Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Here Comes the Sun

This one is just for fun:

The other day I was scrolling through Facebook when I noticed one of my friends had posted a picture of George Harrison's original lyrics for "Here Comes the Sun," which happens to be one of my all time favorite Beatle tunes.

"Cool," I said to myself, having never seen that picture of the lyrics before. It looked like it had been written on personalized stationery — even though I knew full well that it had been written in Eric Clapton's garden — and I was amazed by how few crossed out words there were.

It looks like this:

(Click on picture to enlarge)
 Sometimes inspiration is just nearly perfect, I guess.

I was also surprised by how simple the lyrics were. It's amazing how something so uncomplicated can translate into such a great song.

Anyway, I went ahead and googled "Here Comes the Sun" to find out anything else I could about the tune. I was led to Wikipedia.

Yes, it was written in Clapton's garden. Yes, it was written in April, 1969, after a particularly harsh English winter. Yes, the song helped establish Harrison as an accomplished songwriter, right up there with Lennon and McCartney.

Then I got to the part about the song's musical structure.

Holy smokes.

It read something like this:

"The song is in the key of A major. The main refrain uses a IV (D chord) to V-of-V (B chord) progression (the reverse of that used in "Eight Days a Week" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"). The melody in the verse and refrain basically follows the pentatonic scale from E up to C♯ (scale steps 5, 6, 1, 2, 3).

"One feature is the increasing syncopation in the vocal parts. Another feature is the guitar flat-picking that embellishes the E7 (V7) chord from 2:03 to 2:11, creating tension for resolution on the tonic A chord at "Little darlin' ". The bridge involves a ♭III-♭VII-IV-I-V7 triple descending 4th (or Tri-Plagal) progression (with an extra V7) as the vocals move from "Sun" (♭III or C chord) to "sun" (♭VII or G chord) to "sun" (IV or D chord) to "comes" (I or A chord) and the additional 4th descent to a V7 (E7) chord. The lyric here ("Sun, sun, sun, here it comes") has been described as taking "on the quality of a meditator's mantra". The song also features extreme 4/4 (in the verse) and a sequence of 11/8 + 4/4 + 7/8 (which can also be transcribed as 11/8 + 15/8) in the bridge, phrasing interludes which Harrison drew from Indian music influences. In the second verse (0:59–1:13) the Moog synthesizer doubles the solo guitar line and in the third verse the Moog adds an obbligato line an octave above. The last four bars (2:54–3:04) juxtapose the guitar break with a repeat of the bridge."

Suddenly, I'm wondering if that's what was really running through Harrison's head as he was writing the tune. It reads more like a scientific equation for a trip to Alpha Centauri. I always figured a composer strummed guitars or pounded keyboards to coax the song out of his head until he found what sounded good. What do I know?

Maybe the Beatles really were geniuses after all.

Although I know next to nothing about music except how to listen to it, I've often been fascinated by the songwriting process and how songs are created and arranged. One of these days I may ask one of my songwriter friends about this and how the process works for them. I hope it involves guitar frets and not logarithms.

In the meantime:

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