Notes on "Nowhere Man" (NM)
KEY E Major
FORM Verse -> Verse -> Bridge ->
Verse (Guitar Solo) -> Verse -> Bridge ->
Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Outro (w/complete ending)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- "Nowhere Man" (NM) remains a pioneering landmark example of what,
within less than a year or so of its release, would be labelled
as the "folk rock" sub-genre. Aside from the topical relevance of
its lyrical theme, and in spite of the electric arrangement and
pop-ish choice of chords, an ingenuously simple tune and non-
syncopated beat help create a subtle fusion of styles.
- The form of this song is unusually long with its three bridges and
a double verse in between the first two of them. In all our studies
to date I don't believe we've yet seen another example with a third
repeat of the bridge.
Melody and Harmony
- Superficially, the melodic material of the song is straight away
in the Major mode. However, one's interest in the tune is piqued
on a more subtle level by a combination of the large number of
appoggiaturas, the pseudo pentatonic nature of the bridge, and
the prominent role given to the flat 6th scale degree (C natural)
in the backing vocals.
- The flat 6th also bears some influence on the harmony, "forcing",
as it were, the appearance of one of John's much favored minor iv
chords in the context of a Major key.
- A relatively small number of chords are used throughout, most of
them being simple choices to boot. Aside from the minor iv
chord already mentioned, the other point of harmonic interest here
is found in the unusual iii -> IV progression; uncannily, the last
time we had seen it used was in (no coincidence) a song by the
same composer called
"I Feel Fine". (And I do :-)).
- The instrumental texture is thick with the sound of electric guitars
in a way that is rather anticipatory if not actually influenced by
The Byrds or even The Wilburys :-). Paul provides an almost
hyperactively arpeggiated marching bassline. And Ringo's drumwork
remains uncharacteristically undifferentiated throughout.
- It is the vocals however which truly stand out in this arrangement,
making it one of their more ambitious though relatively uncelebrated
forays into three-part singing. The a cappella opening itself is
unprecendented, (though I wonder if I'm the only one who finds that
when instruments come in at the fifth measure the singers sound
retrospectively as though they had been slightly off key).
- Also note how the chorale-like style of the verses is modified in the
bridges to a solo-plus-two-backers-doing-"lalas" (reminiscent of
"You Won't See Me"). In the current song,
this switch nicely supports the
change in the lyrics at the point from speaking in the third person
to a direct address of the title's typological anti-hero.
- The verse is only eight measures long and is made up of three phrases,
the last one of which is equal in length to the sum of the first two:
----- #1 ----- ------ #2 ---- -------------- #3 -------------
|E |B |A |E |A |a |E |- |
E: I V IV I IV iv I
- The melody of this verse makes for an ironic contrast with the
hook phrase of "Norwegian Wood" that we looked at so closely last
time. Although both tunes share the downward traversal of an octave
as their common backbone, the manner in which the octave is filled
out here is both melodically and rhythmically much plainer than
the other song; even a bit simpleminded by comparison. Also worth
considering is that the octave run in
"Norwegian Wood" is based
on the 5th scale degree whereas in our current song it is based
on the tonic 1st degree of the scale.
- I would suggest that it is this certain blandness in the tune
itself which allows our hook-thirsty attention to be diverted to
the little guitar riff which trails every verse section. This riff
also happens to traverse a downward octave (one based on the 5th
scale degree) and its rhythmic syncopation and fanfare like
arpeggiation nicely contrasts with the tune and at the same
time resonates with the bassline.
- The guitar solo verse further develops the characteristics of
this little riff and concludes with a surprising gesture in which
a sudden deep descent all the way down to the low, open E string
is capped off by a ringing, harmonic high E.
- Because of the F# in the melody on the downbeat of measure 5, there
is a part of me that might want to parse the chord in that measure
as a ii6/5 instead of IV with an added 6th. It's moot to the extent
that both such chords function synonomously as subdominants.
- The bridge is also eight measures in length and breaks down into
a phrasing pattern similar to the verse, except that the first two
short phrases here are identical, and even the longer third phrase is
merely an extension of the material heard in the first two:
------------- 2X --------------
tune: |B C# |E F# G# B |B B |E D# C# B |
chords: |g# |A |g# |A |
iii IV iii IV
tune: |C# B G# B |- |
chords: |- |B |
- Appropriate bridge-like contrast is provided by a number of factors.
The melodic shape of this section is arch-like for a change, and
harmonically, the start of this section away from I with a big
finish on V that sets up the verse which follows.
- The sustaining of the A chord through measure 7 provides a subtly
slow syncopation to the harmonic rhythm. To my ears, the bassline
of the first bridge is played differently than the other two,
creating some confusion as to whether the chord in measures 6 - 7
is actually A or f#, but both other bridges make a clear case for A.
- A comparatively large amount of dissonance between melody and chords
is created in this bridge by a tendency in the tune to dwell on
melodic notes which more properly belong to the chord that either
precedes or follows the current one. This melodic effect is
so pronounced that it combines with the already mentioned syncopation
in the harmonic rhythm to create the illusion of a dissonant 4-3
suspension in the backing voices at the end of this section, whereas
no such suspension actually exists!
- The outro contains a Beatles-trademark triple repeat of the verse's
final phrase. The guitar hook, as might be expected, is given
the absolutely last word.
- Paul vocally upstages the others in this coda, crying out loudly
with the melodic flat 6th placed high in his range.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- Even if the lyrics here aren't quite the likes of Dylan (or even
Barry McGuire :-)), it's worth recalling, at the risk of sounding
like it's a case of damning with faint praise, that the mere *fact*
of The Beatles essaying something this outspoken at this juncture
of their career was historically remarkable.
- For myself, there is a slightly uncomfortable preachiness about these
lyrics that one tends to associate more with George than John. Even
one of the more clever tag lines -- "isn't he a bit like you and
me" -- which in theory ought to have blunted some of the exhortatory
tone with it's well-needed dose of self-inclusive deprecation, still
strikes me as a bit forced and awkward.
- The title epithet, though, is, no question, still unabashedly worth
the entire price of admission. If neccessary, you can give it to
me, straight on the shoulder; or anywhere else for that matter.
"Jeremy Hillary Boob, Ph.D." 033093#79
Copyright (c) 1993 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and
otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains
intact and in place.
>- "Nowhere Man" (NM) remains a pioneering landmark example of what,
> within less than a year or so of its release, would be labelled
> as the "folk rock" sub-genre.
Whoops! I should've known better ...
I've already received a couple of letters in response
pointing out that I've been discovered with my chronological
pants down, so to speak.
Dylan's electric-set-induced fiasco at the Newport Folk
Festival, indeed, was during the summer of '65. I'm doubly
embarrassed to admit that I was one of his early fans that
was rather disappointed in him at the time; oy! Such
phenomena as the cover of his "Mr. Tambourine Man" by
The Byrds were to follow very shortly if they did not
acutally appear in parallel with the release of "Bringing
It All Back Home."
THEREFORE, in truth I should alter the stance of my Note
to acknowledge that while "Nowhere Man" remains an unusual
stylistic venture for the Beatles per se, by itself it
did not so much define the folk rock style of its time
as much as stylize it.
Flame away, anyway!!
"Oh, by all means; I'd be quite prepared for that eventuality."