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Notes on "If I Fell"

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Previous page: Notes on "I Should Have Known Better" Next page: Notes on "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"

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 "If I Fell" ("If I Fell")

KEY D Major

METER 4/4

FORM Intro -> Verse (original) -> Verse+extension -> Verse+extension -> Verse (original) -> Outro (w/complete ending)

General Points of Interest

Style and Form

This one was one of the most soulful songs L&M had yet written at the time of its initial release, and the harmonic card trick contained in its intro remains one of their most clever and daring ever.

The form is also unusual. Instead of a discrete bridge or refrain section, formal contrast is provided by a bridge-like extension that grows directly out of each of the inner two verses.

Melody and Harmony

The melody, though punctuated now and then by a leap or two, moves primarily in step-wise fashion and contains a couple of extended upward runs; the latter in spite of the theme of "falling" contained in the lyrics.

The motif of step-wise, scalar motion is curiously carried forward in the harmony, as well, with the repeated use of the I->ii->iii chord-stream. The harmony carries with it a strong flavor of jazzy bittersweetness, largely the result of the prominence given to the minor iv chord and the deployment of a pungent 7/9 chord at the climactic point where the verse extension commences.

The intro actually starts off in a different key (D flat Major) from the body of the song, though as we'll see, this is not at all immediately clear to one's ears as it unfolds in real time. Not surprisingly, given such a tonally disorienting opening, the rest of the song stays very closely rooted to the home key without the slightest hint of a modulation.

Arrangement

John solos in the intro, but the rest of the song finds Paul in the lead with John singing harmony below him in their inimitably funky style in which they sneak in those open fourths and fifths where you least expect them. The overall melodic range is relatively wide, though outside of the intro which is placed in John's baritone range, Paul's lead remains on the high end of his own spectrum.

The contrapunctal aspect of this particular vocal arrangement is somewhat disguised by the rhythmically placid context and the afore-mentioned predominance of step-wise motion in both parts. The disguise is so successful that, if anything, you walk away with the impression that the arrangement is more of a chordal setting for three parts in the manner of "Yes It Is", but the truth is that there is no vocal part here for George; just John and Paul huddled, according to Lewisohn, closely around the same mike.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough

Intro

The intro is eight measures long and built out of two parallel phrases equal in length:

        |e-flat         |D (natural)    |D-flat         |b-flat         |
D-flat:  ii              flat-II         I               vi



        |e-flat         |D (natural)    |e7(natural)    |A              |
         ii              flat-II
                      D: I               ii              V

Quite unusually for L&M, we find here an old fashioned kind of intro in the style of, say, Gerswhin or Porter. It's fully developed as a section unto itself with material not heard in the remainder of the song, and set-off from what follows by a different texture in the instrumental backing track; examples of the latter include John's four-in-the-bar rhythm guitar strumming punctuated on the downbeats by George, and Ringo's delayed entrance until the verse.

The harmonic shape of this section is another story entirely; hardly at all "old fashioned" and rather both ingenious and clumsy at the same time. At the very start you pretty much assume that the opening chord (e-flat minor) is the i chord of the home key but as the music free-falls first through D Major and then continues down to D-flat Major, you're no longer so sure about that; in fact, for a couple measures, you're totally lost and out to sea -- go ahead and admit it, it's good for your soul :-).

It's only after we come back to the e-flat chord in measure 5 that you quite regain your bearings, only now, this e-flat chord feels much more like a ii in relationship to the D-flat chord of the previous measure. The real coup is in the way in which the second time around, the music makes an harmonic pivot, using the same D Major chord that had appeared more or less in passing during the first phrase, now as the I of the actual home key of the song.

Verse (original)

This verse is ten measures long and breaks down into two parallel four-measure phrases that are followed by a two-measure connector which leads us back to the next verse:

        mm. 1 - 4, 5 - 8
         -------------------------------- 2X ------------------------------
        |D     e     |f#          f-nat.   |e7             |A              |

D:       I     ii     iii        flat-iii   ii              V
                                 diminished


        mm. 9 - 10
        |D              |g      A       |
         I               iv     V

On a subtle level, a kind of circular harmonic "open-ness" is another unifying motif of the song in that both sung phrases of this verse, as well as the connector, end on the V chord. For that matter, so does the bridge-like extension below.

The chord on the fourth beat of measure 3, which I've provisionally labelled as "flat-iii diminished" is more accurately described without any kind of 'roman numeral' as one of those chords that is the incidental result of linear motion of the various parts as they transition between the chords on either side of it:

                       "heart           to     you ..."
                Paul:   C#              B  |   D
                John:   A               G#     G-natural

                Bass:   F#              F-nat. E

Note the vocal open 5th in the above example, as well as the similar open 4th at the beginning of measures 9.

The minor iv makes its quiet, first appearance in the final measures of this section and it too recurs throughout the song.

Verse + extension

The first eight measures of this alternate verse section are identical to the original verse, but we find a new extension here starting in measure 9 that's an asymmetrical seven measures long:

        mm. 9
        |D7/9           |-              |G              |
         I ..... V-of-IV                 IV


        |g              |-              |D              |A7             |
         iv                              I               V

One's sense of D Major as the home key remains crystal clear but is made quite ironically bittersweet by some of the chord choices and the way they are orchestrated; e.g. the yearning stretch in the vocals required for the D7/9, and the small shift by John from B-natural to B-flat (on the words "and I") in order to ominously change that Major IV to a minor iv, accompanied as it is by Paul's literally trembling voice the second time around.

The phrase "sad if our new love" contains an unusual melodic cross-relation between the F-natural (on the word "our") and the F# two words later on "love." Also look out for the way that John, after singing most of this phrase in parallel thirds with Paul, breaks out of the pattern with a slide from E all the way down to A on the downbeat of measure 14.

Outro

The final verse is essentially identical to the initial one though it leads into a brief coda. The open 4th in measure 9 is repeated here again, though after the intervening general lushness of the texture, it sounds hauntingly hollow coming as the final word.

The coda, a terse, touching echo of the "sad if our new love" phrase, provides the lead guitar with its solitary moment in the limelight. And then the song gently ends on a surprisingly reverberated single chord.

Some Final Thoughts

The lyrics are deceptively simply and full of elliptical, ambiguous word play so typical of John's best work. Examples abound -- the dangling question ("[would you] help me understand ?" -- understand what ??), the use of "to/too/two" in close proximity to each other, and the non-sequitur of the second repeat of the verse extension ("'cos I couldn't stand the pain") when it follows the line "she will cry when she learns ..."

But beneath the mere cleverness of it all, what makes this song so potent is the desparate vulnerability it manifests; a veritable obsession with the subjunctive "iffy-ness" of love, described as a state in which people might run and hide and pride be hurt. For me though, the greatest ambiguity of all here is in the tension between the hero's begging for love's being requited on the one hand, while at the same time holding back from freely offering it for fear of being rejected. Is this ingenuous realism, such a lot of chutzpah, or likely a bit of both ?

Regards,
Alan (awp@world.std.com)

---
"You won't interfere with the basic rugged concept of me personality, will you, madam ?" 030192#50
---

Copyright (c) 1992 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 rec.music.beatles. The content from this newsgroup is archived at http://www.recmusicbeatles.com/, and Alan W. Pollacks "Notes On" series can be found at http://www.recmusicbeatles.com/public/files/awp/awp.html

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

If you want to learn more about the musical side of song writing, chord progressions, harmony and theory through The Beatles songs (and/or The Beatles in particular), I recommend the following book:

Artist: Dominic Pedler

Arranged by The Beatles


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