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Notes on "Two of Us"
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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 "Two of Us"
KEY G Major METER 4/4 (3/4, 2/4) FORM Intro -> Verse -> (Intro) -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Outro (w/fadeout)
General Points of Interest
Style and Form
"Two of Us" is an idyllic love song in which uneven phrase lengths, changes of meter, and novel chord changes liven up and add bite to an acoustic pseudo-folk song that might otherwise be a bit too sweet and blandly charming for its own good.
The form is the very classic two-bridge variant in which just a single verse separates the bridges and there is no instrumental solo section. The repeat of the intro between the first two verses is a rare but far from unique touch.
This song is a unique (?) example of where the "Let It Be" album track is arguably the definitive "best" version. It's a later take of the song, more carefully arranged and more crisply performed than the one on the _Get Back_ album. And to give the devil his due, it's one of the only songs on the album for which Spector delivers a mix whose "finish" (in the photo processing or wood furniture sense of the word) feels appropriate to the style and mood of the music. See our Further Thoughts for more on this and the other alternate versions of "Two of Us".
Melody and Harmony
The Verse opens with an archtypal pentatonic lick in the tune, but adds in the 4th scale degree (C) for the rest of the section. The chords used in the Verse are small in number and are of common variety; i.e. I, ii, IV, V.
The Bridge's casual shift to the parallel minor of the home key flattens the 3rd, 6th and 7th scale degrees of the tune, and thereby unavoidably alters a number of chords used in the section. It's the same trick Paul used (in the same key, no less!) back in "Here, There, and Everywhere" to make the same bittersweet point. In the earlier song he takes it a bit farther by actually settling down in the minor key with a full cadence. Here in "Two of Us", the minor key is heavily implicated for sure, but is never 100% confirmed; the only V chord in the bridge is followed by the return to the Major mode.
The backing track is for two acoustic rhythm guitars, a noodling electric lead guitar, and a relatively small part for percussion. You might jokingly say that had the "Unplugged" TV series in mind when they came up with it.
The rhythm guitars create alot of percussive finger-nails-against-taut-string noise, plus there's what sounds like a Buddy Holly-era overdub of thigh slapping and guitar body patting added in, perhaps explaining the limited role for Ringo.
George plays almost the whole way through. His part is scored in the tenor range and played quietly in background, though he does get one moment in the spotlight with a recurring scale figure that punctuates the metrical shifts in the second half of the verse. Ringo's drumming is limited to a snare tapping figure that joins the verse to the bridge plus some light cymbal work during the bridge.
Paul's lead vocal is harmonized by John in 3rds for virtually the entire verse. Paul sings solo for most of the bridge, with John coming back at the 3rd for the last couple measures of the section.
The four-measure intro establishes the home key by simple insistence on its I chord.
The Beatles staggered entrance rule appplies even for so brief an introduction: we start off with a syncopated hook phrase on one of the acoustic guitars, followed by guitar body thuds in the second measure, and finally the rhythm guitar and electric lead parts kick in for the second half of the section.
-------------------------- 2X ------------------------ 4 4 2 4 4 |G |- |- |C |a | G: I IV ii 3 3 3 3 3 2 4 4 |G |D C |G |D C |G |C |G |- | I V IV I V IV I IV I
The phrasing pattern is "AB/AB,CCC'" in which the repeated "AB" couplet contrasts sharply in terms of rhythmic character and length with "C" phrases.
Phrase "A" concludes with only half a measure. The unusual switch to 3/4 time for the iterated "C" phrase is no less interesting than the way in which the single 2/4 measure at the end of phrase "C'" would appear to belatedly make up for the half measure (2/4 beats) subtly left "missing" at the end of the "A" phrase. It's as if the "B" and "CC" pair of phrases were all shifted two beats out of alignment until that short 2/4 measure at the end of "C'" balances the books.
IV -> ii makes for a lazy feeling chord progression; the "move" from one subdominant to another subdominant doesn't provide much in the way of a sense of teliological progress. The lazy effect is amplified by the way that the passing tones in the vocal lines here turn the second half of the measure 4 into a C9/7 chord. Substitute a G chord in the first (6/3) inversion for the second half of that measure and notice the difference.
The form of the verse ending varies depending on context. The end of the first verse (the only one in the song followed immediately by another verse) rests for 1 measure on G, then repeats the entire Intro before the second verse. The second and third verses, both of which are followed by a bridge, use a two-measure rest on G to transition into the bridge sections. The final verse is a hybrid, with a two-measure rest followed by one more reprise of the Intro.
