Notes on "Octopus's Garden" (OG)
KEY E Major
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse ->
Bridge (Instrumental) ->
Verse -> Outro (w/complete ending)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- The charm of "Octopus's Garden" lies in its simplicity and complete lack of pretension; the latter in spite of the typically Beatlesque lavish production values. Particularly irresistable here is the Peter Pan-like theme of youthful escape from the harsh realm of storm (no relation to Rory :-)), wave, and being told what to do to a place of shade, warmth, joy, happiness and safety.
- The form is made compact by virtue of the relatively long Verse section which, itself, might be subdivided into a mini Verse/Verse/Bridge/Verse module of its own.
- Simplicity in this song is operative one might say to the extreme of creating the musical equivalent of what is called "naive" in painting or sculpture. I am struck in particular by the barely concealed parallel fifths and octaves between the tune and the bassline and the way in which the instrumental break introduces no really new material inspite of the temporary change of key.
Melody and Harmony
- The tune and lead guitar riffs are almost purely pentatonic, breaking the mold either to embellish the 3rd scale degree, or to give the 4th scale degree its moment in the limelight by virtue of the A Major (IV) chord in the third phrase.
- Much of the melodic content is pattering and without distinctive contour, but placement of third phrase in a higher range does single handedly give the overall tune an archlike shape.
- The chord list is limited to the venerable cliche pattern of I, vi, IV and V.
- A textbook pivot modulation to key of IV helps break up the monotony though once we've arrived in the new key we find, with some small sense of disappointment, that all we now get is the same cliche chord progression, albeit transposed to the new key.
- The basic backing track consists of bass, finger picking rhythm guitar, lead guitar, drums, and tack piano, but a very typical amount of Beatles attention to detail is applied.
- The basic arrangement of the verse follows a pattern with Ringo bravely singing the first pair of phrases single track with just drums, rhythm guitar and drums accompanying. For phrase three, Ringo goes double tracked, the piano enters, and the drumming pattern is altered. The final phrase restores the original drumming, adds choral backing vocals singing the words along with the lead, and keeps the piano in tow.
- The lead guitar gets a big solo in the intro, sits out the first verse, plays a limited role in the second, jumps back in for another big solo in the break, and then stays on through the final verse, for yet another solo in the outro.
- Scat singing backing vocals (on the phonemes "ooh" and "ahh") enter in the second verse. In verse three they evolve into singing the lyrics antiphonally with the lead. And in the big finish outro, we find backing vocals overdubbed in *both* scat singing and antiphonal roles.
- The intro is eight measures long and features two phrases equal in length:
1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
|E |- B9 E |- |- A B |
E: I V I IV V
|E |c# |A |B |
I iv IV V
- The first phrase establishes the home key with a syncopated, fanfare-like idea that reappears nowhere else in the song but the final measure. The second phrase introduces the infernal chord progression of choice for this song, though the chords are reeled out at twice the pace as they are in the Verse proper.
- The chords at the end of measure 4 are more heavily inflected than I've labelled them; there's an F# in the A chord and a G natural in the B chord.
- The verse is an expansive 32 measures in length, with phrases of even length (4 * 8) that create a poetic form of AABA':
------------------------------ 2X -------------------------------
|E |- |c# |- |A |- |B |- |
E: I vi IV V
|c# |- |- |- |A |- |B |- |
vi IV V
|E |- |c# |- |A |B |E |- |
I vi IV V I
- Harmonically the first pair of phrases is completely parallel and open. The bridge-like third phase starts off from vi (the result of a "deceptive" cadence from the V chord in the previous measure), but it too ends open on V. The final phrase is closed, however, on both ends.
- The harmonic rhythm is carefully modulated over the course of the section; slow and steady in first pair of phrases; slowed down in first half of phras, and accelerated for the end of the final phrase.
- Ringo's rather limited natural resources in the composition department (sorry, guy) are most evident in the scene from the _Get Back_ film in which he attempts to share the unfinished song with his mates for the first time. He appears to have arrived at the studio with no more than the first 16 measures in hand, and is genuinely at a loss for how to continue until his friend George lends a hand.
- The parallel 5ths I mentioned can be found if you trace movement of the root bass note note and tune from one downbeat to the next in the first eight measures. You'll find parallel octaves the same way in phrase three.
- The instrumental break is sixteen measures long and is a contraction of the verse, featuring only the first and last of the latter's four phrases:
|A |- |f# |- |D |- |E |- |
A: I vi IV V
|A |- |f# |- |D |E |A |B |
E: IV V
A: I vi IV V I
- We have a complete pivot modulation to the key of IV (A Major) in this section.
- The Outro parlays the deceptive cadence found in the verse transition to phrase three into one of those three-strikes-you're-out finishing gambits so much favored by the Beatles:
|A |B |c# |- |
IV V vi
|A |B |c# |- |
IV V vi
1 2 3 4
|A |B |E |- B E |
IV IV I V I
- Speaking of help from George, this outro is very much simplified shades of "I'm So Happy Just to Dance With You".
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- Cross track resonances this time include the key choice (E Major as the V of A), the overdub of watery sound effects in the break, and Paul's standout scalar treatment of the oompah bassline.
"Well, that's lovely talk, that is." 111499#181
Copyright (c) 1999 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
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