The best way to learn to be a great songwriter is to study the past masters. And my personal pathway to songwriting (like most of my generation) was through John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
You may scoff and scorn them as ancient history, outdated and irrelevant to today’s dance-groove-oriented scene. But most of what you hear today is derived from those two revolutionary Liverpool lads 50 years ago.
Although the Beatles’ songs are simple in most cases, they contain some amazing complications that make the songs rise above the ordinary pop songs of their day (or later days). Part of that was using more than the ordinary chords — like diminished chords, sus4 chords and that delicious 6th chord that ends “She Loves You.”
Another of their wonderful techniques was the innovation of the bridge (or as they called it, “The Middle Eight”). They worked hard on getting some novel twist for the bridge but never making it sound out-of-place and bringing it back to the song naturally rather than forcing it.
My example today is not one of their hit singles, but an intelligent and creative uptempo song by John Lennon. “You’re Going To Lose That Girl” was featured in the movie “Help!” and is on the soundtrack album.
This is a “call and response” song with Lennon singing the lead and Harrison and McCartney repeating his phrases back to him. It is yet another of their twists on the standard “I love you” songs. To break out of the rut, Lennon & McCartney ingeniously engineered “She Loves You” and then the opposite in “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl” (the way everyone sings it, although the formal spelling is the official title).
The chord structure is also a common variation favored by L&M. The 4-bar refrain starts out with I-vi-ii7-V7 instead of the usual I-vi-IV-V7 progression.
The Beatles play this in the key of E. I will use the key of C since that is where I sing it and it simplifies the chords used.
In the key of C, the refrain is C-Am-Dm7-G7.
The song quickly moves into the first verse and lends some interesting variation with a I-iii7-ii7-V7 progression (C-Em7-Dm7-G7).
Following a standard pattern of singing two verses they then turn in to the bridge — and this is where the artistry shines through.
Ending the first verse, the Dm7 resolved to the G7. But when the second verse transitions to the bridge the Dm7 leads to Bb — and now we are in another key.
We are now in Eb and following a pretty standard I-IV-I progression — Eb-Ab-Eb — but being in different key, it sounds exotic. The same phrase is repeated in this “Middle Eight” leading to the transition back to the key of C. The second time through, the chords are Eb-Ab-Db (Notice the circle of 4ths) and the Db is simply a half-step above the original key of C, so the vocals sustain on the Db and glide down to the C to pick up the last verse.
There is an instrumental with the same chords as the verse in the key of C and then they go back to the bridge one more time which resolves into the last verse (repeat of verse 3) in C.
The Beatles were always good about having an introduction and an ending to their songs instead of fading out or just stopping cold. In this case, they go through the transition to the bridge, but change it.
When the Dm7 leads to the Bb, they hold it an extra measure, then follow it to the IV (F) and end on the C for a clean 1 measure ending.
Overall this is a text-book perfect example of creative songwriting. They fulfill the listener’s expectation yet add a couple of fresh elements to make it rise above the standard pop song. And it only takes two minutes and twenty seconds!
And of course, it has John, Paul, and George harmonies. Nobody could beat that.
Listen through the song and perhaps look at the guitar tabs to follow along when they change keys and do their other magic.
Respect your elders, study the masters, and become the best songwriter you can be with inspirations like The Beatles.