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Notes on "Oh! Darling"

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Previous page: Notes on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" Next page: Notes on "Octopus's Garden"

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 "Oh! Darling"

KEY A Major

METER 4/4 (12/8)

FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge ->
                Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Outro (w/complete ending)

General Points of Interest

Style and Form

Paul gives us yet another one of those uncanny Beatlesque stylistic hybrids with this song: the emotional ethos of slow and heavy blues mixed with the form and chord progressions of the slow, wall climbing doo-wop oldie. It's kind of like Clapton's "Did You Ever Love a Woman" (from the Layla album, and coincidentally a song smoldering with Eric's obsession at the time with Mrs. Patti Boyd Harrison, but I digress) crossed with "In the Still of the Night." Or closer to home, it's "Yer Blues" meets up with "This Boy."

There is a surpringly small number of songs in slow ternary meter in the complete Beatles songbook. Other than the two I already mentioned in the previous paragraph I can think of only "Yes It Is" and *maybe* "Norwegian Wood."

For all of its bluesy flavor, the fact remains that the form here is the classic pop two-bridge model with only a single verse separating the the bridges. None of the sections matches the length or chord progression of traditional 12-bar blues.

As a point of formal curiosity you'll note that this song has virtually no intro or outro.

Melody and Harmony

The tune is made bluesy by the heavy stress given to the flat 3rd and to a lesser extent flat 7th. Scale degree 4 is conspicuously given short shrift. It's avoided entirely in the verse, and shows up in the bridge only at the end of each phrase; as an appogiatura in the first case and as a neighbor tone in the second case.

The verse covers a full octave's range, but all stops are pulled out for the bridge, where things peak out successively at high C and C#.

The relatively large chord set includes I, ii (as well as V-of-V), IV, V, and VI.

There's also a very funky chord used in the bridge that is most conventiently labelled as an F7 ("flat VI"), but which your Harmony 102 textbook (they don't cover this chord in Harmony 101 :-)) would feel more precise in labelling a "German (Augmented) Sixth."

Arrangement

The production is relatively a wall of sound by Beatles standards, relying more on local details, rather than formal layering, to add a dimension of textural variety.

The intensity of Paul's lead vocal and the extent of his personal preparations for it are legendary. The backing track of piano, guitar, drums and bass does a fine job of matching forces with that vocal.

Some interesting details:

The guitar provides aggresive "chops" on the off beats in the verses; playing for some reason with especial vehemence in measure 4 of verse 2. This switches to an arpeggiated figurate that places guitar notes on each 8th note of triplet backbeat for the bridges.

Macca's lead vocal is single tracked in verses, and has heavy echo applied (and may also be automatica double tracking) in the bridges. His performance gets noticeably looser in the second half of the song, varying the tune in the final pair of verses, and adding a spoken obligato of "believe me darling"-plus-scream in the second bridge and final verse.

The drums momentarily shift to playing rapid triplets per triplet eighth note beat in the lead-in to the bridge. Do I hear an echo of "Come Together?"

A gentle wash of backing vocals appearing with similar material in all four verses, but enters in a different measure each time. Check it out; the voices enter in the following measure of each successive verse: 4, 2, 3, 1.

One of the secondary traits of the slow ternary style used here is long dramatic pauses in the lead vocal that routinely fall either between phrases or at end of sections. In a more purely bluesy context (look back at the Clapton song referenced up top) you're most likely to see those breaks filled in by elaborate solo instrumental commentary. Macca, given the same opportunity, opts for heavy scalar riffs in the bassline; which simply goes to show that each artist exploits whatever it is that s/he's got in particular.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough

Intro

The minimalistic intro consists of a single chord which is played as if on the 3rd slow beat of the opening measure. I can just hear them in the studio counting: one, two, chord, Oh ..:"

         1  2   3   4
        |- E #5  |
A:              V

The augmented chord on E functions here just the way a similar augmented V chord did at the end of the bridge in "From Me To You." Be sure to spell the chord E - G# - B#; the latter note pushes upward to the C# (of the A Major chord) on the downbeat of the next measure for resolution.

