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Now And Then

by The Beatles

Much has been made of the clever source-extraction technology that was able to salvage Lennon’s vocal from a more-or-less unusable 80s demo tape, and of the rather involved overdubbing/scavenging process that the two remaining band members used to fill in the blanks and bring the ‘Fabatars’ back together. But for all that effort, I can’t shake the feeling that the final production sounds an awful lot like a 90s Robbie Williams record…

That aside, though, this song is intriguing from a harmonic perspective. For a start, it’s pretty uncommon for songs to modulate these days, but this one wears its key changes with pride, oscillating between an A minor verse and a G major chorus, and then heading towards D minor and C major during the guitar solo before returning to A minor for the final verse and outro. But what I find particularly interesting is how the solo section seems to be built from the same harmonic DNA as the verse and chorus, but transposed up a perfect fourth. So where the verse starts off with a i-bVII-i-bVII progression in A minor (eg. at 1:37-1:47), the first half of the guitar solo features the same progression in D minor, albeit with a slower harmonic rhythm (2:26-2:48); and then the second half of the guitar solo (2:48-3:10) features a iii-vi-ii-II-V cycle-of-fifths progression in G major that bears a strong resemblance to the chorus’s iii-vi-ii-V progression in C major (eg. at 2:10-2:25), although again with different harmonic rhythm for the ii/II and V chords. This is nuanced stuff, not simply Xeroxing the verse/chorus material for the solo (as innumerable songs do), but rather extracting their harmonic flavour in a way that’s not immediately recognisable and yet subliminally familiar – a remix rather than a cover, if you will. And in that sense, I’d say that it’s far more innovative than the production’s headline AI audio processing, in fact!

In a similar vein, I’m also a fan of the way the song’s i-VII-VI-V outgoing Andalusian progression at 3:51 is foreshadowed both during the main verse pattern (eg. i-VII-i-VII-i-VI-V at 1:37-1:58) and during the outro section of the final verse ( i-VII-V-i-VII-V at 3:32-2:51), but without ever fully stating that iconic downward root progression in its full form until right at the end of the song.

Stick Season

by Noah Kahan

As far from thrilling as it is to hear the ghost of Mumford & Sons beating I-V-vi-IV to death (again), I can’t deny that Kahan’s made a workmanlike job of it. We get occasional welcome breathers from the two-bars-per-chord harmonic pattern, for instance, such as the eighth-bar V chord at the end of the each chorus; the two-bar reintro after the first chorus at 1:10; and the one-bar extension that closes out the song at the end of the final chorus. There’s also a good variety of performance techniques that help differentiate the song’s initial sections without having to rely too heavily on adding new instrument layers. So the finger-picking that starts the song gives way to soft-edged finger strumming in the second half of the verse verse. Then the first chorus introduces single accented chords, which transition into brighter, more rhythmic picked strumming eight bars later. All of which assists in creating a continuous arrangement build-up all the way to the start of verse two (almost halfway through the song), while still keeping the kick drum in reserve to inject further energy from that point onwards.

Of course, it’s not just the performance techniques that are responsible for this arrangement momentum, because there’s also a gradual introduction of new guitar and vocal layers as the song builds too. The first half of the verse clearly has only a single guitar, for instance, but I’m pretty sure I can hear a sneaky little doubletrack creeping in underneath it once the strumming starts at 0:21, and the chorus then definitely brings with it proper hard-panned doubletracks that both thicken and widen the mix sonics. The second half of the chorus also adds a subtle vocal doubletrack, a feature that becomes much more prominent during the second chorus, before expanding into a vocal harmony texture in the second half of the third chorus. And there’s the banjo part too, whose strategic entry at 2:03 helps provide extra rhythmic complexity that not only lifts the middle section, but also provides greater contrast with the onset of the the final chorus, when we get that dramatic return to the ‘single chords’ texture of chorus one.

What this all means is that the multitracks here already have plenty of inherent arrangement dynamics, so any further mix-automation work to enhance those dynamics (such as the increase in vocal reverb from chorus one to chorus two) can be icing on the cake rather than having to operate as some kind of sticking plaster. So even if the song’s central musical premise bores you as much as it does me, it is nonetheless a great example of how decent arrangement can make life a lot easier at mixdown.