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Notes on "Do You Want To Know A Secret"

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Previous page: Notes on "Misery" Next page: Notes on "There's A Place"

This article is from Alan W. Pollack's groundbreaking series "Notes on the Beatles". Links in the orginal article is written in this colour: index to the series, while links I have added appears as standard links. Go here for more information on my site about the song

Notes on "Do You Want To Know A Secret"

KEY E Major


FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Outro (fadeout)

General Points Of Interest

Style and Form

The intro is slow, the verse long, and the bridge short. The form is compact, the less popular single bridge model, and the overall duration of the song brief, as well; a likely consequence of the large amount of repetitious rhetoric built into the verse section.

No exaggeration, the lyrics here, which are identical through all three verses, may nose out even "Love Me Do" for skimpiness, though the use of different material in both the intro and the bridge makes up some of the deficit.

The song fairly overflows with a number of leitmotifs all built out of chromatic scale fragments of 3 or 4 notes; the rising lead guitar riff at the end of the intro, a descending portion of the verse melody (on the "woah" that precedes the word "closer"), and in the recurrent little descending chord stream that appears in the second half of almost all the odd-numbered measures of the verse.

Singing in the intro begins after the downbeat. In the verses, it is introduced with a long guitar pickup before the beat, an effect that is carried through the rest of the verse melody. For contrast, the bridge attacks the sung material right ON the beat.

Melody and Harmony

The tune contains mostly scale-wise movement punctuated by a dramatic falsetto leap upward near the end of the verse before ending it off with a descending chromatic scale fragment

The song is quite securely in E Major in spite of a firm modulation to the axis of A Major/f# minor during the bridge. Allusions to the parallel minor key of e in both intro and verse provide a touch of pathos as well as harmonic variety.

The single most unusual chord in the song is the "flat II", found here in both the intro and the verse; we've seen this one before in "Things We Said Today" and "You're Going To Lose That Girl."


The song leaves a lasting impression of having been enwrapped in a haze of gentle reverberation even though it was not literally nor entirely recorded that way.

George gets the first of his few chances to take the lead vocal in a LennonMcCartney tune. The composers themselves show up vocally in the form of an old-fashioned "doo-wop"-like backing starting in the second verse. One rare outtake has them singing the backing vocal even in the first verse, the latter being a clear violation of what would emerge as a Beatles layering trademark; which is why they probably dropped that for the official recording.

Like the piano in-lays of "Misery", the overdubbed tapping of drum sticks in the bridge is a musically small touch that is historically notable because of the trend in recording/arranging practice it signals.

Section-By-Section Walkthrough


The intro is not merely "adagio", but entirely "ad libitum"; my delineation below of where the 4/4 measure boundaries are is purely a guess:

        |e  |a e |G  |F B |

      e: i   iv i  III  flat II V

The shift from e minor to E Major which occurs between intro and first verse is exceedingly smooth because of the "parallel" relationship between the two keys, but if you recall the first time you ever heard this song, it still has the power to surprise.

Though emotionally and compositionally simplistic on one level, that minor-to-Major transition still effectively conveys the angst-cum-epiphanisticjoy "we" all go through in the unique moment of timidly expressing a burgeoning fondness.


This verse has an unusual length of 14 measures and is designed as a couplet of two uneven phrases that share a common beginning:

        "Listen ..."
         ------------- 2 x -------------
        |E  g#  g  |f# B7 |E  g#  g  |f# F |
      E: I          ii V  I   ii     flat II

        "Closer ..."
         ----------------- 2 x -----------------
        |E g#   g      |f#  B7 |A  |B    |
         I       ii  V  IV   V

        |c#  |f# B |
         vi   ii V

The first phrase is six measures and would seem to run harmonically in circles if it were not for its surprise ending in which we find yet another application of the chromatic chord stream cliche. Note how the F chord is unusually placed on top of the note C in the bass; as though Paul were uncomfortable with a certain awkwardness about the chord progression and trying to paper it over a bit.

The second phrase is eight measures and though it too starts off running in the same tight circle, its harmonic rhythm broadens out into a deceptive cadence on vi before cycling back again to V.

