ImageThe Beatles played an important part in my musical education – not directly, at the time when they were releasing records (I was only dimly aware of this at the time), but in the early 1970s, when I first began exploring the back catalogue seriously and sought out the sheet music to try and work out what was going on.  The first music I bought was hopelessly simplified – I remember in particular that the rhythmical irregularities of “Blackbird” had been ironed out completely, rendering it impossible to play because it was so wrong. Then I discovered the “50 Hit Songs of John Lennon and Paul McCartney” series, where the music was unusually detailed for sheet music of the time.

“Martha My Dear” (from The White Album) was one of the first pieces I wanted to look at. That long piano-only introduction, said by most commentators to be in “music hall” style, for instance – what was that magnificently scrunchy chord in the eighth bar?  (Answer: Ab with major seventh and ninth, not correct in the example from Wikipedia, shown above). Where do the bar lines fall? (Answer: still open to question, various editions do it differently, once again like the example above. To me, the simplest solution is to keep it in 2/4 except for the second bar in 3/2. But however accounted for, those extra beats at the start are enough to keep everything else out of kilter).

There are other excellent things about this song as well. Look at how the more conventional but soaring bridge passage (at “Hold your head up, you silly girl” leads into an “extended bridge” (on the words “Take a good look around you”), which at its end re-introduces the four-square marching rhythm of the introduction (on the words “for each other”) in advance of the verse itself returning. And everything is subtly re-enforced by George Martin’s chamber ensemble arrangement, for eight string players and seven brass players (including trumpets, French horn, flugelhorn, trombone and tuba), in addition to McCartney’s vocals, piano, guitar, bass and drums – no other Beatles were involved. I’m not saying this is the greatest Beatles song ever, it’s just that its sheer uniqueness of style and musical inventiveness stand out for me and make me want to listen again and again.

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