Monday, 29 June 2015

10:43 Yer Blues (pt. 1) John Got (No) Rhythm

...Or The Art Of The 12.333 Recurring Bar Blues

John was a brilliant rhythm guitarist, despite the fact that he didn't have any real sense of timing

Ringo Starr: Rolling Stone

I dig the people that notice that I have a sort of strange rhythm scene, because I've never been able to keep rhythm on the stage. I always used to get lost. It's me double off-beats

John Lennon: Rolling Stone

John Lennon was too much of a free spirit and had too short of an attention span to be locked down to anything as mundane as a time signature. And for someone like that the only options are to function largely as a solo artist (in the Robert Johnson/John Lee Hooker mould), where you're free to add or subtract beats as you feel, or hope you find a band charmed by your talents and technically able to follow and interpret your whims. Every rhythmically Idiot Savant needs a group of geniuses with the patience to spot and interpret his genius. In the Beatles Lennon found his perfect support group. Johnny Lennon and the Enablers would have been a great name for the band.

Yer Blues, like Happiness Is A Warm Gun, is an important song because it reveals what Lennon's maverick approach to counting could produce when indulged

The 'fake' count in reveals* Lennon envisioned the song as a very slow 12/8 time. Making it a 6 bar blues. But the 5th bar has two extra 8th notes

12/8   E | E | A | E |
14/8   G B7 |
12/8   E A E B7 |

How you subdivide that 5th bar is up for grabs – 6/8 and 8/8? 12/8 then 2/8? But the genesis is clear. Lennon's just delaying the next bar to allow the guitar lick and the vocal line to finish. This is the essence of the Lennon Extension (Ticket 52). There is a way to keep to 12/8 by slightly overlapping the guitar and vocals. And many bands would have forced their rhythmically challenged singer into it. But all credit to the Beatles for having the guts to their wayward genius be.

So if this is a 6 bar oddity, why does it feel like a 12 bar blues? Well, if you hear it as 6/8 instead of 12 you can immediately see the standard progression take shape.

6/8   E | E | E | E |
6/8   A | A | E | E |
6/8   G |
8/8   B7 |
6/8   E A | E B7 |

Four bars on the tonic (I) chord two on the subdominant (IV) back to the tonic for two (I) then a four bar turnaround. Replace G - B7 with B7 - A and lose the rhythmic shenanigans and we could be playing any of a million blues songs. As it is Lennon adds a 3rd of a bar making this a 12 and 1/3 bar blues, or if you prefer 12.333 recurring bar blues.

In the 3rd and 4th verses Lennon introduces more rhythmic weirdness. The first four bars (sticking to our 12 bar template) switch to double time. Millions of songs double (or halve) time with no sense of crunching gear change.

So 1  +  2  +   3  +  4  +

becomes 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

but in 12/8 or 6/8 each beat is divided into three

1 + a 2 + a 3 + a 4 + a

so the new double-time beat is falling in between the + and the 'a'. This makes the switch from one to the other very tricky to pull off - kudos to Ringo here who uses his fills in bar four to ease the band back into the half time feel of bars 5-12. In the 5th verse the band never switches back, remaining at the double-time tempo right through the solos.

All this makesYer Blues an important song for using polyrhythms (Ticket 29) and changing time signatures between sections (Ticket 15).


The Ocean by Led Zeppelin has a number of things in common with this song.

  • Odd time signatures
  • A change in feel to straight ahead shuffle after a very noticeable tape edit
  • A reference to old timey music connected with the shuffle (Lennon: “Even hate my rock and roll” Plant: “Doo-wop be dooby dooby”)
  • Ending in a fade out (rare for Zep – very rare for Beatles)
  • A vocal count in

* Lennon's count in is the third fake one we've come across – both I Saw Her Standing There and Taxman have count-ins spliced in from different takes just for effect.

More on Yer next time...


Monday, 22 June 2015

For Yer Blues

Was [Yer Blues] deliberately meant to be a parody of the English blues scene?

John Lennon: Well, a bit. I'm a bit self-conscious — we all were a bit self-conscious and the Beatles were super self-conscious people about parody of Americans which we do and have done. I know we developed our own style but we still in a way parodied American music... there was a self-consciousness about singing blues. We were all listening to Sleepy John Estes and all that in art school, like everybody else. But to sing it was something else.

Rolling Stone interview with Jann Wenner (8 Dec 1970)


Monday, 11 May 2015

10:42 Rocky Raccoon

Though not a kid's song, McCartney's child-friendly story (Ticket 64) captivated me as a kid listening to my sister's C120 cassette and I've never outgrown it. He was writing about “some bloke in a raccoon hat, like Davy Crockett”* but to 10 year old me it was a real gun-toting Racoon.

Writing And Recording

Rocky Sassoon was 'jammed' into life by Paul on a Rishikesh roof (with John Lennon and Donovan throwing in ideas) and recorded in a single session. Somewhere on the way to Abbey Road Rocky changed his name (thankfully!).

