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The constant D in "Put it There"


The first time I heard "Put it There" (from Paul McCartney's 1989 Flowers in the Dirt release) was in the summer of 1990, on a VH1 music video. I was instantly hooked by those crisp, twangy acoustic guitar strings in the introduction, an effect that Paul achieves on many of his acoustic pieces by not finger-picking the strings, but by flicking them with his index finger. 

(As he said in an interview once, "The main drawback to my approach is that because of the way I flick the chords and notes with my finger, it wears my nail down." A quick glance at the picture above shows the technique in action.)


Being a relatively new guitarist myself at the time, I tried to pay close attention to the shots in the music video that focused on Paul's hands on the fretboard so I could learn what chords he was playing.


As anyone who has spent time learning songs like "Mother Nature's Son" or "Calico Skies" can tell you, Paul loves to find little variations on chord voicings in the key of D. "Put it There" is no exception, and you'll find him utilizing the same D chord with the fifth-fret-pinky-stretch that he uses in the intro to "Mother Nature's Son."

But one feature that stands out to me in the intro to "Put it There" is the anchored D note -- third fret of the B string -- that remains constant throughout each of these chords.

We begin, oddly enough for a song in D major, on a C chord, followed by a descending bass line that becomes prominent:


Those last two chords are really just one chord: the high open E string is quickly hammered-on to the second fret. Notice, then, how the D note at the third fret never changes throughout each of these chord shapes.

As the verse opens with a standard G chord, the tonal center of the song is still in question. It's a neat trick by McCartney here, beginning the intro with a C chord, then beginning the verse with a G chord, leading the ear to believe that we're in the key of G -- after all, we still haven't heard an A major chord, the dominant chord in D.

But when the chorus kicks off with a descending B minor to A major to G major progression, everything becomes much clearer, and by the time the intro chords begin again, that opening C chord finally finds its context.

Another feature of this song is the light percussion, heard sparingly in the background, very reminiscent of "Blackbird" in its understated quality. But if you're going to replicate that sound, be prepared to do what Paul did for this track and literally roll up your pants to do this:


If you can manage to do that while still playing the guitar, then I salute you.

The remastered edition of Flowers in the Dirt comes out next week, so stay tuned for more mini-tutorials from this album coming up!

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