Monday, 27 May 2013

10:19 Savoy Truffle – The White Album Is Like A Box Of Chocolates




Critiquing

Allow me to be blunt. This is not a very good song. At least I don't think it is. And I think I have some good reasons.

But

I like the track. And I have a couple of reasons for that too. My reasons? Firstly, it's an interesting recording, with lots going on and it's well played. A perfectly credible album track that holds it's own - more than mere filler. And secondly, I have listened to this album repeatedly from a very young (and largely uncritical) age. We have personal history, Savoy Truffle and I.

But I'm trying to learn the art of songwriting from The Beatles here and that requires me to be critical about what works and why (and what doesn't and why) IN THE SONGWRITING. And if you're reading this blog I guess that's what you're here to do too.

Which is all to say – you may love Savoy Truffle. Great. Try and work out why. Because, like me the real object of your affection may be an arrangement, a recording, a performance or even a life event. Or it may be a polyrhythm, a play on words, an internal rhyme or a dominant substitution. Either way let me know in the comments.




Good Bits

The song as a whole is well played and quite funky for the Beatles, but for me almost everything cool about the song is packed into the first 10 seconds.

We have a very free form feel, driven by the electric piano and lead guitar. The melody starts on 9th degree of the scale and a Lennon edit (ticket 37) means we have a disorientating bar of 3/4 at the start of verses 1 & 2, almost like the song is crashing then rebooting, but the third verse (which has the same lyrics as verse 1) is 4/4 all the way through. Check out the way tangeRINE falls on the one in v1 and on the four in v3. The internal rhyme in the opening line CREAM tangeRINE is beautiful.

The chorus has a menacing rising 5th movement (ticket 32 the legendary James Bond chords) - probably the best chord progression in the whole song, but it's used much more effectively in the chorus of Hey Bulldog (not to mention the instrumental break in the White Album's Glass Onion).

The sax's are another Marmite element – the original session players were horrified by the distorted effect, but I like it and think producer/arranger/keyboard player Chris Thomas* did a great job in writing some hooky riffs.

The overall concept is cool, in a way – a bad boy chocolate lurking in the box ready to take you down! But I'm not sure the execution does it justice.



Bad Sounds

There are a couple of things wrong with this song and they're things we've come across before. First an ugly chromatic melody – just like Harrison's For You Blue and Paul's Maxwell. The verse melody is largely constructed from chord tones ascending from the 3rd to the 5th.




montelimar – G# A A# B
pineapple heart - A# B C C#
coffee desert - B C C# D

and the almost chromatic

know it's good news - B C - D D#

This links up with the chorus in a subtle way, as the ascending chromatic concept reappears in the 'James Bond' chords but elsewhere there are too many chords that don't resolve and too many chromatic notes leaving everything feeling constantly unsettled. Just like Old Brown Shoe. Broadly speaking the song is in E major but the verse resolves to Em and the chorus resolves to G major.

And whatever you think of the sax sound, the drums sound nasty!

Bad Words

Savoy Truffle is a smorgasbord of bad lyrics techniques.

Bad prosody

Putting the emPHAsis on the wrong syLLAble. No one says SAV-oy. They say sa-VOY. When that's your chorus/title you got a problem.

Nonsense

I feel your taste? Listen, do you smell something?




Random change of 'person'

Speaking of which, why does George feel your taste? It's not him with the chocolate issues. It's Eric Clapton. So we've changed person. Unless what he's 'feeling' is the taste of Eric himself. Yuk!

Filler

We all know Ob-la-di-bla-da. But can you show me where you are?

What on earth has this got to do with the song? And though the fact that Harrison is misquoting one of his own band's lyrics (Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da) is nothing too heinous,** he is borrowing (again!) from Lennon's Glass Onion, which self-references five Beatles songs and was recorded less than one month earlier.

Lastly I'm just a little put off by the hectoring tone (as previously heard on Think For Yourself). Nag your friends to freedom? I don't think so.

Time to file this song away. Next time a special post on a special chord sequence!

*that's right – George Martin took a long holiday in the middle of the White Album and a number of tracks were produced or co-produced by George's apprentice Chris Thomas.

**thanks to Rich for pointing out that McCartney does sing "bla-da" at the very end of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.



11 comments:

  1. >>>"We all know Ob-la-di-bla-da. But can you show me where you are?"
    >>>What on earth has this got to do with the song? And though the fact that Harrison is misquoting one of his own band's lyrics (Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da) is nothing too heinous

    Well, not exactly misquoting. Doesn't the song "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" end with the phrase "Ob-la-di-bla-da"?

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  2. Rich, that's one of the reasons I love doing this blog - you're absolutely right and I would probably never have spotted it. Post amended! Top marks!

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    1. And the reason it's corrupted to "bla-da" is to get five descending scale steps at the end. Six is, like, one too many, man.

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  3. I don't completely dislike "Savoy Truffle", but it's not a favorite either. "...for me almost everything cool about the song is packed into the first 10 seconds." - agreed. But mostly, I've always felt the lyrics were lacking something (but never could articulate *what*, exactly), and the 'scratchy' sound of the music means half the time it's simply annoying. On the whole, I find the concept/story behind the composition is more interesting than the song itself, a unique idea that just didn't translate very well.

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  4. I think the scratchy sound is down to how the sax's were recorded. The Beatles were big fans of altering the sound of every instrument.

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  5. I know, and I'm not against distortion - "Revolution" wouldn't be right without it. By 'scratchy' I was sort of referring both to the sax sound AND the overall unsettledness of the music, which, as you pointed out, is caused by the chord sequencing. :)

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  6. About your comment: "No one says SAV-oy. They say sa-VOY." I think you're wrong. If you ask a Scouser from Liverpool what it says on that box, he'd say "SAV-oy". The English in general have "Englished" a lot of French words, and to pronounce them with a French intonation would be seen as affectation. We think saying "May-hi-co" when referring to our southern neighbor is affected in the same way.

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  7. Interesting. I will ask. Stay tuned...

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  8. Having grown up with a mother and family from the north of England I'm tempted to agree with Jim's comment.

    As for the song itself, I've always loved the verse. There's something about that C# that just pulls at you. But I have to admit the chorus gives somewhat of an impression that George wasn't sure how to resolve the tension he'd built for himself.

    On the other hand, the goofy chorus does complement the goofy lyric in a way. It might actually be strange for this song to have an earnest and well-crafted resolution, I think.

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    1. Interesting points - you can definitely make a case for "an impression that George wasn't sure how to resolve the tension he'd built for himself" from other songs - Think For Yourself, Old Brown Shoe, Only A Northern Song...

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