Verse

The verse is eight measures long. The lyrics scan into unequal phrase lengths that belie the otherwise four-square form of the music. I parse the phrases as being 4 + 1 + 3:

        |A  |E  |f#  |D  |


  A:     I   V   vi   IV


        |b E |
         ii V


        |b E |A D |A E |
         ii V  I IV  I V

The harmonic rhythm increases for the second half of the section. The harmonic shape is essentially closed. The first verse (the only one followed immediately by another verse) ends with a V chord to motivate the repeat. The verses that segue into a bridge sustain the A chord but exploit the ability of the I chord to pivot as though it were V-of-IV in order to just as effectively motivate that transition.

It's telling that Paul placed the exclamation point in the title phrase after the word "Oh!" rather than after "Darling." Regardless of whatever pangs the protagonist is suffering here (expressed by "Oh!"), he cannot resist from expressing the more tender poignance underlying loving feelings he still holds for his darling. Note the extent to which the F# -> E downward figure (which first appears on the word "darling" in the first measure of the song) is milked for all it's worth, appearing in the verse over four different chords, and sounding different each time because of the changing relation played by the two notes with respect to each successive chord:

6->5 appogiatura on top of A Major

9 -> 8 approgiatura on E Major

8 -> 7 -> 8 neighbor tone figure on top of f# minor

5 -> 4 -> 5 neighbor figure on top of b minor

The leaning melodic motif also occurs twice on B -> A:

6 -> 5 appogiatura on D Major

9 -> 8 on A Major

Bridge

The bridge is also 8 measures long, but this time the phrasing is 2 * 4:

        |D  |F7   |A  |-  |
         IV   "flat VI"  I


        |B  |-  |E F7 |E  |
         V-of-V     V    "flat VI " V

The harmonic rhythm of this section is even slower than that of the verse, though here too, the pace of the chord changes picks up toward the end of the section. The harmonic shape of this section is open on both ends.

That "flat VI" is more accurately spelled with a D# on the top, rather than Eb, and that spelling forces you to consider the chord rooted on IV, with two of the four notes of the chord chromatically modified, and the chord voiced in second 6/5 inversion.

Think of it this way. Your indingenous IV7 chord here is spelled bottom up D, F#, A, C. In this special case, raise the root of the chord, flatten the third, and then place the chord in its first (aka 6/5) inversion. Voila: F, A, C, D#.

The "Augmented Sixth" moniker describes the interval between F natual in the bass and D# on the top. That interval enharmonically sounds identical to a minor 7th, but this Augmented 6th has the unsual property of its two outer voices resolving chromatically in contrary motion. In this case, both voices resolve to the note E; as part of an A Major chord in the first phrase and as part of an E Major chord at the end of the second phrase.

Note how the appearance of this special chord in the first phrase of the bridge brings in its wake a descending chromatic over the course of measures 1 - 3; F# -> F natual -> E.

Outro

The outro is parallel to the intro in its simplicity.

Harmonically, the flat II (Bb7) penultimate chord bears direct analogy to the "flat VI" in the bridge. And it finishes off the song with a dominant seventh chord on I that surely belongs in the paragon of genuine blues cliches.

Some Final Thoughts

Major points of cross-track reference and resonance this time:

The home key of A Major serves a triple role: as "the V" of the key of D which appears as the home of key of surrounding songs; an echo of the modulation to A in "Something" and an anticipation of the large amount of airplay given to A as a home key on side 2.

Yet again, both triplets and walking bassline licks appear embedded within the fabric of the piece.

Regards,

Alan (awp@world.std.com)

---
"But you just love that woman so much it's a shame and a sin." 110899#180
---

Copyright (c) 1999 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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