Harrison's Everest, Part 3: Rhythmic Sophistication in  "Here Comes the Sun"
Music can very loosely be broken down into two primary constituents: pitch (which is to say how high or low any given sound is), and rhythm (how short or long any given sound is). As I wrote in my 2013.01.26 and 2013.01.31 blogs, "Something" illustrates how George Harrison's compositional maturity encompassed pitch through the music of motivic unity and tonal structure. And where "Something" shows Harrison's developed sense of pitch, "Here Comes the Sun" shows his developed sense of rhythm.
Most music is written in quadruple meter, meaning four beats to every measure. In fact, that meter is so often used that it has earned the nickname "common time". "Here Comes the Sun" is mostly in common time, however at the end of each verse and especially in the middle 8, the meter changes. This is illustrated in the score example below.
A string of 3/8 bars helps conclude each verse, and reappear in the middle 8 along with a 5/8 bar. It is no coincidence that the climax of the song occurs immediately after the middle 8, with its constantly changing meters, as it transitions to the third and final verse. These changing time signatures help create tension, propelling the song to its climax.
Continuing my January 22 post, which asserted that Harrison's two contributions to Abbey Road ( "Something" and  "Here Comes the Sun") elevated his songwriting status to a level never previously reached, this blog will further illustrate Harrison's increased compositional sophistication through a comparison of the opening motive and the macro-scale tonal structure of "Something".
The "Something" motive outlines the interval of a minor third between A and C, which is then filled in chromatically (using every tone in between). This can be observed in the graphic below.
The tonal form, then, implements those boundary tones as large-scale tonal areas for the structure of the song. The verses ("Something in the way she moves...") are in C major, while the Middle 8 ("You're asking me will my love grow...") is in A major. Thus, the motive is not only unified with the melody of the verse, but also with overall tonal form - another technical tactic distinctly absent in Harrison's earlier compositions.
On January 20, I posted a blog titled "Everest" about the album Abbey Road. In it I wrote, "the level of artistic sophistication and achievement [on Abbey Road] surpassed anything the band accomplished up to that point". While admitting the existence of impassioned debate on the subject (some argue - and quite justifiably - that Sgt. Pepper is the better album), what is unanimously agreed upon is that Harrison's Abbey Road songs ( "Something" and  "Here Comes the Sun") were the best he had written to that point (and possibly ever). Indeed, these two songs show a significantly increased compositional maturity and sophistication.
Take, for example, the motivic unity in "Something": Observe the graphic below (click the graphic to view a larger version of the same image). At the top is the famous opening motive; below are the initial two lines of the opening verse. The melody of the verse is the motive retrograded - meaning the initial note of the motive is the same note at the end of this section of the verse, while the note at the end of the motive is the same note that starts the verse, etc.
This pattern is not exact (notice how there is an extra A in the motive absent from the verse, and how there is a D in the verse absent from the motive; plus the rhythms are completely different), but this does not detract from the compositional sophistication. In fact, it might add to it - a lesser composer might well have insisted on an exact intervallic and rhythmic retrograde at the cost of quality of product just to maintain more exact motivic unity.
Furthermore, I highly doubt this unity was a conscious decision on Harrison's part. (I do not believe Harrison sat down with his guitar one day and thought to himself, "I want to write a song where the motive and the melody of the verse are retrogrades of each other!") Nevertheless, it is there, and it marks a significant development for Harrison's skills as a songwriter.
This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.