The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Revolver



Listening to The Beatles’ Revolver album, what’s interesting about it is that because, by this point in their career, Lennon and McCartney were no longer writing songs out of commercial necessity, you find that they would set each other song-writing challenges, in order to give them a start point. It’s a process which had begun with Rubber Soul, with Lennon and McCartney both attempting songs with punch-lines, and pastiching styles, and would continue for their rest of their musical partnership – there’s a well-worn Mccartney interview quote about Lennon writing Strawberry Fields Forever, inspiring McCartney to write Penny Lane, or the other way round (as Penny Lane feels more like a response to In My Life, which in an earlier draft was a description of a bus journey through Liverpool which mentions Penny Lane).

With Revolver, there were various song-writing exercises. The most common one is ‘who can write the best pop song on one chord’, influenced by George Harrison droning on about Indian music all the time on C. George’s attempt, ‘Taxman’, owes pretty much all of its appeal to McCartney’s bass riff and Lennon’s sardonic additions to the lyric. McCartney’s seems to be Eleanor Rigby, which is nearly all E minor (with some sixths and sevenths and some C for the choruses) while Lennon’s was, of course, Tomorrow Never Knows. McCartney using the harmonic limitation of one chord to create an ingenious Dorian-mode melody, while Lennon opts for hardly any melody at all and instead opts for mind-expanding lyrics and strange sound textures to hold the listener’s attention.

But there’s other songs which are nearly on one chord – McCartney’s Paperback Writer, for instance, which only uses other chords for the chorus, and Lennon’s And Your Bird Can Sing, melodically and texturally similar and also only using other chords for the chorus and bridge. There’s also Lennon’s Rain, another ‘drone’ song despite numerous chord changes, but my theory is that at this point Lennon & McCartney were have a competition to see who could write the best song about the weather, McCartney probably coming up with Good Day Sunshine as a response to Lennon’s Rain.

Lennon’s other contributions to Revolver are I’m Only Sleeping and Doctor Robert, in which he seems to be writing under the influence of the Kinks – I’m Only Sleeping’s melody and feel being close to Dead End Street, while Dr Robert’s schoolboy bridge recalls the Kinks’ Funny Face. Dr Robert and She Said, She Said are both also ‘I like drugs’ songs – McCartney’s ‘I like drugs’ song being ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ which is more of a Motown pastiche. She Said, She Said is melodically very similar to Rain for the verses, but has another song idea, in three-four time, used for the bridge, the first of many Lennon experiments with shifting time signatures (after an early attempt in We Can Work It Out, leading to Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, Good Morning, Good Morning, All You Need Is Love, Happiness Is A Warm Gun, Don’t Let Me Down etc).

McCartney, meanwhile, has decided to write a children’s song – Yellow Submarine – which Lennon would eventually follow-up with The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill and Ringo would rewrite as Octopus’ Garden. Then Here, There & Everywhere, an incredible song possibly born of an exercise to write a song with key changes – the verses in major, the choruses in minor, with the transition taking in another key and some rather jazzy chord changes. And finally there’s For No-One, based around a simple descending bass line but with lyrics, extremely unconventionally, given in the second person (after Paperback Writer, written as a character in the first person, and Eleanor Rigby, written about characters in the third person).

Oh, and there’s two more George Harrison songs on there but they’re crap.

5 comments:

  1. Taxman? One chord? Sounds closer to a 12-bar blues than anything, to me...

    D x

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  2. There's some C and G in the chorus and bridge but the 'let me tell how it will be, there's one for you ninteen for me' verses are all D7.

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  3. Yeah, D7 for a while, but the G and C come. So it's not really "on one chord". It's "on one chord" for a verse, which one could say about, as Lesley Dunlop would tell us, a million blues songs. Hardly menswe@r's "Daydreamer", is it?

    D x

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  4. I think it's also kind of the case that if, for instance, one were to adapt "Eleanor Rigby" for acoustic guitar (and Christ knows I don't care enough to try) those "sixths and sevenths and some C" would mean you were basically playing a different triad-based chord or three.

    Sorry. I sound as if I'm harping. I just loathe utterly unjustified sweeping statements.

    D x

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  5. I meant they were attempts to write songs all in one chord; did they succeed in doing that? No, but it's just a theory as to what the starting point might have been. Sorry if you think it's utterly unjustified.

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