Notes on "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da" (OO)
KEY B Major
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Refrain -> Verse -> Refrain ->
Bridge -> Verse -> Refrain ->
Bridge -> Verse -> Refrain -> Outro (w/complete ending)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- The charming effect of this upbeat number is nicely enhanced by
its apparently spontaneous, come-as-you-are production values. Those
characteristic overdubbed Beatlesque details seem much more randomly
applied here than usual.
- The form feels on the long side, though if you take in the Verse &
Refrain as a single unit, the whole thing reduces down to the so-called
shorter two-bridge model; with only one section coming between the bridges.
Melody and Harmony
- The untroubled mood of the lyrics is carried through to the musical
fabric, with its comfortably singlable tune, even phrase lengths, and
straightforward chord choices.
- Melodically, we find sophisticated compund arches deployed in
the verse, balanced activity between chord outlines and stepwise
motion in the refrain, and predominating arpeggios in the bridge.
- Only four different chords are used, all of which are common
and indigenous to the home key: the old I, IV, V, plus vi.
- The track is predominated by the double-tracked lead, a limping
bassline, and some drums. Many other effects, whose particular
detailed itenrary I leave for you to trace, come and go:
- Handclaps and drums, which stagger onto the intro.
- Backing voices, which appear for the first time in the
- Vocalized noises, such as "chick, chick, chick, chick ...,"
which appear in the second verse.
- Backing voices, singing "la-la-la-la" in the second refrain,
later followed by more hand claps.
- Saxophones, added for the bridges in a descending scale
obligatto, plus vocalized ("ha ha") laughing, marracas,
and a supcon de harpsichord.
- Conga drums in the third verse, or what sounds like a small
remnant of them left over from the discarded alternative version.
- Saxophones, again, sitting in for the third refrain.
- A piano glissando, which pressages the second bridge, in which
we find still more mysterious mutterings in the background and
clearer marracas and harpsichord on the backing track.
- Piano arpeggios, delicately executed in the final verse.
- ... and the whole kitchen sink, not to mention a falsetto
"thank you," thrown in for good measure in the outro.
- The intro is an unsual 5 measures long; essentially a four-measure
vamp heralded by one measure's worth of a fanfare cliche on the
jangly piano. Think of the "real" downbeat of the track as being
at the start of the second measure:
-------------- 2X -------------
|F# ||B |- |
- The piano is immediately joined by the bass. Embellishments to
this duo are staggered (as is typical), though much less neatly
or strictly patterned than usual; claps start in the middle of
the second measure (on the offbeat before "3") and make a dovetail
joint with the drums that enter on the offbeat before "2" in the
- The verse is eight measures long, with four even phrases that
create an ABA'B' pattern:
|B |F# |
|F# |B |
|B |E |
|B F# |B |
I V I
- The harmony of this section is about as simply childlike as
could be imagined, establishing the home key clearly and keeping
the tonal focus right there.
- The tune is one of those gems whose elegance of design yields
instructively to analysis, yet at the same time, you find that the
resulting analytical blueprint crumbles in your hands, as it were,
if you try to tunesmith from at as though baking bread from a recipe.
So, as long as you use it for instructional (medicinal?) purposes, only,
here it is:
- The first phrase has a down-and-back-up-again contour, creating
higher-level melodic motion from D# -> C# (i.e. scale steps 3 to 2).
- The second phrase "answers" the first one by starting a bit higher
(on E, step 4), and then coming all the way straight back down the
scale (to B, step 1).
- The third phrase has a contour similar to that of the first
phrase, but it starts further up the scale so that the higher-
level motion is from F# -> G# (i.e. scale steps 5 to 6).
- The fourth phrase, like the second one, picks up at top of the
range achieved by the previous phrase, and then comes all the
way (note quite straight) back down to the bottom of the slide.
- The refrain is also eight measures long with four even phrases but
this time the pattern is ((AB) * 2):
------------------------------ 2X -------------------------------
|B |F# g# |B F# |B |
I V vi I V I
- The harmony is, again, focused directly on the home key, though
the "deceptive cadence" to vi provides some varied respite from
tedium, and at the same time sets up the "potential" for exploiting
this device in the coda.
- The bridge is, yet again, eight measure long, with an "ABAB'" pattern
somewhat similar to that of the verse:
|E |- |
|B |- |
|E |- |
|F# 6/4 |5/3 |
- This time, at least, the harmony opens up a bit, with the section
opening on IV and ending on a big V build up.
- The outro is an extension of the final refrain, triggered by
a repetition of the deceptive cadence heard two measures earlier,
and lyrically allowing the song to end with its title phrase:
|B |F# g# |B F# |g# |- |F# B |
I V vi I V vi V I
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- There's a veritable laundry list you could compile of the detailed
differences between the official version of this song and the well-known
earlier version that was around on bootleg for years and has now appeared
for real on Anthology 3.
- And yet, I think the crucial differences between these versions
which tip the balance in favor of the official version are the
following two, whose common denominator is a matter of how much
things are left to chance as opposed to being predictable:
- The official version's bassline has a characteristic "limp"
to it that, in some ways, provides THE hook for the whole song;
played as arpeggios in a rhythm that goes "One, two-and, Three,
four-and, One ..." The earlier version has more evenly spaced
motor beat of even eighth notes with a slight roll leading into
the downbeat of each measure.
- The official version has its finishing details applied in an
almost perversely random manner. The earlier version includes
virtually all the same details, but they are notably applied
in consistent, neat patterns; heck, even the "chick chick chick"s
show up in the same place in both bridges!
- The official version rings more truly because even if "life" does
seem to routinely "go on" (while you're busy making other plans),
there's always got to be something random thrown into the mix, if
for no other reason, than to keep you on your toes and remind you
that you ARE alive.
"'Girl, I like your face.'" 080397#133
Copyright (c) 1997 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
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