Notes on "The Word" (TW)
KEY D Major
----- 3X ------
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Bridge (instrumental) ->
Verse (partly instrumental) -> Outro (Bridge) (fadeout)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- "The Word" quite intruigingly (if also a bit obviously) anticipates
the later and more amibitious
"All You Need Is Love",
and we'll have
what to say about that in the final comments. However, as impressively
dressed up as it is in virtuostically raucous production values, you
can't fully disguise the extent to which it is based at root on very
simple musical material; a kind of Middle Period analog to
- The comparison to
"Little Child", by the way, turns out to be more
apt than you'd think at first blush -- no snickering back there :-)
If nothing else the two songs share a nod to the pure 12-bar blues form
and a correspondingly shouting R&B vocal style. Even more interesting
though is the extent to which, in both songs, one has a hard time
deciding what kind of labels (chosen from the routine list of
"verse", "bridge", or "refrain") to place upon each of the
- There are a few relatively unique formal touches here as well:
a) what I've been referring to lately as the "flat folksy" form
(with its rote sequencing of sectional pairs), b) dissonant
deployment of a static ostinato in the bridge, c) holding back
of the instrumental break until quite late in the song, and d)
allowing that break to spill over into the verse section which
Melody and Harmony
- In this department the song bears a rather typical split personality.
The verses are truly blue with their I-IV-V chord set, 12-bar form,
and the melodic stress on the flat 3rd (F natural) which creates a
Major/minor conflict against the harmony. The bridges, for purposes
of contrast, shift to a more modal style in which, though the
melody stays with the bluesy emphasis on the flat 3rd and 7th
scale degrees, the harmony sneaks the rock-ish flat-VII chord
into the lineup.
- We've seen the Beatles use the flat-VII chord in several different
ways in our past studies but I don't think we've yet seen to-date the
specific semantic use found in this song. Here it is used as
though it were the "V of flat-III" which is only unusual to the
extent that the home key here is Major. If you stop to think about
it, the same progression (C -> F) is very much at home in the
parallel minor key of d!
- For study's sake, you *must* listen at least once to the left and
right channels of this song by themselves. No OOPsing is needed this
type to forge your own pseudo-Beatleg outtakes.
- I've often heard people complain about the artificiality of the
stereo effects on the _Rubber Soul_ album but I dare say that in
this song (and least
"Think For Yourself" and possibly others we'll
yet come to) these effects reflect a striving to creatively exploit
the medium and are, on some MacLuhan-esque level (or shall I say
'MacLaughlan-esque' "that's an in joke" :-)), a part of the song's
- Paul's bassline is arranged in a layered way. The riff-like version
of it on the right channel has only its syncopated accents reinforced
by a second simpler bass part on the left channel. History of
Orchestration buffs will recognize this kind of thing as a
stock-in-trade technique of the late Romantic composers -- check out
the opening pages of Mahler's 2nd Symphony for a nifty example) --
and I believe it is even in such small details of this sort that
one witnesses the guiding hand of George Martin.
- John and Paul sing a raunchy (in the nice sense of the word) duet
for the verses. As in TFY, these verse vocals sound as though
(artifically ?) double tracked with each one of the two tracks
isolated to a separate stereo channel. This effect, combined
with John's hoarse single-tracked bridge vocal that is isolated
off to the right channel for a change, plus the harmonium solo
miked loud enough to the point of distortion, gives the recording a
surreal if not psychadelic stereo picture that you can "feel"
in your head even without listening via earphones.
- On the performance (as opposed to the strictly recording) side of
the production we find some of the nicest drum fills this side of
"She Said She Said",
possibly the first piano parts this side of
the Help! album, a dissonant use of
the harmonium faintly reminiscent
of "12 Bar Original" (recorded just the week
before!), and a linear
trend over the course of the song for the vocals to increase in terms
of falsetto and feigned hoarse screaming.
- As I said, the overall material may be simple here but by this stage
of their career, it seems clear that no matter what kind of hurry they
may have been in at times (in this case, racing to complete an album
so that it could be in the stores in time for the all important Xmas
rush) they had an autonomically embedded commitment to a certain
pretty damned high level of craft and intensity.
- We get two measures of vamping on the Major/minor I chord, preceded
by a two-beat piano pickup.
