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Literary devices in Beatles songs
7 January 2016
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Joe
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Hello! I've got a challenge for those of a bookish persuasion.

For a thing I'm writing, I've been pondering literary devices used by Paul on Revolver . He uses anthropomorphism/personification on Got To Get You Into My Life , and anadiplosis (which sounds like a dinosaur) on Here, There And Everywhere . I'm interested in the way his songwriting developed around 1966 - it was the same time that they recorded Paperback Writer , For No One and Eleanor Rigby , which used third-person storytelling and marked another leap forward.

Are there any other literary tools on that album? If not by Paul, what about John or George? Obviously John near enough plagiarised Tomorrow Never Knows from The Psychedelic Experience, but that's not really what I'm after. I guess She Said She Said is an extended anecdote, and internal rhymes aren't hard to find. What about more unexpected techniques?

And in a bid to not limit this to Revolver , I thought I'd broaden the discussion so we can discuss any other songs. Personification turns up again in While My Guitar Gently Weeps . I'm sure there are many others.

Here's a relevant link I found via a quick Google search: https://prezi.com/uibn-ymtbjif.....-in-songs/

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7 January 2016
8.47am
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Ooh, grand! This is just up my alley-- English thingieluvs and Revolver Beatlesongs-- so I shall give the old record a spin and keep my ears open. 

I'll Be Back  a-hard-days-night-paul-5 

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7 January 2016
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Are there any examples of third-person storytelling in Beatles songs before 1966? I thought about Day Tripper , but that involves a first person narrator ("It took me so long to find out"). I'm looking for songs which didn't do that at all.

I know McCartney went on to do a lot of that sort of writing (Maxwell's Silver Hammer , Uncle Albert /Admiral Halsey etc) but I'm not sure whether he did it prior to Paperback Writer . Was that the first?

Edit: Obviously Paperback Writer is in the first-person, although the narrator isn't McCartney. Hmmm, my theory collapses a little.

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7 January 2016
9.54am
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Okay, so what I've noticed so far: 

I noticed this nice little rhyme/consonance in Paperback Writer : 'will you read my book it took me years to write will you takelook'. All those repeated K's give that line a nice staccato feel. There's also alliteration: 'make a million'. 

In Rain , I thought the slant rhyme 'Rain , I don't mind/ Shine, the weather's fine' interesting-- actually the second line fully rhymes with itself, whereas it only partly rhymes with the previous line. 

Taxman -- I like the similar opening phrases of the first two lines: 'Let me tell you how it will be/ there's one for you nineteen for me....' and the partial consonance of 'Should five percent appear too small'. Then, of course, the middle eight put to excellent use repetition/anaphora: 'If you drive a car I'll tax the street/ If you try to sit I'll tax your seat/ If you get too cold I'll tax the heat/ If you take a walk I'll tax your feet'. And the rest of the song is full of catchy little lines like that. The whole thing is a splendid persona poem/dramatic monologue set to music, it seems. 

Eleanor Rigby : What strikes me about this firstly is that title, with the matching R's-- Eleanor Rigby-- that run into each other. Ola Na Tungee just doesn't have the same ring. ahdn_paul_01 

The rest of the song is full of alliterations and consonances: '...where a wedding has been...' and 'waits at the window, wearing...jar by the door, who is it for...' more, and also another anaphora (in blue): '...writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear, no one comes near...darning his socks in the night when there's nobody there...' and finally, in the last verse, two more mentions of no one and nobody. What a lonely song!  Not that that's news, but now we see just why it sounds so lonely (besides being in the minor key and having eight wailing violins). 

I'm Only Sleeping has lovely lines too, the first is already full of alliteration/consonace: 'When I wake up early in the morning' then the repetition of 'when' in the proceeding line. Then the two-word rhyme of 'Please don't shake me, no don't wake me' and more consonance in '...everywhere at such a speed' and 'Please don't spoil my day, I'm miles away'. Some assonance in 'lying there and staring at the ceiling'. This perhaps be why 'tis one of my favourite Johnsongs. a-hard-days-night-paul-7 

Okay, that's enough lyric analysis for now, my brain's getting mushy  a-hard-days-night-ringo-14 

@Joe Also, what about this similar but more closely defined thread: http://www.beatlesbible.com/fo.....rations/ 

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7 January 2016
10.12am
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Joe said
Are there any examples of third-person storytelling in Beatles songs before 1966? I thought about Day Tripper , but that involves a first person narrator ("It took me so long to find out"). I'm looking for songs which didn't do that at all.

