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Notes on "Wait"

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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 "Wait"

KEY f# minor

METER 4/4

----- 2X ----

FORM Verse/Refrain -> Bridge -> Verse/Refrain -> Bridge ->

Verse/Refrain -> Verse (w/complete ending)

General Points of Interest

Style and Form

There's a higher than average level of formalistic interest in this song: it opens right in the midst of the action with an off-the-beat vocal pickup; there's no intro, not even an instrumental downbeat to give the singer his cue. For that matter, there's no formal outro here either; the song kind of just rhetorically grinds to a halt.

Furthermore, the main expository component of this song is curiously half-verse/half-refrain in style. It's almost tempting to parse the section as two discrete sections in their own right but that would lead to a rather over-busy reading of the form which I don't believe is supported by your experience of listening to it.

What's particularly fascinating is that not only have we seen both of the above formal features in other earlier songs of the Beatles, but in a couple of cases we've seen *both* features within the same song; to wit -- "I Want To Hold Your Hand", "It Won't Be Long" and "You're Going To Lose That Girl." And if the strong John Connection doesn't yet strike you, consider the following punch list of songs which feature the verse/refrain concept, albeit without a midst-of-action opening -- "Please Please Me", "From Me To You", and "Ticket To Ride." Granted, you can likely find me similar examples which are *not* all exclusively by John; Paul's "All My Loving" comes immediately to mind, for example. Nevertheless I believe the correlation I've cited bears some weight.

The music itself is highly syncopated to the max, the effect of which is emphasized by the non-four-square phrasing of the verse section and the almost constantly offbeat harmonic rhythm.

At the other extreme, the particular choice of form lays out the lyrics in an almost slavishly symmetrical mosaic pattern of of ABCACBA.

Melody and Harmony

The tune, in all sections of this song, is peppered through with fanfare-like triadic outlines and other long jumps.

The harmonic gameplan features the same kind of minor/relative Major key alternation that we saw, most recently, in "Girl." Although the lyrics of this song superficially make for an almost mirror image of the story told in "It Won't Be Long" the rapid key vacillations of "Wait", taken in combination with a chance comment ("if your heart breaks ... turn me away") hint here of a last-minute twinge of self-protective anxiety that is totally absent from the earlier song.

Arrangement

Although there is something somehow 'unfinished' about the strangely thin instrumental texture of this song, they appear to have still sweated the patterned deployment of percussion sounds with their usual fastidiousness. Look, for example, at the first three phrases of the verse: phrase #1 features a syncopated tambourine, phrase #2 adds a pair of maracas in even 8th notes, and phrase #3 (introduced by a nice drum roll) finally brings in the full drum kit and the tambourine switching now to even 8th notes in sympathy, as it were, with the maracas.

John performs the lead verse vocal single tracked, though Paul harmonizes with him in not-quite parallel thirds for most of the section except for the pickups to the first couple phrases. Paul then gets to do the bridge in double-tracked solo.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough

Verse/Refrain

This compound section is an unusual fourteen measures long and breaks up into a six-measure 'Verse' (parsed 3+3) and an eight measure 'Refrain' (parsed 4+4):

pulse  |1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & |1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & |1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & |
composite rhythm|>   > >   > >   |>   > >   > >   |>   > >   > >   |
   --------------------- 2X -------------------------
tambourine |    >     > >   |    >     > >   |    >     > >   |
inner-voice |E     D#        |D-nat.C#        |                |
chords  |f#7   B6/4      |b6/4  f#        |C#    f#        |
f#:  |i        V  I



   ----- 3X ------
  |A D |A C# |f#  |
                              f#:III    V        i
              A: I      IV       I

The schematic diagram of the chords and phrasing that I usually provide is embellished, above, to call your attention to two details of the arrangement:

1) The opening phrase features a typically JL-like descending line cliche which in theoretical terms argues against putting 'roman numerals' on the 2nd and 3rd chords. To the extent that the note f# is a sustained pedal tone throughout the entire progression of the first four chords, one tends to hear the harmonic action of this phrase as a stretched out move from i to V.

2) The same phrase also features a composite rhythm that is syncopated in a cutsey yet seductive, belly-dancer sort of way; yet another JL trademark of sorts, to the extent that the one used here is so reminiscent of a similar touch in the likes of "All I've Got To Do" and "Ticket to Ride."

The verse is firmly within the key of f# minor. The refrain starts off with an equally firm, even abrupt, modulation to the relative Major key of A before neatly pivoting back to the home key of f#.

Bridge

The bridge is formally simpler than the verse/refrain section, and is built out of two rather parallel phrases that differ from each other in terms of instrumentation (note the increased prominence of the guitar strumming in the second phrase) and the chord choice of the last measure:


 |b  |E  |A  |f#  |
A:  ii   V   I   vi



 |b  |E  |A  |C#4 ->3        |
  ii   V   I     f#  III   V

The harmonic strategy of this bridge, starting with an ambiguous sense of home key and converging back to f# by way of a climax on its V chord, stands in contrast to the more expository verse and refrain.

And speaking of tonal ambiguity, do you hear the opening of the section as a modulation to the key of A (in which case the b minor chord sounds like ii and the f# minor chord sounds like vi) ? **OR**, do you hear the entire section as being in the key of f# (in which case the E Major chord sounds like the V of III) ? The question itself is actually more interesting than either answer to it.

Outro

The song closes up with a final repeat of the verse which, in its last phrase, suddenly downshifts into dramatic, emphatic slow motion.

At the last moment all the percussion instruments used earlier are brought out (along with the jewelry), as it were, for a bow and a rattle, with the absolutely last word going to an arpeggio in the tone pedal guitar; this one, in the downward direction for a change.

Some Final Thoughts

"Wait" has the dubious distinction of having been the song that was left over from the Help! album, later to be dredged up in a panic to fill out Rubber Soul when the looming pre-Xmas deadline threatened to catch the Beatles with a shortfall of new material.

But do you really think it sticks out in context as something picked up off the cutting room floor ? Or do we eventually fall victim to the so-called common or collective wisdom about such things ?

While this song is far from being in the top tier of Rubber Soul, I dare say that it's an exaggeration to say that it sounds grossly out of place there, either. And if you accept this observation for what it's worth, then it's only a small increment of will before you start to question the notion, become so deeply rooted over the years, that Help! and Rubber Soul exist somehow on opposite sides of some great musical divide. It's really closer to something like distinct yet neighboring distinct upon a continuum.

Regards,

Alan (awp@world.std.com)

--- "It's been a long time." 101893#87 ---

Copyright (c) 1993 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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More than thirty years after The Beatles split up, the music of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison lives on. What exactly were the magical ingredients of those legendary songs? why are they still so influential for today's bands? This groundbreaking book sets out to exlore The Beatles' songwriting techniques in a clear and readable style. It is aimed not only at musicians but anyone who has ever enjoyed the work of one of the most productive and successful songwriting partnerships of the 20th century. Author Dominic Pedler explains the chord sequences, melodies and harmonies that made up The Beatles' self penned songs and how they uncannily complemented the lyrical themes. He also assesses the contributions that rhythm, form and arrangement made to the Beatles unique sound. Throughout the book the printed music of the Beatles' songs appears alongside the text, illustrating the authors explanations. The Songwriting Secrets of The Beatles is an essential addition to Beatles literature - a new and perceptive analysis of the music itself itself as performed by what Paul McCartney still calls 'a really good, tight little band'.

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