Not A Second Time - The Beatles

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"Not A Second Time" - The Beatles (1964)

 “Not A Second Time” is famous not for its music or lyrics, but because in December 1963- a few months before they appeared on Ed Sullivan, The London Times music critic William Mann wrote “so natural is the Aeolian cadence at the end of "Not A Second Time.”

The Beatles were dismissive of such a critique. In 1980 Lennon said of the phrase Aeolian cadences:

“To this day I don't have any idea what they are. They sound like exotic birds.”

In the Anthology documentary, Lennon is quoted as saying:

“I still don't know what it means at the end, but it made us acceptable to the intellectuals. It worked and we were flattered. I wrote “Not A Second Time” and, really, it was just chords like any other chords. To me, I was writing a Smokey Robinson or something at the time.

Beatle writer Ian MacDonald described  “Not A Second Time”  as "a rambling affair composed of an irregular fourteen-bar verse joined to a ten-bar chorus which sounds like a middle eight."

The track features John’s brooding, double-tracked vocal. There is sparse musical accompaniment- not even back-up vocals of any kind. And, there is a somber ending- unusual in a time of frothy, mindless pop.

What is brilliant about the arrangement is George Martin’s solo on the Steinway as it stands in for absent guitars and is articulated so well and sensitively. The notes are selected and placed with such concern that the baritone piano part sounds like it is speaking fragile speaker.

Beatle scholar Alan Pollack reminds us that the story of a love-hate relationship in which someone is trapped between their rational side which says "go" while their weaker heart cries "stay anyway, or at least for now" is surely one of the standard pop-song pollens of all times.

Music critic Richie Unterberger calls “Not A Second Time” one of their first “aggressively pained numbers.”

“Unusually for a Beatles song, there's no clear bridge involved in the song, just long winding verses, but it's broken up nicely by an instrumental break. It’s introduced and climaxed by a doom-laden Ringo Starr drum pattern -- in which Martin's piano exudes lonely despair.”

By early Beatles standards, its melody is downbeat, revolving around pounding two-chord sequences of syncopated piano chords that often resolve on a decidedly minor tone. He says the paradox of the narrator is that although the sentiments of the song might be anguished, it's delivered with such uplifting momentum (and melodic catchiness) that it's energizing, not depressing. The unusual chord changes are almost jazz in their nature. 

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