The Beatles did the coolest things with rhythm and I’ve always wanted to write about them. Now I have an excuse. The hooks (as far as I’m concerned) of two of their songs come from the ways they break up the measure, change the beat, just for a few bars.
Let me say a bit about bars and time in music so we’re all on the same staff. (Skip this if you know it.) Bars (measures) mark the pulse of the music. They occur regularly every two or three or four (or more) beats. In pop music most bars have an even number of beats. You can usually count the same even number for each bar through a whole song. Think of Yesterday or Love Me Do. You can easily count One-2-Three-4 to them.
On the other hand, waltzes and minuets, for example, have three-beat bars. Think of the first waltz that pops into your head (or try this one) and count to it. You’ll see that One-2-3, One-2-3 works.
Usually a whole song goes along relying on that unchangeable beat. When a band messes with that, it sticks out. The song I have in mind, the actual excuse for this post, is You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.
Unusually, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away is written in three beats. But the beats are paired up, so it’s still a double meter (ONE -2-3 TWO-2-3). Listen to this bit counting ONE -2-3 TWO-2-3, ONE -2-3 TWO-2-3. You’ll see what I mean (I hope).
But then the chorus messes that up. You count three going into it: “Hey (two-three) you’ve got to . . . ” But “Hide your love away” shifts that beat. The beats come in pairs: “Hide -2 your – 2 love a . . . ” Then back to three “way 2-3 Two-2-3, ONE -2-3 TWO-2-3. Listen to this second sample.
Here’s what it looks like:
Hey you've got to |hide your love a | way 1 - 2 - 3 - 2 - 2 - 3 | 1 - 2 1 - 2 1 - 2 | 1 - 2 - 3
That one hide-your-love-a bar makes the song extremely different. It does something you hardly ever hear in pop music. But the Beatles sell it so well it becomes just part of the song. It’s the hook, the thing that makes the song stand out, but it doesn’t leave listeners shaking their heads and saying, what the heck just happened?
It’s even more interesting when you realize that it would have been very easy, completely natural, to write it with the original rhythmic structure. There are a couple of ways to do that. One way is to have the Hide measure work exactly the same as the Hey measure by holding that “hide” an extra beat then singing “your love a” on three equal beats like “you’ve got to”. Like this:
Hey you've got to |hide your love a | way 1 - 2 - 3 - 2 - 2 - 3 | 1 - 2 - 3 2 - 2 - 3 | 1 - 2 - 3
Just another reminder of what geniuses Lennon and McCartney were. (And how lucky I was to be 18 years old in 1963.) Here’s the whole song from the movie Help thanks to YouTube:
Another Beatles song that messes with time is Here Comes the Sun. I’ll talk about that another time.