Bing Hodneland logo



List Bestselling Books


List Bestselling DVDs


Sheet Music Plus Featured Sale
In Association with

All the information on this site is free. But if it is of value to you, I appreciate a tip.

Previous page:

Notes on "What Goes On?"

Next page:
Previous page: Notes on "Michelle" Next page: Notes on "Girl"

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 "What Goes On?"

KEY E Major

                 ------- 2X -------
FORM Intro -> Refrain -> Verse -> Refrain (Solo) -> Verse ->
   Refrain -> Outro (w/complete ending)

General Points of Interest

Style and Form

This almost parodistic hommage to the same C&W style the Beatles had earlier covered in the likes of "Act Naturally" is a typical Ringo 'vehicle' if ever there was one right down to the scenario of sad-and-lonely betrayal described in the lyrics.

The form is a folksy strict alternation of refrains and verses, the key is the ever popular choice for the Beatles of E Major, and the tempo is *fast* -- fast enough that 2/2 might be a more accurate designation of the meter than the 4/4 that I have chosen.

Melody and Harmony

The basic materials are relatively simple all around.

The melody essentially noodles around stepwise within a five note range. The mode is almost purely Major, though with an occasional hint of the bluesy minor 3rd, as in the final phrase of the refrain (on the words "in your mind").

The harmony is essentially limited to the set of I-IV-V chords, though some interest is added by the big play made out of the 4-3 suspension on V (found at the climax of each refrain) and the use of the minor iv in the verses.


Ringo's single-tracked lead is mixed in stereo to the far left, while John and Paul's backing vocals are equally far to the right. The backing parts for the refrain are quite idiomatically twangy for the context, though the verses feature a subdued 'oohing' that is surprisingly, for the context, reminiscent of what we just saw in "Michelle."

The lead guitar part is recorded with an almost surreal clarity for its time, rather suggestive of today's "direct to digital" sound quality. It's a shame, therefore, that the riff playing on this track is not up to the standard of the recorded sonics.

Speaking of which, the recording of this song is well known for its unusually large number of so-called anomolies; one of which (the rejoinder to Ringo in the second verse) smacks of horseplay, while the others sound more like an unaccustomed and accidental exposure of Ringo's singing or humming to himself to help keep his place during the portions of the song where he wouldn't be singing lead.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough


The intro consists of a 3-beat pickup plus four simple bars which establish, in good introductory form, the home key and the overall instrumental style and texture for the song:

 |E  |B  |E  |-  |
E:  I   V   I


The refrain is 20 measures long and is unusually made up of *five* phrases equal in length, making for a poetic pattern of AB/AB/C:

 ------------------------------- 2X ------------------------------
 |E |- |- |- ||E |- |A |- ||
E:  I       IV

 |B  |-  |E  |-  |
  V       I

Ironically, this five-phrase structure is one of the few non-routine features of this otherwise routine little song, yet it's a device whose handling here is a bit too clever by half, and winds up at the root of what I consider to be a close to fatal lack of forward drive.

The asymmetry and extra length inherent in a five-line stanza requires a special compensatory effort to prevent it from coming off as stilted. In this case, unfortunately, the opposite seems perversely true: i.e. all five phrases are on the short side with long breathing spaces of close to two full measures following on each of them, a gesture that inhibits both connectivity between successive phrases as well as momentum from building over the series of them. Furthermore, the ultra simplicity of the chord progression, further exaggerated by the slow pace of the harmonic rhythm, only makes the first problem worse.

For me, the almost unrecoverable low point of the section is the moment in which you realize (even if you're not a musicologist your mind does register this subconciously, I dare suggest) that, oh no!, they're actually gonna repeat all of the first eight measures all over again instead of moving onward. The 4-3 suspension over the V chord in the last phrase adds a well needed dose of last-minute intensification, but it's awfully belated. Try *this* experiment -

eliminate the repeat of those eight bars and try what's left of the refrain as a 12-bar form and see how much better it flows.


