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Notes on "Little Child"

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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 "Little Child"

KEY E Major


FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Break -> Bridge -> Verse -> Outro (fadeout)

General Points Of Interest

Style and Form

The form of this song is a bit tricky. On strictly musical grounds, I believe one hears it in the way that I've parsed it above, as one of the standard and familiar formal models. However, the repeat pattern of the lyrics would seem to argue otherwise; that what I've labelled a "verse" is more of a "refrain" because the words are unvaried over four repeats of the section. Similarly, that what I've labelled as a "bridge" is more properly a "verse" because it is only in that section that the words *are* varied. This alternate pigeon-holing scheme though would yield an unusual formal structure indeed:

Intro -> Refrain -> Refrain -> Verse -> Refrain -> Break -> Verse -> Refrain -> Outro (fadeout)

Hence, I'll stay with my original analysis, though this formal ambiguity caused by the disposition of the lyrics is noteworthy. We ran into a similar dilemma on "It Won't Be Long" way back in article #10 of the series and the temporal proximity of these two songs makes me wonder if, on some level, John was consciously experimenting at the time in this way.

Another quite uncommon feature in the form of this song is the appearance of an honest-to-goodness instrumental *break*, in strict 12-bar blues no less!


The key is decidedly E Major and the mood ravingly upbeat. However, the harmonic diet here is more low-budget than we've seen in a while, restricted to only four chords and very common ones at that. In order of appearance, there are the I, IV, V, and V-of-V; that's the Major chords built on E, A, B, and F#, respectively. Note how the lack of any minor, diminished, augmented or otherwise altered harmonies helps to project the uncomplicated emotional tone of the song.

Unlike many of the other songs we've looked at, in which harmonic rhythm tends to follow a fairly regular pattern (e.g. chord changes in every measure, or every other measure), the harmonic rhythm in this song is a bit more flexibly varied to help articulate shape of the sections; the verses in particular.


There's a lot of overdubbing on this otherwise simple track to the extreme that even the original British mix of it on With The Beatles has a Dave-Dexter-Jr.-like muddiness that becomes part of the experience of the song, whether or not you particularly like it aesthetically. Unlike the case of "Thank You Girl" I'm afraid to think that there's no clean/dry version of this one even in the vaults of EMI.

On the vocal parts, a double-tracked John is featured solo, with Paul joining him for little flashes of harmony. Instrumental overdubs feature Paul on piano and John on harmonica pretty much the whole way through.

Section-By-Section Walkthrough


Don't be fooled by those seemingly ad-lib and out-of-tempo harmonica chords at the beginning. They are precisely *in* tempo making the intro weigh in at four measures long:

 |E |A |E9 |- |
E:  I  IV  I

Of course, your ear can't figure all this out until the accompaniment kicks with that piano glissando right before the third chord, but it's just this sort of ambiguity than enhances the fun of the music.

The spicy F# in the harmonica played over the E chord in the third measure sounds a jazzy, freely dissonant note that is picked up on again in the repeated appearance of Major 9th chords of the verses, and during a good part of the instrumental break.


The refrain-like verse is only eight measures long and built out of two phrases equal in length:

 |E |- |-   A  |E ||B |A |F#9 |B ||
E:  I       IV  I   V  IV  V-of-V  V

The first four-measure phrase itself subdivides rhetorically into a ready-steady-go group of three short "phrasettes" (to coin a term :-)), quite reminiscent of the "move over once, move over twice ..." snippet in "One After 909", and it is harmonically closed in shape. The second phrase nicely balances this out by subdividing more neatly right down the middle of its four measures, and by its harmonically open ending on the V chord.

The second verse is a slight musical variant of the first one of the sort we've seen before in songs like "Ask Me Why", "There's A Place", and the slightly later "I Should Have Known Better." Here, the structural purpose of the change is to harmonically close up the ending of the second phrase:

 |E |- |-   A  |E ||B |A |F#9  B  |E     ||
E:  I       IV  I   V  IV  V-of-V  V   I


The stylistic gesture of short phrases seen in the verses is perpetuated in this bridge as well, which is only six measures long, yet contains three phrases equal in length:

 |E |B ||E |- ||F# |B ||
  I  V   I    V-of-V V

The usage in this section of a poetic triplet nicely contrasts with, and provides some helpful relief from, the quatrains of the surrounding verses.

Compared to a song like "I'll Get You", there's a virtual absence in this song of melodic appoggiaturas. However, in measure 5 of this bridge, above F# chord, there's a stunner of a d# in the melody on the downbeat.


It's a rare early Beatles song indeed that has such a break section as this one, both completely instrumental and not based on one of the preceding sections of the song.

The last two chords of this otherwise pure 12-bar blues passage are modified to include the IV -> V-of-V -> V progression which by this point of the song strongly resonates with the end of the verse sections, and this tweak helps to unify the break section with its surroundings.

John's wailing solo is quite nicely done and as a little bonus he even throws in some slow triplets right at the climactic penultimate measure as though just to let us know for sure it's a "John song"; as if this fact were not already clear as an azure sky or an unmuddied lake. My only complaint here is the uncharacteristic roughness with which both the beginning and end of this overdub were edited in.


We have a very standard looping into the fadeout based on the final two measures of the verse with some clever handling of the duet vocals as they alternate in pattern on the "oh yeahs".

Some Final Thoughts

This song is the fifth one in a row on the first side of With The Beatles in the key of E. Though a comparison of the album's running order to a Baroque dance suite is perhaps a jesting overstatement, there *is* a certain amount of classic sensibility reflected in the way those five Beatles originals are sequenced to provide a balanced and varied alternation of mood and tempo.

That said, "Little Child" is probably the weakest of those five songs; following on the heels of "Don't Bother Me" it's a case of 'from the ridiculous to the sublime', or shall we say it the other way around ? :-) On casual acquaintance, it's easy to dislike "Little Child" for what are, by today's standards, its condescendingly wise-guy/sexist lyrics. Even a closer look at the music itself might make you think of it as a potboiling throwback to the first album because of the small number of chords, the facile melody, and simple phrasing.

And yet, if you can get beyond your own hyper-serious reactions (hey, Alan, speak for yourself), I believe you start hearing this song actually as one feel-good rocker of no small "sincerity." In time, the words eventually warm up to strike you as the quite realistic braggadocio of a cool dude on the make. And what you at first reacted to as "rudeness" in that cool appraising stare of his is nothing other than his active compensatory factor, more or less.

Alan (

"I bet you're a great swimmer. My turn ? Bingo!"

Copyright (c) 1991 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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Artist: Dominic Pedler

Arranged by The Beatles

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