The White Album version is built on take 9 featuring McCartney (vocals and acoustic guitar), Starr (drums) and Lennon or possibly Harrison (bass). But Anthology has the unadorned take 8 and reveals the Beatles 'at play' in the most healthy way.

Though he later dismissed Rocky and his own part in it**, Lennon seems into it on take 8; maybe it was the Lennon-approved repetition, working quickly enough not to get bored or just being in a good mood that day.

It's amazing how much the two takes differ. There's a straighter strumming pattern, Lennon keeps switching between bass and harmonica, and the lyrics are all over the map (literally – Rocky is from Minnesota, not Dakota) revealing the semi-improvised nature of the song

Rocky Raccoon, he was a fool unto himself and he would not swallow his foolish pride

Earlier takes*** include

Roll up his sleeves on the sideboard/ roll over, Rock/ it's just a scratch/ I'll be OK when I get home and most memorably Move over doc, let's have none of your c**k

Once they nailed take 9 they added BVs, harmonica and harmonium**** (Lennon) and more drums and bass (Ringo and Paul). George Martin's patent sped-up Honky Tonk piano is a great touch, lending a bar room vibe which, like the snare drum 'gunshot' at 1:47-49, is an example of Madrigalism (Ticket 49).

Why Does It Work?

For me Rocky Raccoon is a great little song that shouldn't work. Five verses and two instrumental verses, all based on the same musical material, should be teeth-grindingly monotonous … but it's not (at least for me!). Verse 1 is a 'jazz-style intro verse' (Ticket 53). Opening bleakly on an A melody note (sung 22 times!) over an Am chord it sounds almost like an operatic recitative. In Paul's mind it's “talking-blues”. *****

A big part of the song's staying power the strength of the chord progression.

Am7      Am7
D7sus4  D7
G7         G7
C           C/B

In this simple 8 bar pattern we have a wealth of interesting things.

  • The D7 is an OOKC (Out Of Key Chord – Ticket 28)
  • We never get a IV chord (F) – one of the three most common chords (Ticket 7)
  • Within the chords we have a 'voice' descending chromatically from the b7th to the 5th - g - f# - f - e (Ticket 31).
g  (in Am7 and D7sus4)
f# (in D7)
f natural (in G7)
e  (in C major)

  • The basic progression itself is a 'circle of fourths' (Ticket 43) – A to D to G to C. The vi – ii – V – I is a very strong movement towards 'home', but the progression never rest. After one bar on the tonic (I), C major we immediately descend via the C/B to the vi (Am) and start all over again. This avoidance of the root chord (Ticket 6) gives tremendous forward momentum (you can hear McCartney doing the same thing in The Long And Winding Road).

A single chord pattern song is rare for the Beatles but such a multifaceted progression really keeps things interesting. There are other points too

Other Things

Though we have a fairly repetitive melody over changing chords (Ticket 48) it doesn't grate because the melody, like the chords, stays unresolved by avoiding the root (Ticket 50). The melody is mainly pentatonic (C D E G A) with the odd Eb bluesifying the melody (Ticket 22), especially on “broken his dreams” and in the hooky piano/scat singing instrumental (Ticket 3).

Well-drawn characters (Ticket 70), and some 'bookending': melodically, lyrically and dynamically, between verse 2 (checked into his room) and verse 5 (fell back in his room) really tie things together and avoid the song becoming a never-ending shaggy-dog story.

Yes! Apparently Rocket Racoon was based on the Beatles song! More background here


*Many Years From Now (p. 423)
**Paul [wrote it]. Couldn't you guess? Would I go to all that trouble about Gideon's Bible and all that stuff? John Lennon: All We Are Saying
***Abandoned lyrics are from The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions
**** The 'harmonium' (from 2:22) sounds much more like an accordion to me. You can hear Abbey Road's Mannborg Harmonium here
***** Beatles Interviews


Saturday, 18 April 2015

The Legend Of Liverpool Football Club (Djimi Traore)

Don't normally toot my own flugel horn here on BSA, but here's a new video for my (remixed) song Djimi Traore which gives a very big nod towards the Fab Four, both lyrically and musically. The Beatles played a significant role in the development of the terrace singing which the song celebrates.

Download Djimi Traore here
Read more about the song here


Monday, 13 April 2015

A Hard Day's Night Easter Eggs

This is more fanboy/geek than I normally like to do, but watching the reissued A Hard Day's Night on the big screen recently was a revelation - here's 3 things I noticed and 1 thing that everyone's seen before but is still cool...

Friday, 27 March 2015

Best Idea Wins

There was no real musical ego problem. There were a lot of other ego problems, but whoever had the best idea got their way. No one really stood on the cliff saying, "F**k you, no."

Ringo Starr: Rolling Stone Magazine

70+ Songwriting Tips From The Beatles