The verse is an asymmetrical fourteen measures long, and is built out of four phrases in an A/A/B/C poetic pattern:

2X ------------------------------ tune: |B B B G# |A G# F# E |F# F# F# G# |A | |E |- |a |- | I iv |A A A A |G# F# E F# |G# |a |B |E |- | iv V I |B |- | V

The harmonic syncopation of sustaining the a minor chord over the phrase boundary of measures 8 and 9 is another source of the kind of drag I've cited against the refrain. Nevertheless, there are a couple of helpfully counter-balancing factors in this section: the harmonic rhythm picks up a bit here, and the foreshortened final phrase (only two measures) lends a mild effect of acceleration; run the experiment in your head of allowing the 'C' phrase to be rounded out to a more usual full four measures and not how badly it schleps.

The melody provides a modicum of added interest in this section in the form of some appoggiaturas. The F#'s and G#'s against the a minor chord are especially pungent.

Solo Refrain Section

The underlying flaws of the vocal refrains are further exacerbated in this solo.

I'd assume they were trying to be clever by singing all the way through the first phrase of this section and then leaving the lead guitar to continue on by himself, but for my money, this gesture backfires by throwing off the listener's sense of the section's structure. I have trouble hearing the beginning of the solo itself as the *second* phrase of the refrain, as opposed to the first phrase of a new section, in which case the slow harmonic rhythm and overall weak harmonic teliology of the section don't help at all get me re-oriented.

Furthermore, the style and content of the guitar riffs, which sound fine when used as they are during the rest of the song as obligato fills between sung phrase, sound here like disjointed non-sequitors rather than a solo with a beginning, middle, and end.

Again, the 4-3 play on the V chord helps things end up on a decent footing but there's a good 8 measures or so before then where you, as a listener, are left drifting without a clear sense of formal context.


The coda this time finds the group vamping on the I chord for an additional four measures, ending finally with one last chord that's allowed to reverberate almost until it dies out on its own. Beatles tracks to this point in time tend to generally exhibit a rapid fadeout of the last chord imposed during the final production mixdown. Even in this song where the reverb is allowed to go on for a second or two longer than average you can *hear* where the faders are applied if you listen.

You can hear Ringo clearly repeating the phrase "in your mind" throughout this outro, I assume, to help him keep count of the number of measures before the end.

Some Final Thoughts

If you grew up in the States, then this selection was self-effacingly tucked away near the back end of the "Yesterday and Today" album in between what had been the two 'A' sides of the ""We Can Work It Out"/DT" single. But on the CD, as in the original British lineup, you flip over the record, so to speak, and instead of hearing "It's Only Love" (an expectation which dies very hard for those who have their pubescent experiences permanently downloaded like a TSR) you get *this* potboiler; and a bit of a letdown.

It's not that "What Goes On?" is entirely without either merit or charm; the song is not so much a "bad" one as much as it appears weak in context of what its authors were capable of on a fairly regular basis by this point of their career. Lewisohn's discovery that the song originally dates as far back as the Pre-Beatles/Quarrymen days makes some excuse for it, I suppose, but sure doesn't make the song itself any better.

What I do find difficult to completely fathom is how, for all the hurry against a deadline which underlied the production of the album, they had the self-restraint to reject "12-Bar Original" (ironically recorded at the same session) yet let this one through even though it is in some respects only marginally better.

Of course, I suppose if you want to be mean, you can look to the unique attribution of this song (L&M& Starkey) and blame it all on Ringo. Hey, if the group dynamic portrayed in "Hard Day's Night" is anywhere close to true, I suppose that in this case the group itself might have done precisely that; i.e. blame Ritchie :-)

Alan (

"I recognize the psychological pattern."               060693#83

Copyright (c) 2000 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.

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

More >>

The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles

Book of the Month 2003-10
The Songwriting Secrets Of The Beatles is an essential addition to Beatles literature - a new and perceptive analysis of both the music and the lyrics.

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'.

Level: , 816 pages
RefNr: 0711981671
Order From:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Previous page: Previous page: Notes on "Michelle"Next page: Notes on "Girl" Next page:

Previous page: Next page:
Previous page: Notes on "Michelle" Next page: Notes on "Girl"