relatively earlier period of the group, we find a tambourine that waits until measure 4 to enter but then stays through for the duration.

- John has the ADT lead vocal to himself for the start of the first verse with Paul harmonizing with him at the 3rd starting in the final phrase and staying on with it for the remainder.

SECTION-BY-SECTION WALKTHROUGH


Intro

- Two beats of snare drum preceded by a tiny grace note roll leverage the second half of SK's final measure to start this one. It's not much of an "intro" per se but it does clevery manage to bridge the two songs literally without missing a beat.

- The link between "...Money" and SK, based on a long fadeout of the first of the two songs, is much less determinate by contrast.

 


Verse

- The verse is an unusual 14 measure paragraph whose inner structure is 4 + 6 + 4:

      |E		|-		|-		|-		|
E:     I

                   1 2 3& 4  &|1	   1 2 3&  4 &|1
bass:             |B    C C# D|-    	  |-    C# C B|-          |
      |B          |-          |D          |-          |B          |-          |
       V                       flat VII                V


      |E	C	|B		|E	C	|B		|
       I        flat VI  V               I      flat VI  V

- The first four-measure phrase is composed straight through though it is based on the sequencing of a motif. The other two phrases are tiled; the middle one A-B-A and the final one C-C.

- The bassline in the middle phrase makes a syncopated up and down chromatic approach to the D chord in the middle and the following B chord at the end, placing the arrival of those two chords just before their downbeats, and thus drawing added attention to the harmonic cross relations created by the chord changes.

- The cross relation idea is further developed in the third phrase by the use of flat VI.

 


Verse'

- The second verse is musically identical to the first one except for a straightforward but still quite clever metrical modulation in the third phrase. John was no stranger to odd time signatures or throwing an oddly metered measure or two into the middle of a song. But here we find something much more like the metrical gear shifting demonstrated by George in "I Me Mine" and "Here Comes the Sun".

- In this song, with the underlying eighth note pulse held constant, the meter shifts from 4/4 into 6/8 for the final four measures. As a result, the chords change ever three eighth note pulses instead of every four. This creates a double-edged time warp kind of acceleration effect:

    - The chord changes suddenly increase in frequency for the last line of the current song.

    - Furthermore the 3/8 harmonic rhythm is smoothly leveraged as the new (and faster) duration of a half measure (== 4/8) for the following song. As a result, what starts in MMM as a tempo where the half note = 60, is then seemlessly upshifted to half note = 80 for "Polythene Pam". Run the arithmetic details on your own and call me in the morning if you still have a headache :-).

- The transition out of MMM into PP is even more tightly coupled than the inbound one from SK. Here, the bassline of the final measure uses the famliar chromatic upward lick to land on a D Major chord which in this case triggers the double plagal cadence that begins the next song:

                4  5  6   1  2  3   4    1 ....
bass:           B  C  C# 
        |B		 D	A	|E ....
         V                flat VII IV    I

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

- There's a couple of early runthroughs of MMM dating from the Twickenham film sessions of 1/70 worth chasing down. If nothing else they are tantalizingly suggestive yet inconclusive with respect to the questions of when was it that John decided to leave MMM in its apparently fragmentary state, and when did he first conceive of MMM and PP as immediate siblings.

- Both outtakes feature the two verses we're familiar with. Where the first one actually goes into a IV -> I based chorus using the song title for lyrics, the second one merely continues with a third verse section with John scat singing instead of singing words. It's tempting to conclude from this that the song, indeed, never existed in any form that is substantively longer than what we know as the official version.

- As far as the PP connection goes, neither of these MMM outtakes features the metrical modulation. And my favorite detail: both outtakes name the Mean One's sister as "Shirley." Again it's tempting to conclude from this that even if PP was in works as a song at this early date, John had no thoughts yet of linking it with this one.

- On the other hand, as any fan of John's studio personna as manifested on countless bootlegs and anthologies would likely agree, even if PP already did exist at this time AND he was already talking about linking it with MMM, the "Shirley" references would be an ever so typical example of his being comically peverse. So much for conclusions.

Regards,

Alan (awp@world.std.com)

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"A proper little Aborigine."                                 122699#186

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                Copyright (c) 1999 by Alan W. Pollack
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