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Going capo-crazy with Rubber Soul


From late 1964 through 1966, The Beatles were in a constant process of experimenting with new sounds in their music, a process that culminated in songs like "Tomorrow Never Knows", "Strawberry Fields Forever", and the landmark Sgt Pepper album. The process arguably began with the late 1964 single "I Feel Fine" and its novel feedback-buzz intro, while their next LP, Help!, saw them introducing 12-string acoustic guitars, flutes, strings, and the "heavy-metal" sound (as John called it) of songs like "Ticket to Ride."

With Help! we also find the first instances of The Beatles using capos on their guitars to alter the pitch and voicing of the instruments. John capoed up at the fifth fret for the album's "It's Only Love" track, allowing him to play the song with a G major voicing. Similarly, Paul's "I've Just Seen a Face" features multiple acoustic guitars (of both the six- and twelve-string variety), at least one of which is capoed at the second fret so the song can be voiced in G major.

But it is on their next LP, Rubber Soul, that The Beatles went a bit capo-crazy. Nearly half of the album's tracks (six out of fourteen!) feature guitars with capos, and while The Beatles would certainly use capoed guitars on future albums (e.g., "Julia" and "Long Long Long" from The Beatles (White Album), or "Here Comes the Sun" from Abbey Road), it would never be to this degree again.

Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)

John capos his acoustic guitar at the second fret, voicing the song in D major. This allows the opening riff to be played cleanly while anchoring the D chord position using shapes like these:


Nowhere Man

As with the previous song, John uses a capo at the second fret for his acoustic guitar part to bring the song into a D major voicing. While the acoustic part may be slightly more buried in the mix, the unmistakable capo voicings are clear whenever he moves to the (true pitch) A major chord and voices it as a G major chord. You can always tell a G major voicing.

Think For Yourself

Even more difficult to hear in the mix (Paul's fuzz bass tends to dominate everything), George's electric rhythm guitar part is capoed at the third fret, turning the chorus from a jam in G major to a more easily voiced E7/A7/B7 sequence. The song's odd B-flat major chord also becomes a friendlier G major chord once the capo is applied.

Michelle

All of those lovely high-pitched, almost mandolin-like sounds coming from Paul's acoustic guitar are accomplished by fitting a capo at the fifth fret, which brings the song from F major into a more finger-friendly C major voicing. It also situates the sliding diminished chords in the chorus ("that go together well") in a voicing that makes more sense relative to the rest of the song's chords:



Girl

And speaking of things that sound like mandolins ... George Harrison may have liked to write songs with the capo at the seventh fret, but John "out-capos" George here by writing a song capoed at the eighth fret. I'm not aware of another song in The Beatles catalog that requires a capo higher on the fretboard than this one.

The benefit? With the right fingering, the chords of the chorus include the extra color of the descending bass line:



If I Needed Someone

Did someone mention George Harrison? In a list of famous Harrison compositions that call for a guitar capoed at the seventh fret, "Here Comes the Sun" might get top billing, but "If I Needed Someone" would be right behind it. For added texture in the sound, George not only uses the high capo position, he also plays the song on his Rickenbacker 12-string, so every note is either doubled or gets an added octave.

The capo is absolutely necessary to navigate the opening riff, working in the lead line around shapes like these:



So what was it about the Rubber Soul writing/record period, that The Beatles suddenly couldn't get enough of the capo? It's difficult to say, and I'm not aware of any reliable source that speaks to the issue directly. The most likely explanation, as far as I'm concerned, is that The Beatles often fed off each other in terms of creative ideas -- John would write "Strawberry Fields Forever", Paul would respond with "Penny Lane", etc. -- and they also kept up with each other in terms of the gear they used. Paul, for example, got an Epiphone Casino guitar, so John and George quickly got Casinos of their own; they all got Martin D-28 acoustic guitars at around the same time; both John and George wanted Gibson jumbo acoustic guitars, and so on.

All it would take, in this sort of environment, is for one of them to experiment with a capo on a recorded song (say, John's "It's Only Love", for example), and the others would need no other motivation to start conducting their own sound experiments with capos to see what they could come up with. It just happens to have all been very concentrated during the period of Rubber Soul.

2 comments:

  1. I love capos, and so, it seems, did George; he used them extensively in his solo career. I must try it on 'If I Needed Someone' -- I've been playing it wrong all this time! ��

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love capos, and so, it seems, did George; he used them extensively in his solo career. I must try it on 'If I Needed Someone' -- I've been playing it wrong all this time! ��

    ReplyDelete

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