Thursday 2 July 2020

10:69 Good Night

King of Sleep

Good Night was written by John for Julian Lennon, probably during May/June 1968*. You could call it part of John's sleep trilogy with I'm Only Sleeping and I'm So Tired, or a bookend with Good Morning, Good Morning. Either way sleep was a reoccurring theme in Lennon's work – appropriate for some one once dubbed “the laziest man in England”.

The rehearsal tracks on 50th Anniversary reveal Lennon wrote the song using the fingerpicking pattern Donovan taught him in Rishikesh (ticket 59) – making this a brother-song to Julia and Prudence (and Warm Gun).This guitar version with John, Paul and George adding complex vocal harmonies somewhere between 'Because' and 'barbershop quartet' (Take 10 - 0:26) was abandoned* leaving Ringo to rehearse with piano accompaniment from George Martin* in preparation for the orchestral backing (Take 22).

For the second time on a Ringo track the band attempted (then rejected) a spoken intro. Yellow Submarine kicked off with “And we will march to free the day to see them gathered there, from Land O’Groats to John O’Green, from Stepney to Utrecht, to see a yellow submarine, we love it!”. Here Ringo improvises lines like “Put all those toys away. Yes, Daddy will sing a song for you!” or “Cover yourself up, Charlie*. Pull those covers up and off you go to dreamland!”

The finished record has George Martin's fingerprints all over it but it's possible that some of the most 'Martin' moments originated with John. The wonderful instrumental interlude (1:50) is rather baroque in style and the only non-diatonic moment in the song (ticket 28). But the chord movement is clearly there when John is accompanying Ringo on the guitar (Take 10 – 1:32) and less clear when George is on the piano (Take 22 – 2:26). And the backing vocals recorded by the Mike Sammes Singers are well on their way to being 'overlush' in the hands (mouths) of John, Paul and George. None of this disproves 'Big George' having his finger in the pie but we have to credit John with being fully involved, as were the others. It's heart-warming to hear the whole band coaching Ringo as he become the third Beatles to record a 'solo track'*.

Ditching the piano to play celesta (2:14) George arranged the song for a string section (12 violins, 3 violas, 3 cellos, 1 double bass) 8 singers, 3 flutes, a clarinet, a french horn, a vibraphone and a harp. Sappy or not, it's a beautiful arrangement and totally right for the song*.

Hey Jools, Please Go To Bed

Everything great about this song hinges on it being an 'occasional' song (Ticket 66) - in this case a lullaby. Beyond entertainment or passive listening an occasional song serves a purpose – a national anthem, a birthday song, a football team chant, learning your times-tables. How 'good' it is depends to a large extent on how well it serves that purpose. This song is designed to lull a little loved one to sleep and John makes lyrical and melodic choices that might be bad for your average pop song but are perfect here*.

Lyrically it's incredibly simple. John uses only 30 different words (Ticket 23) and they are all one syllable*. Perfect for a song written for a five year old child.

Small children love repetition. We have the same phrase in lines 2 and 4 (good night, sleep tight) and a wholesale repeat of verse 2 after the instrumental section (Ticket 67). There's also repetition via parallel lyrics (Ticket 24) dream sweet dreams for me / for you and the lovely rhyming concept of sun/moon - Now the moon begins to shine (v1) and Now the sun turns out his light (v2). All this repetition is very comforting.

Simplicity defines the structure too. The only distinct section is a verse with a refrain (the term 'chorus' seems a bit grand for 'dream sweet dreams...' and the title is in the other section). For analysis sake we'll call the verse A and the refrain B. The brief instrumental interlude is a variation on the B section, and so is the intro/outro (ticket 4).

Tune out

The modest vocal range of less than an octave (ticket 40) is another thing that marks it out as a 'children's song'.

The A section finds Lennon at his most melodic, though he doesn't leap around as athletically as McCartney, using 3rds, 4ths and 5ths. The B section is typically horizontal using two notes in the first phrase (dream sweet dreams for me) and only one in the second (dream sweet dreams for you). But the lush chords make it sound clever because every note is supported (doubled) by rich chords – major sevens and slash chords (D7/G) implying 11th and 13ths.

Far more important though is the shape of the melody. The melody feels so wonderfully light and 'sing-song' because it constantly goes up and down and sticks to the same lazy 1 / +3 / +1 / +3 rhythm. Notice the rhythmic similarity between close / your eyes / and I'll /close mine and dream / sweet dreams / for me.

There are three subtle contrasts between the A and B sections that prevent things becoming monotonous. First, as already mentioned, the range in the A section is a 6th (C - A) but only a semitone in the B (F# - G). Second, the melodies move in the opposite direction. Up-down-up-down-up-down-up in the A section and down-up-down-up-down in the B. Finally, the vocal rhythm is broken up on lines 2 and 4 of the A section (good night, sleep tight) by having the chords change on every word (ticket 36) instead of two words per chord in the rest of the song.

That said, many things that make a great Beatles song are missing here – the only out of key chords (ticket 28) are the G7 and A7 implied in the instrumental section. In fact there's very little chord movement at all – a short jump from G to Bm7 followed by a walk back down to Am7 and G is about as daring as it gets. There's a descant (ticket 58) at 0:55 but the backing vocals are in the background, smothered in strings. The whole effect is a soothing comfort blanket of sound with the opening and closing string melody rocking you to sleep. The only 'drama' is the ascending scales in the 'solo' but even that section ends with the cellos drifting down into the land of nod. In short there is no drama because drama is not what you need in a lullaby.

John (and the team) show such restraint in this recording and to me that's what makes it such a successful song in it's own right.

The wonderful thing about writing an occasional song is that the competition is so limited (Christmas songs aside). So even your poor attempt at a bar mitzvah, pancake day, university graduation or coming out song is probably going to be in the All Time Top 20.

I mean how many great rock lullabies* can you name?


Probably during May/June 1968*
The song is unlikely to predate Rishikesh as Lennon is using the fingerpicking technique learned in India and it wasn't demoed at Esher in May, so it was probably written afterwards.

Also abandoned was a crazy-sounding octave-higher guitar effect achieved by double-tracking the guitar part at half-speed (Good Night Take 10).

Piano played by George Martin
Of the three suspects – the pianist is clearly not John. The rehearsal tapes (Take 22) reveal he's in the control room using the talkback mic. George and Paul are in the studio with Ringo but seem to be there for moral support and click track duties. George Martin is also on the 'production floor' and the piano playing is both accomplished and similar to the string parts in a way that suggests he's fleshing out the arrangement. In short Paul would play more like a piano player, this person is playing like an arranger/accompanist – so George gets my vote.

Cover yourself up, Charlie
I'm not the first person to wonder what Charles Manson would have made of getting a name check on the White Album.

The third Beatles to record a 'solo track'
Paul had recorded Yesterday, without the others and George, Within You Without You. John would complete the set with Julia, coached through his performance by Paul in the control room.

Totally right for the song
As is Giles Martin's remix which sparkles, gives the arrangement a kick at 1:05 and 1:34 and removes the nasty thump from Ringo's whispered outro (2:53).

John makes lyrical and melodic choices [that] are perfect
Certainly more effectively than Paul's screamer of a lullaby Golden Slumbers written six months later!

One syllable
Ringo says 'everybody' in the coda but that's a spoken ad-lib rather than a part of the song.

Rock lullabies
Though it's NOT a lullaby I'm convinced that Queen's We Will Rock You was inspired by the Czech lullaby Little Jesus, Sweetly Sleep aka The Rocking Carol translated by Percy Dearmer. 

Ticket 66: Write An Occasional Song

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