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Notes on "Good Night"

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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 "Good Night"

KEY G Major


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

General Points of Interest

Style and Form

The style of this song would be pretty Schmaltzy based just on its chords, tune, and phrasing. The "possibly over lush" arrangement only goes to push it over the top. You'd think that this kind of sentimentality would be anathema to the Beatles, especially John. Then again, I've got a feeling it's intended as a as a campy spoof.

The form is built out of standard parts with the exception of the special bridge that appears before the final verse. The appearance of verse and bridge material in the intro, the doubled up verses, and the three-time appearance of the Verse/Bridge sequence make the song feel longer, more complicated formally than it actually is.

Melody and Harmony

The prevalence of wide leaps in the verse tune belie its backbone of a simple downward scale fragment from G down to D. The bridge tune, similarly boils down to just F# -> G.

The chords are jazzy, many appearing with decorative (as opposed to "functional") 7ths and 9ths. The chords often proceed in step-wise streams.

In terms of key, the song stretches out luxuriantly in a warm bath of pan-diatonic G Major.


On the backing track George Martin uses a string section that would be on the small size even for a Mozart period orchestra, plus a sparse complement of woodwinds and brass; ditto for the small choir. And yet, the arrangement and recording come out sounding like a "cast of hundreds." The latter trick, I'm told, is a stock in trade of the film composers guild.

The score, itself, is replete with little cliches of the Muzak genre: string tremeloes and rapid upward scales, harp glissandos, chirpy flutes, and French horn inner voices. The choir alternately doubles and dogs Ringo's lead vocal, obviating the need for any double tracking. The stage whispered lines over the outro qualifies as a cliche all on its own.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough


The intro fades in like the rising dawn (only on the Stereo version) to expose a complete bridge and an half a verse section. See further in for a diagram of the bridge. The verse fragment looks like this [I-iii-ii-V]:

        |G |b7 |a7 |D |
G:  I  iii     ii      V
                                 4 -> 3

The trembling, sustained high D sure as heck sounds like it were produced by a Theremin (an antiquated electronic instrument). I have trouble imagining it as coming from any of the instruments listed in the bill of materials.


The verse is 16 measures long in an AB/AB phrase pattern. The first appearance of the AB section moves the bassline in measure 4 from A to G, thereby implying a change of chord to C in the second inversion:

        |G |b7 |a7 |C |b |a |C |D |
G:  I  iii     ii      IV 6/4  iii  ii  IV 6/4  V

Every other time this section reappears, you can clearly hear the bass line holding on to A through measures 3 & 4:

        |G |b7 |a7 |-  |b |a |C |D |
         I  iii     ii        iii  ii  IV 6/4  V

The bassline in measures 5 - 8 of each section runs scalewise downward all the way from B to D. The latter drives the harmony rather than the other way around. Note the elegance of this bassline especially in measure 8, where by running "F# - E D," it starts the V chord off in the 1st inversion, allowing it afterwards to change to root.


The bridge is eight measures long in a phrase pattern of AB, and harmonically consists of an elaborate pedal point:

        |F#   G |F#   G |F#     |-    |G |- |- |- |
        |B |C |B |C |B |C |B |C |
        |D |E |D |E |D |E |D |E |
        |G |- |- |- |- |- |- |- |

         I7      -       -       -       8       -       -       -
          5      6       5       6       5       6       5       6
          3      4       3       4       3       4       3       4

Special Bridge

The special bridge section makes a fake pass modulation to the key of C Major. The rest of the song is so complacently in the home key of G that by this point of the proceedings, a diversion like this provides some needed relief and helps better motivate the final pair of Verse and Bridge.

        |G |A |- |d |G |C |D |C  D |
G:  I     I  IV  V  IV V

C:  V  V-of-ii  ii  V  I

Classical composers often use this kind of trick in the recap section of a sonata movement, where by formal convention, sequences of themes that were heard earlier in different keys during the exposition are now presented in the same key. By some or no coincidence, the orchestration of this bridge includes rather classical sounding scale work in the strings.


The outro contains a double repeat of the same half-verse used in the second part of the intro. The first iteration is for the usual full scoring, and the second one is played one octave up by sparer forces.

I believe the final chord has a Major 7th, 9th, and added sixth.

Some Final Thoughts

In order to fully appreciate the uncanny aptness of ending the White Album with "Good Night" you need to first back up and consider why the penultimate album slot is such a logical place for "Revolution 9:"

Where else could you put "Revolution 9"? Too early in the running order would make the rest of the album seem a bit anti-climactic at best. At worst, you could lose your audience well before you've trotted out your rest of your best stuff. Putting it at the very end lends it too much emphasis. Maybe put it on the end of one of the other sides, but maybe no one will be sufficiently motivated to turn the record over. Next to last fells just right.

Now then, what kind of act, indeed, could possibly follow "Revolution 9"? You clearly need a sharp contrast, but exactly what kind? Virtually any other song from the album would sound a combination of anticlimactic, stylistically repetitive, underwhelming, or too wierd.

"Good Night" has the simultaneous virtues of providing musically arch-conservative ballast, a change of style as refreshingly surprising as anything else on the album, and a clever, self-referential way of telling you the music's over; turn out the lights.


Alan (


"What's all this about a musical arranger?"                 092798#156


Copyright (c) 1998 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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Arranged by The Beatles

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