I’ve been listening to the Beatles a lot lately (which is saying something; I was more or less born listening to Sgt Pepper), and I’m struck by how often I’ll suddenly realize the cleverness of a lyric or the tightness of rhyme scheme — even after having heard the song one hundred times over the last thirty years. Two recent examples:
1. “Think for Yourself” (Rubber Soul, 1965).
I have come to seriously love the lyrical scheme of this song, including one part, which I am pretty sure is considered a tercet:
Although your mind’s opaque
Try thinking more, if just for your
I simply love how Harrison opened the rhyme with “opaque,” and then fit in three rhyming words — “more” “for” and “your” — before closing the rhyme with “sake,” making the poetic structure A BBB A, and with BBB’s rapidity serving as a sort of sharpener on the acidity of the enclosing A verses. It also looks more clever when written out, since “opaque” and “sake” are an unlikely — if serendipitous — pair. It’s pretty darn skilfull.
2. A Day in the Life (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967)
Yes, yes, rivers of ink have been written about “A Day in the Life.” But I’d like to focus on one stanza, in particular — the opener of the second half of the song, whose ingenuity and remarkably symmetry I only recently realized.
Woke up, fell out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up, I noticed I was late
Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke
And somebody spoke and I went into a dream
There are three uses of the term “found” here: “Found my way downstairs,” “found my coat,” and “found my way upstairs.” It’s quite neat that McCartney uses the more metaphorical “found my way” as brackets on the literal, and more common, “found my coat.”
Not only that, but there is wonderful symmetry to the “found my way downstairs” which is mirrored by “found my way upstairs” three lines later. Now sure, I had always known that the “upstairs” in the latter part of the unit is a reference to London’s double decker buses (thanks, Dad!), but for some reason I had never seen the connective tissue between the upstairs/downstairs parts of the song.
In fact, zooming out, the unit is more symmetrical than just the finding of one’s way upstairs or downstairs. In fact, the narrator abruptly emerges from a sleep state (“Woke up”), ambles down to the bus (“found my way downstairs”), and then goes back up again (“found my way upstairs”), and then returns rather quickly to a sleep state (“I went into a dream”). It’s a remarkable deployment of symmetry (not to mention rhythm and music and insight into the human condition) that I only realized upon listening to the song for the three-hundredth time.
I hope this makes your next listen that much more impactful…or that you’re a more attentive listener than I am!