I know McCartney went on to do a lot of that sort of writing (Maxwell's Silver Hammer , Uncle Albert /Admiral Halsey etc) but I'm not sure whether he did it prior to Paperback Writer . Was that the first?

As for that question, I don't know that Paperback Writer was really in the third-person. Granted, it was a song that was consciously written with a character in mind, but as he sings it from that character's perspective, I would consider it a persona/monologue type thing. Eleanor Rigby was obviously third-person. 

As for For No One , I feel it would be second-person because he sings about 'you' and 'her' rather than 'him' and 'her'. 

Keeping that in mind, I can't think of any songs pre-Eleanor Rigby in third-person. 

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7 January 2016
10.32am
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Thank you! That's incredibly helpful!

I knew there'd be internal rhymes, but hadn't gone through the lyrics to check them. Those lines from Paperback Writer are perfect. Hey Jude is full of internal rhymes, as is Maxwell's Silver Hammer

I hadn't really thought too much about alliteration or assonance, though I'll definitely be paying attention in future. Thanks again for the examples you gave. But those are fairly standard songwriting methods - I'm really more interested in literary techniques that they hadn't used before.

I did belatedly realise that Paperback Writer wasn't in the third-person - see my edit above. And yes, you're right about For No One . OK, that's three different storytelling styles in the same year!

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7 January 2016
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Speaking of personifications, are Day Tripper /Drive My Car candidates? They involve the first person but clearly address another one. Girl is another one that comes close. It's as if on Rubber Soul the standard love/conflict material is slowly morphing into character studies, Nowhere Man is more explicitly a character song. They revert to this kind of "personification" now and then.

Some Revolver songs literary bits:

And Your Bird Can Sing : The two chief things about this song are the repeated refrains (you don't get me, I'll be round), and the alliteration/consonance: you say you've seen sseven wonders which has an interesting ABABBA pattern. There's also prized possesions and bird is broken and the nice rhyme swing for sing.

Good Day Sunshine is just simple rhymes and there's nothing of literary note at all, Doctor Robert is the same (except for the one well/well double-meaning). I'm Only Sleeping is only a little more involved in its rhyme scheme, the chief interest is in the metre, which undulates in a regular way in the verses and has a different rhythm in the choruses, so it manages to suggest a daze/daydream via that alone.

Personifications:

Eleanor Rigby : Is the face a metaphor or not, it's left open. The present tense is used throughout until Rigby dies but snaps back to present tense on Father McKenzie in the next line. It gives an objectivity to the song's point of view, we're explicitly asked to "look at him working" like an exhibit, or more likely, a series of vignettes, suggesting Paul was thinking very visually. I think @Beatlebug is right, this is the first consciously third-person song.

Compare with For No One which is second-person-character (I only just saw that, @Beatlebug!). That song uses a lot of repetition in You and She to place the characters in opposition, and persists with the same first and last line verse repetitions until it breaks down in the fourth verse (like the relationship), the first line and the last line alter then, and by the fifth verse it suggests that he isn't the one who changed because the first line repetition reappears but the last line is "you won't forget her". And what are tears cried For No One ? Not tears at all. Tears, perhaps, that should be cried from his point of view? It inserts a lonely note into the story of a couple without having to explain itself, it's one of those Beatle metaphors that doesn't look like much until you look at it.

Moving on from Revolver , personification is rife on Sgt Peppers (the Band itself for one): the Sgt Peppers songs are basically MC opening and closing spiels, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds is a present-tense dream sequence narrative, She's Leaving Home is another character study, also present tense with the buy/bye pun. Mr Kite is another present tense narrative, another spiel like Sgt Peppers and John's other present tense narrative Good Morning Good Morning is also based on an ad, but its also a rare third-person song from John (the other one, oddly is Nowhere Man and even in that one he addresses the character directly). And Lovely Rita is clearly a personification, Paul veering between past and present tense in the verses and choruses as if he's not sure whether he's in the song or looking at a character.