The melody of this verse is just as repetitious as the chord changes, and the falsetto flip in the last measure finally and satisfyingly opens up the previously constricted pitch range.

The chord stream of g# minor -> g minor -> f# is more coloristic than "functional"; the ear comprehends the structural harmonic progression as though from E in the first measure to f# in the second. The *other* chord stream in measure 6 - 7 is actually more structurally significant than the previous one in that one hears the F Major chord as a surrogate Dominant with respect to the E (I) chord which opens the second phrase. Note how the melodic use of C natural at this juncture creates an allusion to the minor mode of e.

The rhythm is in a shuffling beat throughout until the final four measures where it's suddenly interrupted by syncopation (m. 11 - 12), which then moderates to a pulsating bass drum beat before settling back to the shuffle.

George's pronunciation of the word "ear" (especially in the first and third verses) offers us what 'Simon Marshal' would someday describe as "the old adenoidal glottal stop for our benefit".


This is one of the shortest bridges we've ever seen; only six measures long, and built, just like the verse, out of two phrases unequal in length yet sharing the same opening content:

         ------------- 2 x -------------
        |A f# |c# b |f#  |B  |
     f#: III i  v iv  i
     E : IV                E:ii   V

The harmonic transition into this section from the V chord on B, which ends the previous verse, is somewhat abrupt though by no means rude; the pivot for the modulation is not obvious to the ear, but at least it *is* a common chord to both keys involved.

The pivot back to the home key is much smoother. It's a rather superb example of just how so-called pivot modulations work for those who have trouble grasping the concept: note how when the f# chord is followed by the B Major one, the ear retroactively reinterprets it as the ii chord of the original home key of E.

In the arrangement, the do-dahs are given a break in deference to George's solo vocal. And Paul, having played up to this point a nicely elaborate bass line, gets a little carried away in this section and winds up making a mistake on the first c# chord, by playing a B natural which clashes with the chord above it.


The deceptive cadence near the end of the verse is leveraged and recycled for the inevitable three-repeat coda.

The song fades very rapidly and the outtake with the doo-dahs in the first verse reveals that at least one studio performance of the song, if not the official version, actually ended, barely a few seconds after our fade, with a complete ending on an added-sixth chord.

That added sixth so nicely summarizes the song that it's especially unfortunate they chose to mask it out. Looking back over the full length of the piece, one notes how much the sonority of the added-sixth resonates within it; e.g., the repeated appoggiatura of C#->B on the words "listen" and "secret" in the verse, and the large number of deceptive cadences in which you so strongly anticipate the next chord to be E, yet it turns out to be (surprise!) c# instead. To the extent that this added-sixth has the incidental sound of the I (E) and vi (c#) superimposed upon each other, it makes for an effective harmonic double-entendre.

BTW, Paul makes yet another mistake in the bass line of this section, analogous to the one in the bridge.

Some Final Thoughts

The aesthetic of sentimental shy puppy love and gauzy soft focus is not one to which the Boys were often drawn over the long run; Sweet and Cuddly Moptops notwithstanding, it didn't suit them as a group. Even here, they manage to rescue this one from drowning in its own cliches only by means of an abundance of interesting details and a modicum of sincerity.

Ironically, it's the more subtle aesthetic of repetition here, which you would be tempted to denigrate offhand as a matter of lazy craft, which provides one of the major sources of emotional realism and "sincerity" to the song. I'd bet, for example, that anyone out there who relates to the pre-confessional anxiety of the intro will also vouch for the corresponding post-declaration euphoria in which all they wanted, even needed, to do was repeat the same words of love like a mantra, endlessly without stopping.

Alan (

"I don't really know, but it sounded distinguished like,
 didn't it ?"                                                 032101#32.1


Copyright (c) 1991, 2001 by Alan W. Pollack

All Rights Reserved

This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.

These articles were originally posted in the News Group The content from this newsgroup is archived at, and Alan W. Pollacks "Notes On" series can be found at

. I used to link to the versions published in Soundscapes before I decided to include them on my own site.

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Arranged by The Beatles

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