The meter is held constant for the bridge, but the harmony and phrase lengths still remain tricky [IIIb-v-i-ii-V]:
|Bb |d |g |a |- |D | g: III v i ii V
The phrasing has a free-verse A/B pattern in which the phrase lengths are 2 + 4 measures. The sustaining of the a minor chord for measures 2 & 3 of a four-measure phrase is a subtle type of slow syncopation.
Cross relations abound as a result of the shift to the minor mode:
Bb in the first measure in contrast with the B naturals of the G major mode of the verse.
F natural in the d minor chord in contrast with the F sharps found in the V chords of the verse and the end of this bridge. Similarly, F natural in the tune (both on the first syllable of "longer" and and the word "that" following "road") in bluesy contrast with the F# of the D Major chord at the end of the section.
Eb in the tune (passing note on the second syllable of the word "longer") in contrast with the E natural of the a minor chord in the following measure.
Following a complete reprise of the Intro, the music fades out during eight measures worth of vamping on the rhythm guitars, with John whistling above it, and Paul making spoken interjections.
Based on the evidence of outtakes, the fadeout here is a bit of a fake. I have every reason to believe that the performance in the studio ends with a complete ending, but the "Let It Be" track cuts out before the final chord.
Some Final Thoughts
Unreleased recordings of "Two of Us" fall into three buckets: rehearsals, outtakes of the familiar official version, and outtakes of a different arrangement of the song. My knowledge of what is currently available under the counter is far from exhaustive but I believe it covers the highlights.
First runthrough of the song, 1/2/69 (Songs From the Past, volume 4)
We have a sizeable 12 minute segment of what must have been a longer rehearsal. It's one of the nicest candid home movies we have.
It sounds like Paul is sharing the song for the first time with
George and Ringo; John is nowhere in evidence. The finished lyrics
are not yet set, and the Three Of Them stumble and stagger through
the performance, frequently breaking down, especially (and quite
understandably) when the meter changes in the verse.
Paul is clearly the leader and the coach in this context. He does most of the talking but doesn't come across as bossy, per se.
Paul coaches John on a backing vocal for the bridge
At one point, they apparently planned on having John sing an
elaborate backing vocal through most of the bridge, one not in easy
parallel thirds. This clip catches them practicing it several times
running with John generally out of tune and not getting any better
at all from one iteration to the next.
This outtake is as painful to experience as is the previous one "nice." Paul plays the part of a relentless schoolmarm cluelessly pressuring John who must have been already getting frustrated with himself most of all during this rehearsal, to try it again and again.
Aside from your interest in the Beatles, if you yourself have ever been on the receiving end of a Bad Rehearsal Day with your own music group, this outtake is bound to touch a nerve.
Outtakes of the official version
"Funky Body take 1" (Unsurpassed Masters, volume 5)
Relatively rough but complete runthrough by the full group.
Paul opens the song with an unsyncopated variation of the guitar
hook, but then uses the syncopated version of it later in the song.
The guitar hook is also used here to fill the two measure space
between the verse and bridge.
When the meter changes in the first verse the performance comes very close to breaking down.
_Get Back_ album track, 1/24/69
Form is identical to official version, though we have a shorter
rest here before the outro.
The guitar hook is always unsyncopated.
John does not sing at all in the bridge.
The lead guitar work is less clearly worked out than in the
No whistling in the coda, but before the final chord, Paul stage whispers "and so we leave the little town of London, England."
As the "Revolution" single is to "Revolution
1," so is the different arrangement of "Two of Us" to its official
version, a sample of which appears in the Let It Be film. At least two
or more outtakes of the arrangement also appear on bootleg.
The words and music are the same but arrangement is for rock
ensemble with more electic guitar, more drums, and a much faster
The finger picked guitar hook is replaced by a rhythm guitar
figure, and hard, jumpy bassline.
Bridge vocals vary (depending on the outtake) from choral backing on the word "Ah ...." to rhythmic "dit-dit-dit" (in the manner of the song "Girl" ), both on SFTP volume 3. One take features Paul singing is his Elvis voice, on the Yellow Dog rooftop concert disk.
The coda is a "three times you're out" reprise of the "B" phrase of the verse; SFTP3, tk.10. One outtake ends with John announcing "halt" at the end of the second bridge; SFTP3, tk.20.
The rock version, though it contains an enjoyable intensity, does not come close to the idyllic essence of the song as captured in the official version. By the same token, the alternate does, in its own way, cast a unique other light on the latter.
Regards, Alan (email@example.com) --- "A-minor sevens to D ...... ba' Bom." 053199#167 ---
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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