There are some odd cases like Hey Bulldog and Baby You're A Rich Man where you'd call them almost-characters but only in the sense of being an object for the narrator's side of the conversation, and in much the same sense as Drive My Car . Dear Prudence addresses an actual person in present tense, and so does Martha My Dear (you don't have to know it's a dog).

All the character songs I can think of off the top of my head after this point all follow the same pattern: present tense, in most cases, and there's also that weird alliteration in the names, Polythene Pam , Mean Mr Mustard , Rocky Raccoon , Bungalow Bill, Sexy Sadie . In fact, I'm of the mind that Rocky and Bill and Sadie are in past tense just to be different, just for the White Album . Cry Baby Cry is a collection of characters in past and present tense in rather jumbled fashion, rather dreamlike and not meant to be consistent. Maxwell is the exception after the White Album , not alliterated but can't decide whether it's entirely present or past tense (more on that further).

What's interesting is how much they avoid past tense with their characters, which makes the songs more immediate and tangible and free from questions about points of view that a past tense often suggests, and also not having to declense anything which would mess up the rhythms. And when you examine the past tense personifications, they mostly use northern-tensed action words rather than a more clunky southern passive style, so its take/took see/saw, say/said rather than waits/waited, shouts/shouted. Paul breaks these rules when he wants to of course. He uses checked in Rocky Raccoon but uses studied in the first line of Maxwell's Silver Hammer . If you examine that song closely it's hard to understand why he couldn't have gone full past tense, the only annoying word is waits/waited but he could have simply used "stayed". The chorus could go either way, they scan the same.

And this is just personifications!

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7 January 2016
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ewe2, I just thought I might see you here... 

You stole my thunder, there's no way I can follow that up. a-hard-days-night-george-10 I do have a contradiction to make, though, and that is: If the singer addresses you and her then it ain't third person, it's secondblue-meanie EDIT: I see you saw 🙂 

ewe2 said
 Maxwell is the exception after the White Album , not alliterated but can't decide whether it's entirely present or past tense (more on that further).

Now, I would just like to point out that while Maxwell's Silver Hammer is not alliterated, it does have a nice little consonance there: the X in Maxwell and the S of Silver. 

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7 January 2016
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Just want to point out without another reedit that present tense is of course preferable in all styles of lyric for the same reasons. I think it's a little-remarked fact that the Beatles northern English is direct, active, unadorned and consequently underestimated.

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7 January 2016
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Joe said
Are there any examples of third-person storytelling in Beatles songs before 1966? I thought about Day Tripper , but that involves a first person narrator ("It took me so long to find out"). I'm looking for songs which didn't do that at all.

She Loves You ?

 

The person they are singing about......and the mate they are singing to.    

7 January 2016
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Wigwam said

Joe said
Are there any examples of third-person storytelling in Beatles songs before 1966? I thought about Day Tripper , but that involves a first person narrator ("It took me so long to find out"). I'm looking for songs which didn't do that at all.

She Loves You ?

 

The person they are singing about......and the mate they are singing to.    

'... I saw her yesterday-e-ay' 

Sorry Atlas von Vigvam. 

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7 January 2016
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Piggies is anthropomorphic.

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7 January 2016
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Blackbird isn't anthropomorphic, but as Paul later admitted, the intent was.

Ok the big one, I Am The Walrus . The title is almost a joke about anthropomorphism, maybe the whole song is. Similies and metaphors, onomatopoeia, allusion, cacophany, consonance, assonance, alliteration, for a start! Then antithesis (boy you've been a naughty girl), internal rhymes, and, I'm not entirely certain, malapropism (expert textpert seems to be there just for the rhyme). You could characterize I Am The Walrus , goo goo g'joob. as a caesura. And parallelism is obvious from the structure of the verses. I'm trying to figure out what semolina pilchard, just plain surrealism or an onomatopoeic reference? elementary penguin sounds awfully close to it, definitely association by internal rhyme. I'm sure there's more.

