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Notes on "Can't Buy Me Love"

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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 "Can't Buy Me Love"

KEY C Major


FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Refrain -> Verse -> Verse (guitar solo) -> Refrain -> Verse -> Outro (complete ending)

General Points of Interest

Style and Form

We have here a very standard long form with two refrain-like bridges separated by two verse sections, one of which contains a guitar solo. However the combination within the same song of a verse section so traditionally bluesy with a refrain/intro/outro that is equally so *non* bluesy is far from routine and makes this number truly ground-breaking in its own quiet way.

Harmony and Melody

The verse section uses only the standard three chords of the 12-bar blues form: I, IV and V (C, F, and G Major respectively). Its melody strictly uses flat thirds and sevenths (notes E- and B-flat) and this makes for similarly traditional-blues cross-relations with the E- and B-naturals of the chords below it.

By contrast, the intro/outro heavily uses the iii and vi chords (e and a minor), and its melody strictly employs the diatonic third of E-natural, both of which connote something other than straight-up blues. Yet, the real kicker comes in the refrain where these two modally different worlds of the verse and intro/outro are starkly contrasted directly with each other in alternation.


The melodic line plays off a virtually continual stream of syncopation against the steady four-in-the-bar jazz beat of the accompaniment. The sharp angularity of this is somewhat softened by the effect of Paul's solo vocal being double-tracked from end to end.

George's guitar solo makes an uncanny first impression of genuinely smooth improvisation, but hearing the series of broadcast and live performances of this song will convince you that it was, alas, practised by rote before hand.

The use of sizzling cymbals everywhere in the song *except* the intro and outro is a typical Beatles example of texture used for purposes of formal articulation.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough


We've seen quite a number of early Beatles songs with 'in medias res' of openings (e.g. "All My Loving" and "She Loves You" among others) but this one is one of the most audacious, with the true identity of the home key not becoming clear until close to the end of the intro.

The section is an unsual six measures long. Under more tritely ordinary circumstances it would actually be a full eight measures (try tacking two measures of C Major onto the end of it before starting the verse -- in fact this is exactly what happens in the outro) but, again in somewhat of a trademark move of theirs, this intro is ellided with (or interrupted by) the beginning of the verse:

Melody:      CEG|G |E |G |E   CEG|G      |E      ||(verse)
Chords:  |e |a |e |a |d |G ||C
     C:   iii     vi      iii     vi      ii      V        I

Paradoxically, the primary melodic notes outline the C Major home-key triad almost as slavishly as might a bugle call, while in contrast, all the chords up until the G in measure 6 are all minor. Also note how the melodic "logic" of the triadic outline lets you readily accept those jazzy but otherwise "gratuitously" dissonant 11th and 13th chords on d and G respectively.


The verse sections are all strict 12-bar blues frames. The one slightly unusual detail is in the re-appearance of the I chord being delayed until the final measure instead of coming back, as is more typical, in m. 11:

 m. 1
 |C |- |- |- |

 m. 5
 |F |- |C |- |
  IV   I

 m. 9
 |G |F |- |C |
  V  IV   I

In addition to the blue-note cross relations (e.g. the melodic E-flat against the E-natural of the C Major chord in m. 1), there are several appoggiaturas which spice up the otherwise simply chords chords. Examples include 'D' on the downbeat of m. 2 and 6, the G on the downbeat of m. 5 and 1.

The halting of the ensemble for an instant right after the downbeat of m. 10 (as in "I don't care too [Brrr-UMP!] much for money") is crisply executed, and a great example of the sometimes eloquent power of silence; the better to listen to your heart beating :-).


The refrain is very similar to the intro, but is a more square eight measures long, and parses neatly into four brief 2-measure phrases. The words make a poetic 'ab-ac' pattern that is echoed by the music itself:

Melody:      CEG|G |E ||E-flat D|C    CGE|
Chords:  |e |a ||C       |-
     C:   iii     vi       I

  |G |E    ||D   F  |G      ||(next verse)
  |e |a ||d  |G  ||C
   iii     vi       ii      V        I

The stark interjection of those bluesy E-flats in measure three amidst the cheerier E-naturals both earlier and later in the section is perhaps the most distinctive detail of the entire song.

Guitar Solo

This is one of George's great early solos and I'd place it right up there with the one in "Till There Was You" in terms of being understatedly just right for the context. I especially like the momentary lapse into a paraphrase of the tune in measure 9.

In between the preceding verse and the beginning of this section is inserted an unnecessary additional measure which serves to better highlight the commencement of the solo as well as to throw you off guard just a bit. This is sort of a reverse variation of the ellision gambit.


As mentioned above, this section is identical to the intro except that it includes the additional two measures of C Major that were lopped off at the beginning by the start of the first verse.

Some Final Thoughts

The appearance of *any* amount of straight-blues in a Beatles original is noteworthy in and of itself. A recurring theme in our studies has been John&Paul's predeliction for bluesy cover material, going back all the way to the Quarrymen era, made ironic by the virtual dearth of such material in their canonical songbook; you'll find that the number of 12 bar Beatles originals can be counted one less than the fingers of two hands.

In this light the timing of Can't Buy Me Love shouldn't seem a total surprise, given both that its B-side, "You Can't Do That", coincidentally happens to also be largely 12-bar in form, and that the next recording released in England would be the "Long Tall Sally" EP, a four-song collection three quarters of which is covers of 12-bar hits made famous by blues-meisters Richard, Williams, and Perkins.

What's much more significant though about Can't Buy Me Love is how, in context of early '64, it points to the future at least as much as "I Want To Hold Your Hand" sums up the past. Can't Buy Me Love contains in its music a fusion of loosely related styles, and in its lyrics, the transmutation from platitude to poetry of a certain commonplace re: love and money; both of which innovations subtly prophecy particularly fertile trends of Beatles experimentalism to come years hence.

As with many things in life and love, I've often found it rather awesome and uncanny to look back later and discover just how early were sown the seeds of some great harvest.

Alan ( *OR* uunet!huxley!awp)

"Sorry if we hurt your field, Mister" 010592#45
--- H B D

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 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.

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