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The Beatlesque hooks in "My Brave Face"


The Flowers in the Dirt album put Paul McCartney back on the map at the end of the 1980's after a rather prolonged downhill slide. It put him back on the map precisely because he was willing to go back to his roots and be identified as "Beatle Paul" again, and "My Brave Face" -- the opening track of the album, and the first single released, a month prior to the album -- practically flashes neon signs at the listener: "I'm Paul McCartney, formerly of The Beatles! This is a very Beatles-sounding song!"

To begin with, he's playing his old Hofner bass guitar again for the first time in a very long time. In an interview, Paul said that Elvis Costello, co-writer of the song, convinced him to use the Hofner for the recording. Paul was reluctant, because the old bass never was very good at staying in tune, but he tried it, liked the sound, and was thus inspired to play in the old "fab four" style with lots of pop and up-and-down-the-fretboard movement.


The song is also a) an up-tempo tune with jangling electric guitars, b) in the key of E, c) featuring three-part vocal harmonies and d) a sad lyric that makes an odd partner for the happy-go-lucky sound. All of those things, every single one of them, is a hallmark of one of Paul's earliest Beatles hits, "All My Loving."

And speaking of "All My Loving," let's talk about the chord progression used in the pre-chorus to "My Brave Face," because it has definite links to "All My Loving."

As the song moves to the line, "Ever since you went away, I've had this sentimental inclination not to change a single thing," the chords do this lovely thing with chromatically descending lines:


The first two chords in this progression are the first two chords in the "refrain" from "All My Loving," but where "My Brave Face" goes down to a C#m7 chord, "All My Loving" breaks away to the root E major chord. Notice, however, that an E chord and a C#m7 chord are virtually identical aside from the bass note.

Getting back to the pre-chorus in "My Brave Face," notice that the middle note in those first three chords moves from C# to C natural to B, and in the final four chords, we have a similar chromatic movement from the D natural in the E7 chord to the C# in the A chord, continuing down the scale with a C natural in the Am chord and finally landing with the B in the E major "home" chord.

These chords should sound familiar to a Beatles fan, especially the first three: the vi chord (C#m) to the viM7 chord (C#mM7) to the vi7 (C#m7) is a pattern that is also used in the song "Something" over the lyrics, "I don't want to leave her now, you know I believe," where the chord changes from Am to AmM7 and down to Am7.

The pattern is found again in the bridge of "I'll Be Back" during the line "I thought that you would realize." Underneath John's sustained "I ..." we hear the chords go from Bm to BmM7 to Bm7 before moving up to C#m7.

In reaching for this same progression, Paul connects "My Brave Face" to other well-known Beatles songs.

The second part of the bridge ("As I pull the sheet back on the bed, I wanna go bury my head in your pillow") returns to this same progression, but with a slight twist. The first three chords are the same, featuring the same chromatic slide down the scale, but this time they move to another familiar chord before carrying on with the A to A minor set-up:


The C#m6, with it's unexpected A#, suddenly takes us back to two other Beatles songs where this same kind of chromatic movement is found. Just look at the top three strings of those chords again, ignoring the bass note:


The G string moves down in half-steps, and if we shift this entire collection of shapes down two frets, skipping the second chord in the progression, we get the intro chords to "Mother Nature's Son":


Slide the entire thing up to the tenth fret, and we have the first four chords of the introduction to "Michelle":


Paul is clearly working with familiar material here in the bridge of "My Brave Face," and now we can see why there's such a Beatlesque feel to the whole thing. (Not to mention that the acoustic guitar solo -- played over an A-to-F#m progression, on the lower strings of a 12-string to include the higher octave -- is straight out of the "I've Just Seen a Face" playbook.)

One last performance tip: during the verses, it's really that bouncing bass line that makes the song sound great, and there's no reason why a solo guitarist can't throw that riff in between strums of the open E chord. Play this bit as follows:


That's all for now! Remember, the re-master of Flowers in the Dirt arrives this Friday, March 24! 

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