Notes on "What Goes On?" (WGO)
KEY E Major
------- 2X -------
FORM Intro -> Refrain -> Verse -> Refrain (Solo) -> Verse ->
Refrain -> Outro (w/complete ending)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- This almost parodistic hommage to the same C&W style the Beatles had
earlier covered in the likes of
"Act Naturally" is a typical Ringo
'vehicle' if ever there was one, right down to the scenario of
sad-and-lonely betrayal described in the lyrics.
- The form is a folksy strict alternation of refrains and verses, the key
is the ever popular choice for the Beatles of E Major, and the tempo is
*fast* -- fast enough that 2/2 might be a more accurate designation of
the meter than the 4/4 that I have chosen.
Melody and Harmony
- The basic materials are relatively simple all around.
- The melody essentially noodles around stepwise within a five note
range. The mode is almost purely Major, though with an occasional
hint of the bluesy minor 3rd, as in the final phrase of the refrain
(on the words "in your mind").
- The harmony is essentially limited to the set of I-IV-V chords, though
some interest is added by the big play made out of the 4-3 suspension on
V (found at the climax of each refrain) and the use of the minor
iv in the verses.
- Ringo's single-tracked lead is mixed in stereo to the far left,
while John and Paul's backing vocals are equally far to the right.
The backing parts for the refrain are quite idiomatically twangy
for the context, though the verses feature a subdued 'oohing' that
is surprisingly, for the context, reminiscent of what we just saw
- The lead guitar part is recorded with an almost surreal clarity
for its time, rather suggestive of today's "direct to digital"
sound quality. It's a shame, therefore, that the riff playing on
this track is not up to the standard of the recorded sonics.
- Speaking of which, the recording of this song is well known for its
unusually large number of so-called anomolies; one of which (the
rejoinder to Ringo in the second verse) smacks of horseplay, while
the others sound more like an unaccustomed and accidental exposure
of Ringo's singing or humming to himself to help keep his place during
the portions of the song where he wouldn't be singing lead.
- The intro consists of a 3-beat pickup plus four simple bars which
establish, in good introductory form, the home key and the overall
instrumental style and texture for the song:
|E |B |E |- |
E: I V I
- The refrain is 20 measures long and is unusually made up of *five*
phrases equal in length, making for a poetic pattern of AB/AB/C:
------------------------------- 2X ------------------------------
|E |- |- |- ||E |- |A |- ||
E: I IV
|B |- |E |- |
- Ironically, this five-phrase structure is one of the few non-routine
features of this otherwise routine little song, yet it's a device whose
handling here is a bit too clever by half, and winds up at the root of
what I consider to be a close to fatal lack of forward drive.
- The asymmetry and extra length inherent in a five-line stanza requires
a special compensatory effort to prevent it from coming off as stilted.
In this case, unfortunately, the opposite seems perversely true: i.e.
all five phrases are on the short side with long breathing spaces of close
to two full measures following on each of them, a gesture that inhibits
both connectivity between successive phrases as well as momentum from
building over the series of them. Furthermore, the ultra simplicity
of the chord progression, further exaggerated by the slow pace of the
harmonic rhythm, only makes the first problem worse.
- For me, the almost unrecoverable low point of the section is the moment
in which you realize (even if you're not a musicologist your mind does
register this subconciously, I dare suggest) that, oh no!, they're
actually gonna repeat all of the first eight measures all over again
instead of moving onward. The 4-3 suspension over the V chord in the
last phrase adds a well needed dose of last-minute intensification,
but it's awfully belated. Try *this* experiment -
- eliminate the
repeat of those eight bars and try what's left of the refrain as
a 12-bar form and see how much better it flows.
- The verse is an asymmetrical fourteen measures long, and is built
out of four phrases in an A/A/B/C poetic pattern:
- 2X ------------------------------
tune: |B B B G# |A G# F# E |F# F# F# G# |A |
|E |- |a |- |
|A A A A |G# F# E F# |G#
|a |B |E |- |
iv V I
|B |- |
- The harmonic syncopation of sustaining the a minor chord over the phrase
boundary of measures 8 and 9 is another source of the kind of drag I've
cited against the refrain. Nevertheless, there are a couple of helpfully
counter-balancing factors in this section: the harmonic rhythm picks up a
bit here, and the foreshortened final phrase (only two measures) lends a
mild effect of acceleration; run the experiment in your head of allowing
the 'C' phrase to be rounded out to a more usual full four measures and
not how badly it schleps.
- The melody provides a modicum of added interest in this section in
the form of some appoggiaturas. The F#'s and G#'s against the a
minor chord are especially pungent.
Solo Refrain Section
- The underlying flaws of the vocal refrains are further exacerbated
in this solo.
- I'd assume they were trying to be clever by singing all the way
through the first phrase of this section and then leaving the
lead guitar to continue on by himself, but for my money, this gesture
backfires by throwing off the listener's sense of the section's structure.
I have trouble hearing the beginning of the solo itself as the *second*
phrase of the refrain, as opposed to the first phrase of a new section,
in which case the slow harmonic rhythm and overall weak harmonic teliology
of the section don't help at all get me re-oriented.
- Furthermore, the style and content of the guitar riffs, which sound
fine when used as they are during the rest of the song as obligato
fills between sung phrase, sound here like disjointed non-sequitors
rather than a solo with a beginning, middle, and end.
- Again, the 4-3 play on the V chord helps things end up on a decent
footing but there's a good 8 measures or so before then where you,
as a listener, are left drifting without a clear sense of formal context.
- The coda this time finds the group vamping on the I chord for an
additional four measures, ending finally with one last chord that's
allowed to reverberate almost until it dies out on its own. Beatles
tracks to this point in time tend to generally exhibit a rapid fadeout of
the last chord imposed during the final production mixdown. Even
in this song where the reverb is allowed to go on for a second or
two longer than average you can *hear* where the faders are applied
if you listen.
- You can hear Ringo clearly repeating the phrase "in your mind"
throughout this outro, I assume, to help him keep count of the
number of measures before the end.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- If you grew up in the States, then this selection was self-effacingly
tucked away near the back end of the "Yesterday and Today" album in
between what had been the two 'A' sides of the "WCWIO/DT" single.
But on the CD, as in the original British lineup, you flip over the
record, so to speak, and instead of hearing
"It's Only Love" (an
expectation which dies very hard for those who have their pubescent
experiences permanently downloaded like a TSR) you get *this* potboiler;
and a bit of a letdown.
- It's not that "What Goes On?" is entirely without either merit or charm;
the song is not so much a "bad" one as much as it appears weak in context
of what its authors were capable of on a fairly regular basis by this
point of their career. Lewisohn's discovery that the song originally
dates as far back as the Pre-Beatles/Quarrymen days makes some excuse
for it, I suppose, but sure doesn't make the song itself any better.
- What I do find difficult to completely fathom is how, for all the hurry
against a deadline which underlied the production of the album, they had
the self-restraint to reject "12-Bar Original" (ironically recorded at the
same session) yet let this one through even though it is in some respects
only marginally better.
- Of course, I suppose if you want to be mean, you can look to the
unique attribution of this song (L&M& Starkey) and blame it all on
Ringo. Hey, if the group dynamic portrayed in "Hard Day's Night"
is anywhere close to true, I suppose that in this case the group
itself might have done precisely that; i.e. blame Ritchie :-)
"I recognize the psychological pattern." 060693#83
Copyright (c) 1993 by Alan W. Pollack
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