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Notes on "Hello Goodbye"

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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 "Hello Goodbye"

KEY C Major


FORM Verse -> Refrain -> Verse -> Refrain ->
  Verse (half instrumental) -> Refrain ->
   Verse -> Refrain -> 1st Outro (w/complete ending) -> 2nd Outro (fadeout)

General Points of Interest

Style and Form

The style here is campy though it's not as easily pigeon-holded as, say, "When I'm Sixty-four" or "Your Mother Should Know." Yes, it's infectious and clever beyond what initially meets the ear, but it's also just a tad over-produced, IMHO.

The form is unusual, with no intro, strictly alternating verse and refrain sections, and an additional outro section.

They were obviously very fond of the fake/second ending gambit; you get to a point where the gesture of it ( "THE END ... or is it?") starts to feel like a cinematic cliche. All the same, you must acknowledge how clever those Beatles were at finding multifarious ways of playing this same treat. Think about how different are "Strawberry Fields Forever," the Sgt. Pepper inner groove, "Helter Skelter," and "Her Majesty" from each other; not to mention the mysterious un-numbered final track on A3 :-)

Melody and Harmony

The verse sections are in a pandiatonically luxuriating kind of C Major. The refrain, by contrast broadens both the melodic and harmonic ingredient lists to include blue notes and chords. I believe the only two of the 12 possible pitches to not appear in this song are Db and F#; actually, the latter makes a cameo appearance in the chromatically descending bassline of the first outro.

The tune makes heavy use of arpeggio fragments; in fact, I challenge you to find anywhere in the lead vocal where there are two steps in a row, uninterrupted by a jump and/or change of direction.

In keeping with the mixed-message/approach-avoidance theme of the lyrics, the harmony flirts *heavily* with intimations of V->I consumation, while its actual cadences turn out to be predominantly plagal or deceptive, the main exception to this being the transition between verse and refrain.


The tape is saturated by the unusual scoring of piano, organ, violas, drums, and miscellaneous percussion instruments captured unnaturally close up. Yes, there's a mocking-bird kind of lead guitar lick in there too, right before the "oh no!" of each verse. This feeling of immediacy is intensified by the palpitating emphasis on every single beat of the measure in the rhythm track. The latter is especially noticeable on the take 1 instrumental outtake that's been around on boots for years.

A running scale motif unifies the piece: the downward bassline in both verse and refrain, balanced by the upward line in the background of the refrain.

The backing voices are sparingly used within the body of the song. In the second refrain they start off doubling the upward scale and finish off with a downward bluesy lick. In the third verse, they provide an antiphonal obligato to the lead vocal. This is a wise tactic, given their more complete participation in the second outro. If they did not appear at all before that outro, their appearance there would seem a bit arbitrary. If they received more exposure in the body of the song, their effect would wear out its welcome by the time the outro arrived.

Dig how those violas double the downward scale (sans backing voices) in second verse.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough


The verse is an unusual 17 measures long, though you might say that the final measure overlaps with the start of the refrain.

The internal phrasing is far from four-square in spite of the even harmonic rhythm and the approximately 16 measure form. There's also a hocket effect at the end of the third phrase where the voice drops out and the lead guitar provides that sighing "C -> A" motif.

chords: |d |- |C |- |
bass:    F               C
C:  ii6/5           I

 |G |- |a |- |
  G               A G F E D C B A
  V               vi

 |G |- |a |- |

 |G |- |- |- |-      |C
  V                           I
     13/11     5/3   11/9/7

Harmonically we have a non-I opening. The theorists are divided on whether to parse the first chord as d minor 7 in first (ii6/5) inversion, or as an F Major chord (IV) with added sixth. Either way, it makes for a plagal cadence with the code that follows it.

The first two appearances of V resolve deceptively to vi. The third appearance of V is, indeed, allowed to resolve to I but only after a big-band/late 19th century symphonic pedal point build up. Yes, you can label what I call the G 13/11 chord three measures from the end a C Major chord in second (6/4) inversion, but when you take those three measures in as a sequence, I hear it with G as the root note throughout.


The refrain is a true 16 measures long with a predictable ABAB' phrasing pattern:

chords: |C |- |a |- |
bass:  C  B       A       G
  I               vi

 |F |Ab |C |- |
         IV      flat-IV I

 |C |- |a |- |
  I               vi

 |F |Bb |C |- |
  IV      flat-VII I

The bassline of the two A phrases still descends, though four time as slowly as it did before. This contrasts nicely with the upward scale in the accompaniment that mimics the quarter note motion in the scale heard earlier.

The heavy exposure to V in the verse is sufficient to warrant it's being excluded entirely from the refrain. Not only that, the two B phrases use a different V surrogate to cadence with I. Flat IV is a plagal substitute, and flat VII, while arguably a "dominant" substitute for V, has a much more laid back feel to it than the V->I "full" cadence. Imagine how anti-climactic and lame the song would be if V were used here in place of flat VI and VII.

The downward bluesy lick sung by the backing vocals contains the unusual melodic interval of an augmented 4th:

  Ab -> E -> D -> C
  Hel-  lo   Good-bye

This provides, BTW, a good object lesson about musical orthography. Although Ab-to-E is enharmonically identical to the Major 3rd of G#-to-E, it feels entirely different in the throat. Try it out: play an E natural on your instrument of choice and single the internal of E-G#-E. Then play an F natural, and sing the hello goodbye phrase noted above.


The first outro starts off as a repeat of the refrain, but after six measures it veers off onto a rhetorical tangent as the bassline descends, this time, chromatically (no, those intervening harmonies don't deserve individual Roman numerals):

chords: |C |- |a |- |
bass:  C  B       A       G
  I               vi

 |F |Ab |- |- |- |F |C |- |
  F  Ab  -  G  Gb      F
         IV      flat-IV     IV7     I

The instrumental outtake treats the last two measures above in tempo, proceeding, rather matter of factly, right into the second outro. On the official recording, the amount of time given to that last chord is much more indeterminate, largely because of the way in which Paul slows down his vocal at the last minute. Of course, this very effectively sets up the surprise effect of what follows.

The second outro is built on a vamping 4 measure phrase that is harmonically on top of a C Major pedal point. The underlying counterpoint in this section contains very typically Beatlesque parallel fifths:

 vocals:  |C |-    A |G   G  | |
 piano:  |E |-    D |C   C  | |
 Bassline: |C |- |- |- |

The phrase is repeated 6 full times before the fadeout sets in, the latter becoming total in the midst of what is the 9th repeat. This little coda occupies 46 seconds of a 3:31 track!

Some Final Thoughts

There is an ironic tension between the lyrics and the musical mood of this song that operates on a deeper level than the irony of the lyrics themselves.

The words sound like a whimsical update of that sentimental favorite of the 1930s, "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off;" i.e. "You say tomayto, and I say tomahto ..."

The music, though, has a nervous, pounding, passion that seems to curiously belie the words. After all, I'm left wondering, is this guy in a hurry, a panic, or in some kind of ecstasy of arrival? And is it even possible to imagine that the musical state conveyed here is a combination of all three?


Alan (

"Course he can talk.  He's a human being, like.  Isn't he?"  110496#120

Copyright (c) 1996 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

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