Monday, 29 April 2013

10:17 Martha My Dear (pt.5) Cells And Rugs

So far we've seen that Martha My Dear is an incredibly complex song rhythmically and structurally key-wise, yet it doesn't descend into prog-rock indulgence. How come?

One of the reasons it remains accessible is the way McCartney uses melodic cells – creating different melodies by reusing the same 3 note fragments (Ticket 9).

So the first (and probably most memorable) cell is the Bb C G that occurs twice in the melody

Mar-tha my dear, 
though I spend my days

in interval terms that movement would be described as up a tone (to C) and down a fifth (to G)

this exact same interval also occurs in the phrase

Silly girl

at the end of every bridge

(F) up a tone (to G) and down a fifth (to D)

But what our ear instinctively picks up on and finds pleasing are not the notes or even the intervals as much as the overall shape.

So the SHAPE could could be described as - take three notes, play the middle, then highest, then lowest.

Bb C G - middle, high, low
F G D - middle, high, low

Inverting this pattern (middle, low, high) gives us the second cell, which occurs three times in quick succession in bridge 2

You're bound to see - F D G
That you and me - A G C
Were meant to be - F D A

different notes, different intervals, even different rhythms but the same shape – middle, low, high. The fact that the motif is repeated in an ascending pattern really helps the bridge section take off.

Is this some kind of musical Da Vinci Code? Am I seeing patterns where there are none?


Surely Paul wasn't consciously using patterns?


But in random song like this with so little direct repetition something is making it catchy. One thing that distinguishes great songwriters is the instinctive ability to craft a melody with a pleasing shape. Like the Dude's rug melodic cells really tie the song together.

Another thing that ties the song together is the way McCartney ends both bridges with the same line “silly girl” (ticket 41) McCartney did this with Golden Slumbers, Let It Be and the guitar part of Blackbird and Lennon used it on Julia.

And speaking of bridges – did I mention that this song has two? That's gotta be worth a new ticket (T62). Why have one bridge when you can have two? Tricky to pull off without looking like you don't know what you're doing, but the Beatles did it on I'll Be Back. Do you think it works? Any thoughts on when a song might benefit from two distinctly different bridges?

Leave me a comment.


  1. It's really interesting that you mentioned the two bridges because as well as everything else I thought for a long time that the structure as a whole is verging on a progressive structure, with all of the twists and turns involved. Also, in a lot of progressive music they have little bits that I think are called thematic signatures or something like that (I'm not sure whether that is right or not) - where they will keep repeating them, even to the point of transposing those parts for sections that are in different keys or timings. I'm talking about acts such as Rush, Yes, Gabriel-era Genesis, etc.

    It doesn't actually sound like a progressive rock song, but it has those pieces in place at least.

  2. Yeah some of the elements are there, but you're right it just sounds like a modern take on a chirpy 20s style jazz tune...

  3. The Beatles wrote several songs with a verse-bridge structure (like Hey Jude, Things We Said Today, And I Love Her) so when the structure is verse-bridge-verse-bridge-verse-bridge or something like that you can imagine bridge #2 to differ significantly, making it some kind of climax or solo. It is strange they didn't use it more often, I really like I'll Be Back.

    In Martha My Dear bridge #2 is just a different bridge, more subtle, and combined with the difficult time signature Paul probably felt the need to show his improved songwriting skills. Although I like Martha I prefer I'll Be Back.

  4. Thanks Rob. I think the Beatles wrote verse bridge songs by default (listen to first 2 albums!) and had to learn to write verse chorus songs. Whereas I think it's the opposite way round now.

    I know what you mean about I'll Be Back - but I'd really struggle to pick one over the other...