Friday, 28 November 2014

Ringo And The Helpful Bass Player

I'm sure it p***ed Ringo off when he couldn't quite get the drums to 'Back In The USSR,' and I sat in. It's very weird to know that you can do a thing someone else is having trouble with. If you go down and do it, just bluff right through it, you think, 'What the hell, at least I'm helping.' Then the paranoia comes in - 'But I'm going to show him up!' I was very sensitive to that.

But not quite sensitive enough, as Ringo quit the band during the White Album sessions after Paul apparently criticised him for screwing up a drum fill.

Sources: Beatles Songwriting And Recording Database and Beatles Bible

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Johnny (Lennon) B. Goode

Next up on BSA is Back In The USSR which has strong ties with Chuck Berry and The Beach Boys. To whet your appetite here's John and Yoko jamming with Chuck in 1972 on the Mike Douglas Show.

Monday, 27 October 2014

10:37 Dear Prudence (pt.2) Sunny Scales And Scary Chords

Like most Beatles songs, Prudence keeps wandering out of key but generally you'd expect this sunny track would be major. Arguably, it's in the mixolydian mode (Ticket 51).

D major contains D E F# G A B C # and D, so you'd expect to hear D G and A major chords.
D mixolydian contains D E F# G A B C natural, and D, so you'd expect to hear D G and C major chords.

The C and A chords both appear in the song but the A is a lot less prominent. C is all over the 4 verses, both as D/C and C major but A only turns up in the bridge (D G/D A/D G/D) and the intro/outro (D6 C6/D D C/D G/D A/D C/D) where it's outnumbered by C.

The melody avoids picking sides by not using C, C# or G (Ticket 14) creating an 'in key' melody over out of key chords (Ticket 40).


But freshening things up with D mixolydian isn't enough for Lennon, who uses the chord progressions to spices things up by adding F major and Ab major (in the brilliant spooky end to the bridge at 2:01) to the A major/D and D major/Bb.

Let's pause there.

D major. Over. Bb.

Take a moment to play that sucker. It's NAYSTY! Bb D F# A. Then add Lennon singing an E during that chord (DEAR prudence). Oh the humanity! How can such a cluster from hell (D E F# over a Bb bass) work outside of a horror film soundtrack?

The Beatles rarely kept their chord progressions in key and Lennon was great at singing non-chord tones and making them work (the chorus of Help is a personal favourite) but here you have both. How did it work and stay so sweetly melodic?

First, the chords appear as arpeggios rather than strummed 'block chords' which softens the dissonance. Second the dissonance (Bb) occurs as part of a logical moving line (D C B Bb) as opposed to being suddenly hit over the head with a cluster. Similarly, the non-chord tone in the melody (E) drops to the root (D) and then the 5th (A) going from outside to solidly inside (Dear Pru-dence).

Another unconventional thing about the verse is how the bass ditches the R b7 6 b6 progression (D C b Bb) after the first go and replaces it with A C B Bb. Who came up with that? The first note in Lennon's guitar part is the open A string followed by 'both' D strings. So maybe Paul was just following the guitar (for once). But Paul also made exactly the same substitution on Lennon's Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds which has no similar guitar line. Maybe they're both geniuses.


Structure wise we're looking at an old school AABA (Ticket 26) with an intro and a first verse repeat (Ticket 67)

i A1 A2 B A3 A1 i

there's a nice contrast between the A and B sections (Ticket 5). A has a descending chord pattern and B ascends. Speaking of contrasts the final verse ends with some contrary motion (Ticket 12) with the lead guitar heading heavenwards (the sun is up) as the chords keep moving down. And preceding that is a lovely guitar counter melody.

The verse is full of clever development. Uncharacteristically we have two different melodic ideas (dear prudence and the sun is up) over the same chord sequence. The latter part is an example of static melody over moving chords (Ticket 48).

And I'm sure that piano is sped up.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Even Better Than The Real Thing? - Miley Cyrus & Flaming Lips

Here's a remarkably epic rendering of Lennon's psychedelic classic

Flaming Lips have rerecorded Sgt Pepper in it's entirety on With A Little Help From My Fwends which will be released in November 2014. Singer Wayne Coyne talked about the project here.

