Mean Mr. Mustard
Composer(s) : Lennon and McCartney
Year : 1969
Chords/Tabs: Mean Mr. Mustard
Notes on "Mean Mr Mustard" (MMM)
KEY E Major
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse' (segue al subito)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- "Mean Mr Mustard" (MMM) is more a "discontinued fragment," than a "bonsai
miniature," and I say that without intending any pejorative connotations.
In context the song makes an excellent fit of form-to-function. Following
on the heels of the more substantial and self-contained previous two songs
this one critically needs to pick up the pace and get the show on the road,
medley-wise. In this case, the short track length, incomplete form, and
the tighter, smoother coupling of the track at both ends to the songs that
surround it seem as a group of factors to work out just right.
- The tempo of MMM is essentially identical to that of
"Sun King," at least
up until the final phrases, but the switch of backbeat from something
that lazily flows to a painfully lumbering march that alternates with more
syncopated material disguises that fact.
- Amazingly, no matter how awkwardly John is caught up with here,
compositionally on the run, so to speak, we find him making the effort,
expending the bandwidth to work in odd phrase lengths, more mosaic tiling,
and a metric modulation. It's not fair to call this just a throwaway.
Melody and Harmony
- The pattering tune is based almost entirely on the downward melodic motif
of a step followed by a third. The first phrase uses the motif in a scalebased
downward sequence. Balancing upward motion is provided in the
other two phrases by presenting the motif from a variety of higher locations
in the scale.
- Only four different chords are used, with the predictable I and V being
supplemented by flat IV and flat VII, both of which are arguably borrowed
here from the "natural" parallel minor mode of the home key.
- The backing track is dominated by bass, drums, and guitars and is mastered
as a bit of a wall of sound, at least by Beatles standards. Note especially
the extra measure of heft provided by Paul's often playing a pair of eighth
notes on the downbeats of his tuba-like bass part instead of a plain quarter
- Shades of a relatively earlier period of the group, we find a tambourine
that waits until measure 4 to enter but then stays through for the duration.
- John has the ADT lead vocal to himself for the start of the first verse
with Paul harmonizing with him at the 3rd starting in the final phrase and
staying on with it for the remainder.
- Two beats of snare drum preceded by a tiny grace note roll leverage
the second half of
SK's final measure to start this one. It's not much
of an "intro" per se but it does clevery manage to bridge the two songs
literally without missing a beat.
- The link between
and SK, based on a long fadeout of the
first of the two songs, is much less determinate by contrast.
- The verse is an unusual 14 measure paragraph whose inner structure is
4 + 6 + 4:
|E |- |- |- |
1 2 3& 4 &|1 1 2 3& 4 &|1
bass: |B C C# D|- |- C# C B|- |
|B |- |D |- |B |- |
V flat VII V
|E C |B |E C |B |
I flat VI V I flat VI V
- The first four-measure phrase is composed straight through though it is
based on the sequencing of a motif. The other two phrases are tiled; the
middle one A-B-A and the final one C-C.
- The bassline in the middle phrase makes a syncopated up and down chromatic
approach to the D chord in the middle and the following B chord at the end,
placing the arrival of those two chords just before their downbeats, and
thus drawing added attention to the harmonic cross relations created by
the chord changes.
- The cross relation idea is further developed in the third phrase by the
use of flat VI.
- The second verse is musically identical to the first one except for a
straightforward but still quite clever metrical modulation in the third
phrase. John was no stranger to odd time signatures or throwing an oddly
metered measure or two into the middle of a song. But here we find something
much more like the metrical gear shifting demonstrated by George in
"I Me Mine"
and "Here Comes the Sun."
- In this song, with the underlying eighth note pulse held constant, the
meter shifts from 4/4 into 6/8 for the final four measures. As a result,
the chords change ever three eighth note pulses instead of every four.
This creates a double-edged time warp kind of acceleration effect:
- The chord changes suddenly increase in frequency for the last line
of the current song.
- Furthermore the 3/8 harmonic rhythm is smoothly leveraged as the
new (and faster) duration of a half measure (== 4/8) for the following
song. As a result, what starts in MMM as a tempo where the half note
= 60, is then seemlessly upshifted to half note = 80 for
Run the arithmetic details on your own and call me in the morning
if you still have a headache :-).
- The transition out of MMM into
PP is even more tightly coupled than the
inbound one from
SK. Here, the bassline of the final measure uses the
famliar chromatic upward lick to land on a D Major chord which in this
case triggers the double plagal cadence that begins the next song:
4 5 6 1 2 3 4 1 ....
bass: B C C#
|B D A |E ....
V flat VII IV I
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- There's a couple of early runthroughs of MMM dating from the Twickenham
film sessions of 1/70 worth chasing down. If nothing else they are
tantalizingly suggestive yet inconclusive with respect to the questions
of when was it that John decided to leave MMM in its apparently fragmentary
state, and when did he first conceive of MMM and
PP as immediate siblings.
- Both outtakes feature the two verses we're familiar with. Where the
first one actually goes into a IV -> I based chorus using the song title
for lyrics, the second one merely continues with a third verse section
with John scat singing instead of singing words. It's tempting to conclude
from this that the song, indeed, never existed in any form that is
substantively longer than what we know as the official version.
- As far as the PP connection goes, neither of these MMM outtakes features
the metrical modulation. And my favorite detail: both outtakes name
the Mean One's sister as "Shirley." Again it's tempting to conclude from
this that even if PP was in works as a song at this early date, John had no
thoughts yet of linking it with this one.
- On the other hand, as any fan of John's studio personna as manifested
on countless bootlegs and anthologies would likely agree, even if PP
already did exist at this time AND he was already talking about linking
it with MMM, the "Shirley" references would be an ever so typical example
of his being comically peverse. So much for conclusions.
"A proper little Aborigine." 122699#186
Copyright (c) 1999 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
Copyright (c) 1995 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
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Ook op Abbey Road:
(c) 2019 Serge Girard