Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Behold:The Holy Grail of Guitar Chords



It sounds like this........




The secret of The Beatles sound (well, Lennon's technique mostly) was revealed to me in a local pub, by an old boy known as Music John - 'He played Banjo chords on guitar' John whispered with lowered tones and knowing nods. If you've ever dabbled with guitar techniques and Beatles tunes, you'll know the Fab's catalogue is coloured with quirky chord shapes and unique sequences, unlike anything you'll find in other rocker's songbooks. It's these same singing, ringing chords and magical combo's that defines a demarcation line between disciples and disbelievers....

Roger McGuinn 'The chord changes really had magic in them'

Bob Dylan 'They were doing things nobody was doing. Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous'

Steve Jones 'The rest of us hate the Beatles. And it turned out he (Glen Matlock) loves them. He came up with all these Beatles influenced chords and melodies that I couldn't play.

From the moment it's first Cllaaaaaanggggg rang around the world, the opening chord to A Hard Day's Night has been the Holy Grail (and basis for raging debates and dissertations on the mechanics of the chord) for  guitar anoraks, plectrum analysers and Beatologists. George Harrison settled, but didn't solve the mystery in 2001.

George Harrison' It is F with a G on top (on the 12-string), but you'll have to ask Paul about the bass note to get the proper story'

The principles of the 'proper story' are:Fadd9  is the George chord, (you'll hear this being picked during the closing coda) but the recording is a composite of overdubbed instruments playing additional notes. Meaning,  the chord required for solo players is - G7sus4. The full theory and breakdown is here. My home made recreation of Fadd9 and extra instrumentation is here.......



But, getting back to Music John's revelation, Lennon was shown banjo shapes by his mother Julia. As his style developed he rounded out his chord library with more conventional shapes, but always coloured his compositions with these peculiar voicings. But it wasn't just the chords that were non-standard. Musicians of the early sixties typically favoured, shiny new Fenders in jet age shapes and Cadillac colours. Not The Beatles - their kit and instruments were a collection of oddities and eye-openers.

Lemmy on seeing The Beatles at The Cavern....

Music John's banjo chords theory, is only one component tone of The Beatles signature mix. Build in Lennon's love of descending bass lines, Ringo's left handed drummer/right handed kit arrangement Macca being the reluctant bass player reinventing the form, and the north-south divide of blues boomers versus country lovers (why the Stones honk out riffs and the Fabs chime with arpeggios) and inspiration and influences taken from an assortment of sources, soul imports, Little Richard squeals, Motown hits, music hall melodies - and the harmonics of the hit makers starts to take shape.

Zip to 00:48 of Chuck Berry's You Can't Catch Me - and you'll find a line mainly famous as Beatles refrain, or Bobby Parker's opening riff for Watch Your Step, which Lennon openly admits was recycled for handful of Fab anthems.







Piley and I set about our eleventh podcast later this week, with sound-a-likes being the motif of the moment. So expect to hear some more 'sounds familiar' acts and tracks at some point soon.

Shabby Road Studios - keyboard not pictured


13 comments:

drew said...

Completely off subject Mondo, what did you think of the Paul Jackson mix cd?

Mondo said...

It's more instro-electro than expected, but gets better as it goes on - So Shock-In is a peach though...

John Medd said...

I suspect you'll be getting a call from The Beatles police very shortly Mondo! I hope you have a good defence team.

I received an email recently from an American Prof. who, for some reason, sent me a thesis all about this chord. Looking online there's a lot of heated debate over it - as you're no doubt aware.

And this is the sort of thing they say:

Analysis of the chord has been the subject of considerable debate, with it being described as G7add9sus4, G7sus4, or G11sus4.

The exact chord is an Fadd9 confirmed by Harrison during an online chat on 15 February 2001:

Q: Mr Harrison, what is the opening chord you used for "A Hard Day's Night"?
A: It is F with a G on top, but you'll have to ask Paul about the bass note to get the proper story.

According to Walter Everett, the opening chord has an introductory dominant function because McCartney plays D in the bass; Harrison and Martin play F A C G in twelve string guitar and piano, over the bass D, giving the chord a mixture-coloured neighbour, F; two diatonic neighbours, A and C; plus an anticipation of the tonic, G — the major subtonic as played on guitar being a borrowed chord commonly used by the Beatles, first in "P.S. I Love You" (see mode mixture), and later in "Every Little Thing", "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "Got to Get You into My Life" (in the latter two against a tonic pedal).

In contrast, Alan W. Pollack interprets the chord as a surrogate dominant (surrogate V, the dominant preparing or leading to the tonic chord), in G major the dominant being D, with the G being an anticipation that resolves in the G major chord that opens the verse. He also suggests it is a mixture of d minor, F major, and G major (missing the B). Tony Bacon calls it a Dm7sus4 (D F G A C), which is the dominant seventh (plus the fourth, G).


Their words, not mine!

Mondo said...

I'm sticking with Rikki Rooksby's take on it John. G7sus4. His Beatles songbook is The Bible of Beatle chords, capo positions and tunings.

Check the clip at the top of the page it's me playing G7sus4 on my Telecaster (pictured at the bottom).

The clip mid-post is me overdubbing Fadd9 twice (Tele and 12 string) with a bass D - played on a Macca bass and D-G-D on the keyboard..

Lend an ear and see what you make of it?

John Medd said...

You must give The Bootlegs your number in case they're ever a man down! I try not to get too bogged down with Beatles science - I just dig the tunes.

davy h said...

Twang!

Mondo said...

If you play any instrument J, you've got to give the Fabs catalogue a crack. The songs completely open up - it's like climbing inside a picture and free-roaming around the landscape.

Twang minus-2 Davy. Check the bass - only three strings, and my 12 string is down to 11. Bet George Martin never had this sort of nonsense.

Simon said...

Me and a mate once busked at Bank station, in the longer foot tunnel. We played Help constantly for 3 hours, at the height of rush hour on a Friday and made nearly a hundred quid. The rest of Friday was excellent.....

frankenslade said...

Great stuff!

Mondo said...

You did better than my busking attempt Simon, just enough for a bottle of Vodka between 6 of us (but we were doing mostly Bowie songs and Wild Thing)..

Thanks FS, don't forget to check for more ol' guff and stuff like this

Matthew Rudd said...

I can't play guitar but this is one of the most fascinating things I've read in ages...

On a semi-related note, if you were to make the opening chord of AHDN into an onomatopoeic word, what would be?

I'm going for "Budreeeeng!!!"

Piley said...

isnt it more of a phwannnnnnggghhhh?!

Mondo said...

*backs slowly out of the room*