More Flaming Beatles covers below

Link love to Dr Rock (

Monday, 20 October 2014

New Beatles Podcasts

I've recently come across two Beatles podcast you might want to check out. First AlphaBeatical is going through every Beatles song “from 12 to Y”. The roundtable format podcast is more of a fans-eye view but fun and interesting all the same. As they've just done A Taste Of Honey you don't have too much to catch up on. And unlike BSA they're covering Anthology deep cuts too.

Next up, Otis Gibbs' excellent 'Thanks For Giving A Damn', a 'life on the road' storytelling project had a cool episode on Paul McCartney's stay in Nashville in 1974. You can download it or listen here.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Under The Influence: Joe Elliott (Def Leppard)

The Beatles gave us something we wouldn't have otherwise had because they spent so long in the studio with Lennon and McCartney no doubt saying, 'What does that machine do? What happens if we turn it upside down?'. When Leppard were in the studio with Mutt Lange we said, 'we wouldn't have been able to do this if The Beatles hadn't done it first'. They showed everybody the way. Our production techniques were influenced by what they were doing on Sgt. Pepper, the White Album... That influenced us more than us trying to rip off their chord structures.

Joe Elliott (Def Leppard) in Classic Rock Magazine

This is a guest post by Martin Quibell

Monday, 13 October 2014

10:36 Dear Prudence (pt.1) Ringoing Going Gone

Prudence Farrow with Ringo Starr in Rishikesh. Oh the irony.

Dear Prudence is a fantastic, deceptively simple, song and was one of Lennon's favourites. Perhaps more closely identified with Rishikesh than any other track, it was inspired by Mia Farrow's sister, Prudence, going a little nuts while studying meditation with the Beatles in India. The legend has Lennon singing it outside her door, but Prudence denies hearing the song till she was 'Back In The US(SA)'.

Using the same Donovan/Gypsy Davy finger picking pattern that appears on Julia, Blackbird and Happiness Is A Warm Gun, it's another example of using a technical exercise to write a song (Ticket 59). Other 1968-approved songwriting ideas are the R b7 6 b6 line (Ticket 68) that appeared in While My Guitar (this time in the major form - D, D/C, D/B, D/Bb) and some Lady Madonna style boogie-woogie piano (Ticket 25) making a cameo appearance at 3:31.

Less praiseworthy is the way Lennon (ahem) 'paraphrases' the first line of Raining in My Heart "The sun is out; the sky is blue", changing 'out' to 'up'.

Back in the UK, the band headed for Trident Studios, possibly to take full advantage of the 8 track recorder, laying down tracks that are as inspired as they are scrappy, perfectly capturing the vibe of the song. Ringo however was not there. Having quit the band during the previous session (Back In The USSR) and gone AWOL, Paul stepped up (or rather sat down) in his place.

One of the amazing thing about the Beatles is how world-class songwriters like Lennon, McCartney and Harrison were also prepared to be sidemen on 'the other guy's' songs. And what a sideman Paul McCartney was! – backing vocal, drums, super loud bass, piano, tambourine, cowbell, handclaps and a fl├╝gelhorn (audible only to the pure of heart).

I Can't Believe It's Not Ringo™

Let's talk about that drumming. The same kind of 'lead drumming' last heard on A Day In The Life, Paul's performance is so good that many people swear it MUST be Ringo. Conspiracy theorists point to how un-McCartney-like it is compared to his solo era skin-bashing. But let me make this clear. It doesn't matter how much of an expert you think you are. Ringo was in a different country. With his family. Writing Octopus's Garden. And Prudence was completed before his return. Besides, a listen to the semi-isolated track reveals a few flubs amongst the flams. And the fact that the fills are overdubbed onto a basic beat makes McCartney sound slightly better than he really is.

Unusual Prudence

The song is a bit of an oddball for a number of reasons. This is the only example of dropped D tuning I can find in all the Beatles catalogue. It has a fade in/fade out bookended chord progression (Ticket 4) something which only shows up in Eight Days A Week. We have the aforementioned lead drumming and rogue blue notes (in the boogie-woogie piano part) like the cellos in Yesterday and Piggies. And the droning double-D strings in the guitar perhaps reflect the Indian genesis more subtly than Tomorrow Never Knows.

Perhaps most importantly from a songwriting point of view, repeated chord sequences are very un-Beatles-like, though standard procedure today (Demons and Radioactive by Imagine Dragons for examples consist of a single four chord sequence all the way through).

Next time. Stuff about chords, small melodies and which scale we're using.