Wednesday, 30 August 2017

10:59 Cry Baby Cry (pt.3) Music

Having looked at the lyrics and the drama behind the song let's finish with the music. Cry Baby Cry has a beautiful natural sounding melody that sits easily on top of some pretty unconventional chords. That's something Lennon excelled at. Here his use of OoKCs (Ticket 28) is not as showy as I Am The Walrus, but just as effective.

Walrus Tears

To start with the chorus melody: Lennon uses the G major blues scale (G A Bb B D E) which means the overall tonality could be viewed as G major or G mixolydian (Ticket 51). The ambiguity comes from the lack of 4ths and 7th – there is no C or C#, F or F# in the melody (Ticket 40). There are lots of F naturals in the harmony which weights the overall tonality towards G mixolydian (G A B C D E F G) but whichever way you land there are out of key notes in both melody and harmony. The harmony favours C natural (in F major, Am and C7) but include C# as well (A7).

The verses makes a switch from G major to the relative minor (Em) and melodically the G major blues scale (G A Bb B D E) becomes the E minor blues scale (E G A Bb B D). Same notes, different starting point (or more accurately a different centre).

This switch to the RELATIVE key is common in songwriting - Crazy Train (Ozzy Osbourne) switches from a 'happy' A major chorus to a 'sad' F#m chorus. Arguably it's not even a real key change since you're only shuffling the notes around, rather than altering them.

But the Beatles much preferred changing between PARALLEL keys (like A major to A minor) which retains the same centre but alters three notes around it. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (1:07-1:28) is a prime example. (Lennon and McCartney's neglect of relative key changes probably explains why it's only now getting it's own ticket. Say hello to Ticket 75!).

Switching between B natural and Bb adds a piquant bluesy flavour (Ticket 22) which can be heard in the C7 chord*, the lead guitar fill (1:17) and the way melody 'sighs' and 'cries' (0:32 and (0:37) from Bb to A to G. This 'madrigalism' (Ticket 49) is also reflected in the “playing piano” line (at 0:20 – 0:28).

The final kicker in the discombobulation stakes is the way Lennon ends his lead vocal on a very unresolved A over an Em chord. Most songs end on the root note and tonic chord which here would mean a G over a G major chord. But Lennon unexpectedly substitutes an Em chord (giving us the legendary Aeolian Cadence - Ticket 10). And A is the 2nd in the key of G major and the 4th in relation to the Em chord. So whichever way you slice it, very unstable and unfinished. And cool.


The key change isn't solely responsible for the contrast between verse and chorus. The verse harmony is built on the 'line cliché' of E Eb D Db C B within the chords

Em - Em maj7 - Em7 - Em6 - C7 - G

while the chorus uses simpler chords with much more root movement.

G Am F G Em A7 F G

The verse melody is constructed from a repeated motif with a narrow range (E-B) over moving chords (Ticket 48) whereas the chorus is more expansive and free.

Mama's Little Baby Loves Short'ning

One of the ways Lennon generates tremendous forward momentum throughout the song (apart from omitting any intro, outro or solo) is by cutting out extraneous bars and beats (Ticket 37 – The Lennon Edit). The chorus is four bars long but the first chorus omits the last two beats and the last line of lyrics.

Similarly the verse are truncated. Any other writer would have hung on to G major for a fourth bar just to 'square things up' (0:19). But Lennon's in too much of a rush – so three bars it is. And then he outdoes himself the second time (0:20) cutting the three bar pattern down to two and a half. After all, the verse ends on G major and the chorus starts on G major so why play it twice? Let's edit the edit!

Lennon does it again in the double chorus finale (2:07). The chorus starts and ends G major. So he removes the beginning of the final chorus. Or is it the end of the penultimate one? Who cares! Snip!

By the way, about that verse. Repeating a chord progression is the most normal thing in the world. But the Beatles hardly ever did it. Interesting that...

Arrangement Hall Of Fame

The recording abounds with subtle, yet brilliant, arrangement ideas. Little painterly flourishes like the few seconds of flashy harmonium soloing from George Martin (0:05) never to be heard again, the organ (0:41), Harrison's lead guitar fills in verse three (1:17, 1:26), the piano bassline that brings out the spookiness of the verse progression (1:40). Along with other sonic touches like the gnarly phasing on the acoustic guitar (0:01) and recordings of birds (1:13) all betray crafting. And Ringo is the master craftsman, taking a different approach on every single verse. Check out the great bass/drums groove on verse two (0:39).

So that's Cry Baby Cry completely wrapped up. But there's still one more thing to look at with the track. Can you guess what it is?

*C7 is the bVI7 chord in the key of E minor – a very bluesified choice.

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  1. Not my fav song but, after listening closely, the arrangement is rather intricate indeed. And John's tendency to use bars efficiently is fun to notice. The ending is also peculiar, isn't it (EMsus4).

    1. Yes I definitely grew in respect by studying it