- The verse is a standard 12-bar blues frame:
(X)"Say the|word ... (X)Say the|word ...
|D |- |- |- |
(X)Say the|word ... (X)Have you|heard ...
|G |- |D |- |
(Y)It's|so fine ... (X)It's the|word ...
|A |G |D |- |
V IV I
- The tune is built out of short repetetive phrases in a pattern of
XX-XX-YX. The 'X' phrase runs up and back down a little 123-321
pattern, and even the 'Y' phrase syncopatedly reiterates the same
downward gesture in the form of 32-21. The same recurring lyrics
in the last four measures of each verse lend the section a refrain-
- The V->IV segment of the frame (mm. 9 - 10) is underscored by juicy
appoggiaturas and an arpeggiated bassline.
- The bridge is a short four measures and provides a break from the
|D |C |F |G |
I flat-VII flat III IV
- In addition to the implicit change of mode already discussed, the
arch shape of the melody in this section, shadowing in some respect
the contour of the bassline, enhances the sense of bridgely contrast.
- A four-in-the-bar ostinato pattern of D-C-A-C, underscored by a fuzztone
guitar, pervades every measure of this section. Note how the consonant
versus dissonant status of each note of the ostinato changes with
respect to each chord in the series. Over the D chord, the C
natural creates a freely dissonant (non-functional) 7th chord.
Over the C chord we start off with a nice 9-8 appoggiatura but
are left with an implied added 6th. The F chord provides the most
consonant support with the first two ostinato notes making a 6-5
appoggiatura. In contrast, the G chord makes for the most dissonant
basis -- with the first ostinato note a member of the chord but the
other two notes making for a freely dissonant 9/11 chord.
- To the extent that you can talk yourself into hearing what I've called
the verse as a refrain, you may find yourself starting to perceive what
I'm here calling the bridge as the actual verse :-)
- The form of the song's back end (starting with the instrumental bridge)
is deceptively simple. The harmonium "solo" (actually a single chord
sustained to the point of pleasure pain) is extended into the first
two measures of the following 12-bar verse, obscuring the formal
division that occurs there. When the voices then enter in what
is actually now measure 3 of the next section it strikes you at
first as though it were the first measure of a new kind of section,
neither verse nor bridge; but parse it out -- it *is* measure 3
of the next verse!
- The remaining 10 measures of this last 12-bar frame are based
on material similar to that of the other verses but the phrase
lengths and pattern are a bit different, along the lines of
an XXX-Y pattern in which the ubiquitous title phrase is declaimed
with the insistence of a categorical imperative:
harmonium ------------- (X)"Say|the word ...
|D |- |- |- |
(X)Say the|word ... (X)Say the|word ...
|G |- |D |- |
(Y)Say the|word ------------------------ lo-ove
|A |G |D |- |
V IV I
- The unusually rapid fadeout occurs as the ensemble moves on to a repetition
of the instrumental bridge. In context of the flat cyclical form, rave-up
style, repetitious lyrics and their various associations with the likes of
"12 Bar Original" and even the much later
"Dig It", the ending here is
suggestive of a jam-like session that could go on all night ("if it
weren't so hard on my suspenders," speaking of Marx and Lennon :-)).
- The final four measure phrase diagrammed above is the one place in the
song where the vocal parts can be identified as clearly *not* automatically
double tracked. While the right channel presents the descending chromatic
line with which we're all familiar as the predominant part, the voices on
the left channel sustain the same notes for two measures, not unlike
the earlier harmonium part.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- Far beyond the direct parallels with
"All You Need Is Love", the
lyrics of this song foreshadow to an unexpected and astonishing degree
John's eventual emergence as someone attempting through his art, with
an almost messianic zeal that inspired many while it made some others
equally uncomfortable, to suggest, if not outright instigate, a better
- "In the beginning I misunderstood", we are told, but based on the
assertions that now "I've got it", and "I'm here to show everybody
the light" we are promised that if only you will do this mysteriously
simple thing ("say/spread the word") then magically "you'll be free"
and even better, "be like me." And if you're at all in doubt, then
by all means at least do "give the word a chance." Indeed, not just
the ideas, but some of the very turns of phrase expressed here resonate
with later efforts of John's.
- Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, "The Word" also contains
the subliminal message that you can learn from boooks (both the good
and bad ones). But, of course, serious fans of The Film will immediately
recognize that this one idea is the result of Ringo me lad's influence :-)
"They can't buy you happiness, my son." 050493#81
Copyright (c) 1993 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
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