Notes on "Your Mother Should Know" (YMSK)
KEY a minor/C Major
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge ->
Verse -> Bridge ->
Verse -> Outro (w/complete ending)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- Here we have more feel-good nostalgia from Paul. Yet, while the mood of this song may be even more extremely Tiny-Tim-ish than that of the earlier "When I'm Sixty Four", the musical content here turns out to be much less four-square compared to the earlier song than you might realize from casual contact.
- Formalistically, we have an unusual asymmetrical phrasing pattern in the verse, plus the even more unusual deployment of an instrumental bridge in place of the typical sung refrain.
- Harmonically, we have another example of the much-beloved Beatles gambit of exploiting home key ambiguity between a Major key and its relative minor.
- The nostalgic tone is set as much by the heavy use of secondary dominant chord chains (i.e. V-of-whatnot) and their associated descending chromatic scale fragments as it is by the opening arpeggio in the tune, the style of the arrangement, the oom-pah 4-in-the-bar backbeat, and those corny lyrics. Regarding the latter, I got punched hard in the stomach once, in the 9th grade, when I leaned across the asile in home room and whispered to one tough guy Leo Sullivan from Coney Island the words, "Your mother ..."
Melody and Harmony
- I'd call C Major the home key though the relative minor key of a puts in a strong bid for your attention; the intro is in 'a,' and both the verse and bridge sections start off in that key, even though they both end up in C Major by the end.
- There are many Beatles songs that use this relative minor/Major gambit, though our current example bears a particularly interesting comparison with "And I Love Her". In that earlier song, the gambit lends an anxious, bittersweet ambiguity to the piece. In our current song, the minor mode seems to be used more simply as a foil to make the Major mode feel especially all the more chipper.
- The backing track is dominated by keyboards, bass, and drums; the latter being held back, in typical fashion, until the final measures of the first verse, and the harmonium reserved for the bridge sections.
- A small detail, illustrative of the almost obsessive care they took with final mixes, can be found in just a few seconds of cymbals work overdubbed in the midst of the third verse, and mixed smack in the center of the sound image.
- The intro is just a pair of vamping measures, starting off in the relative minor key, and establishing the beat of texture of what is to follow; backing voices included.
- The verse is an unusual eleven measures long and consists of three phrases, the middle one of which is shy a measure. The harmonic plan is to start off in 'a' minor, converge slowly but steadily on the relative Major, C, only to flip immediately back to the relative minor:
chords: |a |F |A |d |
bassline|A |F |E |D |
a: i iv V-of-iv iv
|G |C |A |
C: V V V-of-ii
|D |G |C |E |
V-of-V I I
a: VI V
- The bassline in the first verse of the official track works down the scale, placing the chord in the third measure in its second inversion. This bassline is used consistently in all repeats of this section on the rough acetate mix that's been around on bootlegs for years. In the finished track, though, Paul varies it a bit.
- The first phrase cleverly features the A minor and Major chords within the space of three measures, making for a virtual cross-relation.
- The tune in measure 7 features a funky diminished fourth (from f natural down to c sharp) on the syllables "...er should."
- The chain of three dominants in a row (measures 7-9) implies a descending chromatic scale fragment of G->F#->Fnat->E; take a peek at "You Won't See Me" for the same idea used rather globally within a song.
- And, as further proof that what comes down must go up, the backing vocals finish of the verse with an upward chromatic push from D#->E.
- The final measure of the second verse is extended by a limping half measure as it leads into the bridge. Curiously, the other Beatle precedents for this trick that I can think of both come from John; i.e. "I'll Be Back" and "Strawberry Fields Forever". Must me something funny about songs whose titles are TLA's with repeating second letters :-)
- The bridge is a single long instrumental phrase of six measures in length. The same harmonic strategy heard in the verse applies here as well.
|a |d |- |G |
C: ii V
|C |E |
- The ends of of verses 3 and 4 are modified in order to generate a "one more time, everybody sing!" repeat of the final phrase:
|D |G |C |A |
V-of-V I I V-of-ii
- The third verse cycles back for a second time, but the final one goes around thrice.
- In the Department of Foolish Consistency Avoidance, we have the "sing it again" phrase appearing only after the first verse and the second bridge, even though it *could have* been used at the end of every section, albeit to self-defeatingly weaker (foolishly consistent) ends.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- I recently received some email from a reader of this series encouraging me to be more comfortable about being "critical" when I see the need to be. So let me make it clear: I think Waugh's quote re: "simple, creamy English charm" used near the end of our note on "When I'm Sixty Four" is equally applicable in this case. Alright; so this one isn't nearly as over the top as, say, "Honey Pie". But for me, part of what cloys is the appearance of these send ups on *every single album*, per se, from this point forward. What happened? Did someone on the inside congratulate Paul specifically for these songs to cause this, or is it the result of what is quaintly referred to as artistic conceit?
- A technical footnote for a change, speaking of "WISF": last time, with "Blue Jay Way" I noted how unusual it was to find a "ii dim.7" chord in a Beatles song. Well ... in reviewing our WISF study in preparation for this one, I was reminded that the *latter* song also contains an example of this chord. So there.
"Well, me mother said the trip u'd do him good." 012697#126
Copyright (c) 1997 by Alan W. Pollack
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