Notes on "When I'm Sixty-four" (WISF)
KEY D-flat Major
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse ->
Bridge -> Verse -> Outro (w/complete ending)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- This song is Paul's first official foray into the carefully put-on
nostalgic-cum-vaudeville stylization that would become a stock part
of his compositional arsenal for the remainder of his career as a Beatle.
In context of _Sgt. Pepper's_ running order, it provides a well-needed
and right contrast to the preceding track.
- The song is mastered in the key of D-flat, nicely resonating with the
C# drone of WYWY, though I believe it was recorded in the more "readable"
key of C in order to sound higher on playback and give Paul's lead vocal
that tremulously earnest quality.
- The form is an unusual perfect arch; there is no doubling up of any
sections, and the Intro and Outro are identical. There is no specific
refrain section, though the verse here is of the type whose last phrase
- I am puzzled, in the lyrics by the comment in the first bridge about
"if you say the word, I could stay with you." Without a doubt, the
rest of the song bespeaks of a long-married (at least long-cohabiting)
couple. Does the hero somehow envison them inexplicably separated
in their autumn years, or merely sleeping most of the time in separate
Melody and Harmony
- The tune is built primarily out of triadic (bugle call-like) riffs and
chromatic (half step-wise) runs.
- The harmony is almost clunkily straightforward on the one hand, yet
as consequence of the chromaticism of the tune, we also find a strong
showing from "added note chords" (e.g. V13), "secondary chords" (e.g.
V-of-whatever), and harmonizing of chromatic bassline motion.
- Gramatically speaking, I believe the diminshed chord of the final verse
phrase (on the words "(want)need me") is one we confront for the first
time in a Beatles song. Yes, we've seen diminished chords before, but
they functioned as VII-based *dominant* surrogates; see the refrain of
"Stawberry Fields Forever"
as an example. The one we have here functions
as a surrogate *sub*-dominant, built on the raised 2nd degree of the
Db - -
Bb -> Ab
G -> F
E -> F
Db: #ii dim.7 I6/3
- The salient different between the so-called subdominant diminshed
seventh and its dominant counterpart is that in the former, one of
the voice voices is sustained when the chord resolves whereas, in
the latter, all four voices make a move.
- Whatever typical Beatles instruments are used on this track, you're
bound to walk away remembering the piano part, those guest appearances
of clarinets (both a pair of regular ones plus a bass model) and those
tubular bell chimes. If you have any doubt that Paul is putting you on
with this arrangement, you need only to dig how flat the high Bb is on that
clarinet each time it comes round in the bridge; and if you cannot tell
that it is *really* flat, you need some ear training :-)
- Paul's sped up lead vocal is single tracked. John and George provide
tasteful, intermittent backing.
- The contents of this intro are certainly of the same cloth as the
rest of the song, but they do not directly quote from it. Surely,
though, you can't say they don't establish the home key with efficiency:
|Db |- |Gb Ab |D |
D-flat: I IV V I
|- |- |
- Architecturally, this intro is 4 measures long; the verse could
easily begin on the downbeat of measure 5, but in true vaudeville
style, the band "vamps" for a couple measures "until singer is ready."
- The verse is a four-square 16 measures long, with four phrases that
make for an ABA'C poetic pattern:
|Db |- |- |Ab |
bassline: |Ab Bb B nat. C |Db
|Ab |- |- |Db |
|Db |- |Db7 |Gb |
I V-of-IV IV
bassline:Gb G nat. |Ab Bb |Eb
|Gb e dim7. |Db Bb |eb Ab |Db |
IV #ii6/5 I6/4 V-of-ii ii V I
- The effect of the harmonic design remains studiedly-stodgy in spite
of the varied harmonic rhythm that accelerates toward the end of the
section and the chromatically rising basslines of the second and fourth
phrases; this, because each of the phrases commences with the same chord
the previous phrase had ended with.
- If you read these notes carefully, I'd expect you to probe me on why
I label the chromatic bassline in phrase 2 as just being a contrapuntal
filling out of the V chord, while I give a different Roman numeral to
each step of the chromatic bassline in phrase 4. There are two reasons
- The first is a matter of time-scale. The final phrase sustains
each move in the bass for two beats instead of one, allowing each
"chord" to register in your head more explicitly.
- The second reason is a mater of root movement. Phrase 2 really
involves no more than a V->I cadence. In phrase 4, even if you rule
out the e diminished 7th and Db 6/4 chords as being contrapuntally
incidental, I think you still are dealing with root movement of IV
to ii *by way of* V-of-ii.
- The bridge is an unusual 17 measures long; actually, a four-square
16 + 1, with the latter thrown in in the manner of the 13th pastry
in a baker's dozen:
|b-flat |- |Ab |b-flat |
b-flat: i flat-VII i
|b-flat |- |F | |
|b-flat |- |eb |- |
|Gb |Ab |Db |Ab |
Db: IV V I V
- The harmony in this section makes a modally flavored pivot over to
the key of the relative minor, and then a comparitively textbook kind
of pivot back to the home key.
- The arrangement of the two bridges provides a clever tease as well as
an avoidance of foolish consistency. The first one starts off with
one whole phrase minus vocalist, by the end of which you start to half
assume the entire section may be such an "instrument interlude." But
then the vocalist comes in for the second phrase, yet he drops out again
for the downbeat of the third phrase (allowing the sour clarinets to have
their moment), and then he comes back in again; now you hear him, now you
don't :-) Then, the second time around, the singer starts right in the
first phrase, but still, he drops out at the beginning of the third phrase.
- This is pretty much identical to the intro, don't ya think, except for
the gratuitous-albeit-cute opening "whoo!" from the lead singer.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- Is it a matter of *this* song, per se, being over the top that cloys,
or is it the result of Paul's including one of these stylistically
studied posturing songs on virtually every album henceforth?
- I'm reminded, in this context, of comments made by one of Waugh's
characters in _Brideshead Revisited_ about "charm" and "art." One
Anthony Blanche describes a disappointing art exhibit he has just
attended saying, "it reminded me of dear Sebastian when he liked so
much to dress up in false whiskers. It was charm again, my dear,
simple, creamy English charm, playing tigers."
- Antoine then goes to explain how his own tastes go in for the "spicy"
and "unhealthy." Gee, I wonder which of the Beatles he was thinking of
in that regard.
"When's the last time you handed a girl a pink-edged daisy?" 040296#114
Copyright (c) 1996 by Alan W. Pollack
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