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7 January 2016
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metaphor: The clouds will be a daisy chain.

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7 January 2016
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Juxtaposition

the difference between Mean Mr Mustard and his sister Pam who works so hard in the shop

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7 January 2016
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Irony

"He’s as blind as he can be,
Just sees what he wants to see," from Nowhere Man

AND

"I can see that I was blind" from What Goes On

Interesting that both examples are about seeing/blindness.

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Silly Girl said

Wigwam said

Joe said
Are there any examples of third-person storytelling in Beatles songs before 1966? I thought about Day Tripper , but that involves a first person narrator ("It took me so long to find out"). I'm looking for songs which didn't do that at all.

She Loves You ?

 

The person they are singing about......and the mate they are singing to.    

'... I saw her yesterday-e-ay' 

Sorry Atlas von Vigvam. 

 

Nine.....It iz a vun sided convezation betveen swie person about a third.

 

She/her are third person singular........ or I am a nincompoop....

 

'An early song' tick......

Written as a conversation about a third person tick........Which was a deliberate departure from 'I love you/ you hurt me/ From Me To You ' stuff.

8 January 2016
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Thanks @ewe2 et al. I'm glad this thread took off. Some useful things to think about!

I don't agree, though, with you on personification. In literary terms it's a form of anthropomorphism, rather than a narrator merely adopting a persona. I can't really see how Sgt Pepper or Lovely Rita involve personification unless you use the latter definition.

The example I gave upthread was Got To Get You Into My Life , where Paul gives human attributes to cannabis: "You didn't run, you didn't lie, you knew I wanted just to hold you/And had you gone you knew in time we'd meet again for I had told you." It's a drug song masquerading as a love song.

And @Wigwam, I did consider She Loves You , but I agree with @Beatlebug - it's not a third-person narrative in the same way that Eleanor Rigby is. However, it's most interesting because it's all but impossible to tell who the protagonist is. Is it the narrator, the girl, or the object of her love?

She Loves You opens with the impression of a second-person narrative ("You think you lost your love"), but then it quickly settles in the first person ("Well I saw her yesterday... and she told me what to say"). That sets it up for the rest of the song, so even though the second verse is in the third person ("She says you hurt her so"), they reassert the first-person narration in the third verse ("I think it's only fair"). On balance I don't think it's can be classed as a third-person song.

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In the early years certainly John and Paul (and George) stuck to their songs being in the first person; John, when with Yoko, said he didn't like writing boring stories about boring people. Pop songs in general were normally i love you or you love me or she loves me or she/he left me or some variance - i mean how could you expect a possible fan to buy a song if they couldn't imagine the singer addressing them personally. a-hard-days-night-ringo-12

I'm no good with all that English consonence and juxtaposition, takes me 10 minutes to remember what an adjective is.

"I told you everything I could about me, Told you everything I could" ('Before Believing' - Emmylou Harris) 

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It's an interesting topic, and one I wouldn't mind sinking my teeth into - although I better do it carefully because I already bit off half a molar today... a-hard-days-night-paul-10

Re: some of the previous findings. I'm not sure the alliterations @Beatlebug mentioned should count as literary devices per se. I mean; much of those seem to be just a normal use of words, and the alliterations don't appear to be intentional, whereas Mean Mister Mustard and Polythene Pam obviously are, for instance.

So, what I'd like to know is, should we try and pick out Every Little Thing , or should we try and stick to the ones that appear to be intentional?

 

Oh, and might I offer "I've Just Seen A Face ", in which a homophone is used to create a rhyme where there is none:

 

Had it been another day

I might have looked the other way

And I'd have never been aware

But as it is I'll dream of her tonight

 

Paul ever so slightly changes the pronunciation of 'aware' to make it sound similar to 'her'

 

I Don't Want To Spoil The Party is a Limerick, by the way.

 

I Don't Want To Spoil The Party so I'll go

I would hate my disappointment to show

There's nothing for me here

So I will disappear

If she turns up while I'm gone please let me know

 

Edited to add:

 

This Boy uses the third person to refer to the protagonist, although it goes to second person where the addressed is concerned.

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