Get Back is an ultra simple bluesy rocker than manages to transcend the basic raw materials. Saved from being a cheery racist rant by McCartney's characteristic vagueness (the original, allegedly satirical, lyrics about "too many Pakistanis living in a council flat" needing to “get back where they once belonged” were wisely scrapped) it ended up as a cool relentless song about nothing at all.
The simplicity is stunning. There are three chords and essentially one progression, with a few slight variations. The main progression (heard in the verse) is
A, A, D, A
The chorus adds in a G and a D on the last two beats
A, A, D, A (G D)
The final chorus and the chorus before the piano solo alters the progression to
A, A, A, D
The very loose jamming feel creates the illusion of more variations, as different band members miss the G D part at different times and McCartney consistently ignores it on bass.
Lyrically we have only two short verses and a chorus with seven words that repeats the title six times! How do McCartney manage to stop such a simple tune getting monotonous?
First, the melody is in the Mixolydian mode. Though this song is light years from the Beatles 'Indian songs' it does share this scale in common with many of those 'three/two/no chord wonders'. The Inner Light, Tomorrow Never Knows, She Said She Said, Within You Without You, Paperback Writer, Rain all share this scale as do parts of Ticket To Ride and Getting Better. So the unfamiliarity of the scale helps to balance the blandness of the chords.
Second, the vocal melody almost completely ignores the root note. The verse starts on a high E, climbing to a G, before walking down to a low E. The chorus starts on F# again moving up to G before descending to the A root note. So the only root notes in the whole melody are
But, he knew it COULDn't last...
For some CaliFORNia grass...
Get back to where you once belonGED
and the chorus is the only place you come to rest on the root note (and even then, the 2nd and 4th choruses retain an unsettled feeling by ending on a D major chord (the IV).
But that's not all. The 3rd (C#) doesn't appear in the melody AT ALL! It's only due to the occasional A or A7 chord (both of which contain C#) that we hear it as the major sounding mixolydian tonality at all. With the emphasis on E and G, and the passing C natural near the end of the chorus, the melody sounds more like E minor.
In fact the strongest note, apart from the E, is G natural - the b7th in the key of A, and the essential note in the mixolydian mode. (E's are bold and underlined, G's are bold and CAPS)
Jo Jo was a man who THOUGHT HE WAS A loner,
But, he knew it couldn't last.
Jo Jo left his home in TUCSON, ARIZONA,
For some California grass.
Get BACK! Get BACK! Get BACK to where you once belonged.
Melodically speaking this is so 'out there' that it might be better to say that, rather than the melody compensating for boring chords, we need the simple A5, A6 blues boogie part to ground such an unconventional melody.
Ticket 6 is 'stay off the root CHORD'. But now we have a new one - Ticket 50 - 'stay off the root NOTE'. This can produce a restless, 'driving ever onwards' feel.
Try it out.
Next time, we try to decipher the lyrics and find lots more tickets