How could Paul McCartney criticize George Harrison’s songwriting abilities after George wrote Something? Something has got to be in the top 10 Beatle songs.

G ROWLAND writes ...

‘Something’ is a lovely song, but if you were Paul McCartney you’d have some license to regard it as charming but ultimately somewhat naive, a bit of an easy win for a composer. Why? Because the harmonic structure relies on something which is known as ‘Line Cliche’ in music theory, which described a movement where the chord stays the same, but the one note (often the bass) chromatically (the smallest musical gap between two notes in western music) ascends or descends so you get a different feel with each, but each also feels consistent and meaningful within the musical phrase. They can go up (the James Bond theme) or, more often, down (My Funny Valentine, Dear Prudence, 10538 Overture, Stairway to Heaven). They create a powerful emotional effect but are also very easy to write. It’s something that’s arrived much more visually and easily on a piano than on a guitar and I’d contend that George must have written this on a keyboard originally — because by playing on chord with the right hand, over a descending chromatic bass with the left, it’s possible to get a nice, sophisticated and emotive harmonic movement without needing to know all that much about piano chords. George laconically mentions he doesn’t know what he’s doing on a keyboard during Get Back, and it’s this naivety that leads to the use of the Line Cliche twice in Something (the first and third movements, one major, one relative minor). It sounds beautiful but it’s a bit of a happy accident — and if you were paul you might be forgiven for thinking that, yes, it’s a lovely song but if someone told me to use Line Cliche to write a song I could have done it at least as well as in Something, possibly in an afternoon. I love George very much, but Paul is a titan of composition, while George is a hero. And there’s no disgrace being Mendelssohn in a band with Beethoven and Mozart. It’s just a little tricky to negotiate. And George did negotiate with some considerable grace and wit, most of the time at least.

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