Notes on "Do You Want To Know A Secret" (DYWTKAS.1)
KEY E Major
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Outro (fadeout)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- The intro is slow, the verse long, and the bridge short. The form
is compact, the less popular single bridge model, and the overall
duration of the song brief, as well; a likely consequence of the large
amount of repetitious rhetoric built into the verse section.
- No exaggeration, the lyrics here, which are identical through all three
verses, may nose out even
"Love Me Do" for skimpiness, though the use
of different material in both the intro and the bridge makes up some of
- The song fairly overflows with a number of leitmotifs all built out of
chromatic scale fragments of 3 or 4 notes; the rising lead guitar riff
at the end of the intro, a descending portion of the verse melody (on
the "woah" that precedes the word "closer"), and in the recurrent little
descending chord stream that appears in the second half of almost all
the odd-numbered measures of the verse.
- Singing in the intro begins after the downbeat. In the verses, it
is introduced with a long guitar pickup before the beat, an effect
that is carried through the rest of the verse melody. For contrast,
the bridge attacks the sung material right ON the beat.
Melody and Harmony
- The tune contains mostly scale-wise movement punctuated by a dramatic
falsetto leap upward near the end of the verse before ending it off with
a descending chromatic scale fragment
- The song is quite securely in E Major in spite of a firm modulation to
the axis of A Major/f# minor during the bridge. Allusions to the parallel
minor key of e in both intro and verse provide a touch of pathos as well
as harmonic variety.
- The single most unusual chord in the song is the "flat II", found here in
both the intro and the verse; we've seen this one before in
"Things We Said Today"
and "You're Going To Lose That Girl".
- The song leaves a lasting impression of having been enwrapped in a haze of
gentle reverberation even though it was not literally nor entirely recorded
- George gets the first of his few chances to take the lead vocal in a LennonMcCartney
tune. The composers themselves show up vocally in the form of an
old-fashioned "doo-wop"-like backing starting in the second verse. One
rare outtake has them singing the backing vocal even in the first verse,
the latter being a clear violation of what would emerge as a Beatles
layering trademark; which is why they probably dropped that for the
- Like the piano in-lays of
the overdubbed tapping of drum sticks
in the bridge is a musically small touch that is historically notable
because of the trend in recording/arranging practice it signals.
- The intro is not merely "adagio", but entirely "ad libitum"; my delineation
below of where the 4/4 measure boundaries are is purely a guess:
|e |a e |G |F B |
e: i iv i III flat II V
- The shift from e minor to E Major which occurs between intro and first
verse is exceedingly smooth because of the "parallel" relationship between
the two keys, but if you recall the first time you ever heard this song, it
still has the power to surprise.
- Though emotionally and compositionally simplistic on one level, that minorto
-Major transition still effectively conveys the angst-cum-epiphanisticjoy
"we" all go through in the unique moment of timidly expressing a
- This verse has an unusual length of 14 measures and is designed as a
couplet of two uneven phrases that share a common beginning:
------------- 2 x -------------
|E g# g |f# B7 |E g# g |f# F |
E: I ii V I ii flat II
----------------- 2 x -----------------
|E g# g |f# B7 |A |B |
I ii V IV V
|c# |f# B |
vi ii V
- The first phrase is six measures and would seem to run harmonically
in circles if it were not for its surprise ending in which we find yet
another application of the chromatic chord stream cliche. Note how
the F chord is unusually placed on top of the note C in the bass; as
though Paul were uncomfortable with a certain awkwardness about the
chord progression and trying to paper it over a bit.
- The second phrase is eight measures and though it too starts off running
in the same tight circle, its harmonic rhythm broadens out into a deceptive
cadence on vi before cycling back again to V.
- The melody of this verse is just as repetitious as the chord changes,
and the falsetto flip in the last measure finally and satisfyingly opens
up the previously constricted pitch range.
- The chord stream of g# minor -> g minor -> f# is more coloristic than
"functional"; the ear comprehends the structural harmonic progression
as though from E in the first measure to f# in the second. The *other*
chord stream in measure 6 - 7 is actually more structurally significant than
the previous one in that one hears the F Major chord as a surrogate Dominant
with respect to the E (I) chord which opens the second phrase. Note
how the melodic use of C natural at this juncture creates an allusion
to the minor mode of e.
- The rhythm is in a shuffling beat throughout until the final four measures
where it's suddenly interrupted by syncopation (m. 11 - 12), which then
moderates to a pulsating bass drum beat before settling back to the shuffle.
- George's pronunciation of the word "ear" (especially in the first and third
verses) offers us what 'Simon Marshal' would someday describe as "the old
adenoidal glottal stop for our benefit".
- This is one of the shortest bridges we've ever seen; only six measures long,
and built, just like the verse, out of two phrases unequal in length yet
sharing the same opening content:
------------- 2 x -------------
|A f# |c# b |f# |B |
f#: III i v iv i
E : IV E:ii V
- The harmonic transition into this section from the V chord on B, which ends
the previous verse, is somewhat abrupt though by no means rude; the pivot
for the modulation is not obvious to the ear, but at least it *is* a common
chord to both keys involved.
- The pivot back to the home key is much smoother. It's a rather superb example
of just how so-called pivot modulations work for those who have trouble
grasping the concept: note how when the f# chord is followed by the B Major
one, the ear retroactively reinterprets it as the ii chord of the original
home key of E.
- In the arrangement, the do-dahs are given a break in deference to George's
solo vocal. And Paul, having played up to this point a nicely elaborate
bass line, gets a little carried away in this section and winds up making
a mistake on the first c# chord, by playing a B natural which clashes with
the chord above it.
- The deceptive cadence near the end of the verse is leveraged and recycled
for the inevitable three-repeat coda.
- The song fades very rapidly and the outtake with the doo-dahs in the
first verse reveals that at least one studio performance of the song,
if not the official version, actually ended, barely a few seconds after
our fade, with a complete ending on an added-sixth chord.
- That added sixth so nicely summarizes the song that it's especially
unfortunate they chose to mask it out. Looking back over the full length
of the piece, one notes how much the sonority of the added-sixth resonates
within it; e.g., the repeated appoggiatura of C#->B on the words "listen"
and "secret" in the verse, and the large number of deceptive cadences in
which you so strongly anticipate the next chord to be E, yet it turns out
to be (surprise!) c# instead. To the extent that this added-sixth has the
incidental sound of the I (E) and vi (c#) superimposed upon each other,
it makes for an effective harmonic double-entendre.
- BTW, Paul makes yet another mistake in the bass line of this section,
analogous to the one in the bridge.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- The aesthetic of sentimental shy puppy love and gauzy soft focus is not one
to which the Boys were often drawn over the long run; Sweet and Cuddly
Moptops notwithstanding, it didn't suit them as a group. Even here, they
manage to rescue this one from drowning in its own cliches only by means of
an abundance of interesting details and a modicum of sincerity.
- Ironically, it's the more subtle aesthetic of repetition here, which you
would be tempted to denigrate offhand as a matter of lazy craft, which
provides one of the major sources of emotional realism and "sincerity" to
the song. I'd bet, for example, that anyone out there who relates to the
pre-confessional anxiety of the intro will also vouch for the corresponding
post-declaration euphoria in which all they wanted, even needed, to do was
repeat the same words of love like a mantra, endlessly without stopping.
"I don't really know, but it sounded distinguished like,
didn't it ?" 032101#32.1
081991 32.0 Original release
032101 32.1 Add pass-two observations and copy edit
Copyright (c) 1991, 2001 by Alan W. Pollack
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