1st Edition

The Beatles and Vocal Expression

By Bláithín Duggan Copyright 2024
    216 Pages 60 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The Beatles and Vocal Expression examines popular song through the topic of paralanguage – a sub-category of nonverbal communication that addresses characteristics of speech that modify meaning and convey emotion. It responds to the general consensus regarding the limitations of Western art music notation to analyse popular song, assesses paralinguistic voice qualities giving rise to expressive tropes within and across songs, and lastly addresses gaps in existing Beatles scholarship.

    Taking The Beatles’ UK studio albums (1963–1970), paralinguistic voice qualities are examined in relation to concepts, characteristics, metaphors, and functions of paralanguage in vocal performance. Tropes, such as rising and falling intonation on words of woe, have historical connections to performative and conversational techniques. This interdisciplinary analysis is achieved through musicology, sound studies, applied linguistics, and cultural history. The new methodology locates paralinguistic voice qualities in recordings, identifies features, shows functions, and draws aural threads within and across popular songs.




    List of Tables

    List of Analytical Examples





    1. Rethinking The Beatles
    2. Before The Beatles: 1950s American Popular Song
    3. Primary Voice Qualities: Arch Shaped Intonation
    4. Vocal Qualifiers: Vocal Fry, Falsetto, and Head Voice
    5. Vocal Alternants: Stop Time and Pauses in Interaction
    6. Differentiators: Laughter and Crying in Vocal Performance
    7. Paralanguage and Inter-Song Thematic Processes
    8. Paralinguistic Personae and The Beatles


    List of Tables

    3.1       Flow Chart of Primary Voice Qualities in Popular Song.

    4.1       Flow Chart of Vocal Qualifiers in Popular Song.

    5.1       Flow Chart of Vocal Alternants in Popular Song.

    7.1       Flow Chart of Expressive Tropes giving rise to Paralinguistic Personae.


    List of Analytical Examples

    1.1       Jürgen Handke’s Formant Characteristics for the Four Cardinal Vowels.

    1.2       Spectrogram of vowel ‘a’ alongside Jürgen Handke’s Formant Characteristic of [a].

    1.3       Melodic range spectrogram of a steady and vibrato vocal.


    3.1       Melodic sketch, ‘Misery’, Please Please Me, 1963 (Lennon-McCartney).

    3.2       Analysis of ‘Misery’ (Lennon-McCartney), 00:02-00:07.

    3.3       Analysis of ‘Misery’ (Lennon-McCartney), 01:39-01:40.

    3.4       Analysis of ‘Ask Me Why’, Please Please Me, 1963 (Lennon-McCartney), 01:01-01:03.

    3.5       Analysis of ‘A Taste of Honey’, recorded by Lenny Welch, 1962 (Scott and Marlow)


    3.6       Analysis of ‘Hold me tight’, With the Beatles, 1963 (Lennon-McCartney), 00:25-


    3.7       Analysis of ‘Eight days a week’, Beatles for Sale, 1964 (Lennon-McCartney), 01:06-


    3.8       Analysis of First (00:27-00:29) and Second (00:44-00:46) statements of ‘me’ in

    ‘What you’re doing’, Beatles for Sale, 1964 (Lennon-McCartney).

    3.9       Analysis of Third statement of ‘me’, ‘What you’re doing’ (Lennon-McCartney),


    3.10     Analysis of ‘In my life’, Rubber Soul, 1965 (Lennon-McCartney), 02:10-02:15.

    3.11     Analysis of ‘Nowhere man’, Rubber Soul, 1965 (Lennon-McCartney), 00:00-00:04.

    3.12     Analysis of ‘Nowhere man’ (Lennon-McCartney), 00:42-00:44.

    3.13     Analysis of ‘I’ll cry instead’, A Hard Day’s Night, 1964 (Lennon-McCartney), 01:00-


    3.14     Analysis of ‘Fool on the Hill’, Magical Mystery Tour, 1967 (Lennon-

    McCartney), 00:37-00:40.

    3.15     Analysis of ‘Across the Universe’, Let It Be (naked), 1970 (Lennon-McCartney),


    3.16     Analysis of ‘Across the Universe’ (Lennon-McCartney), 00:20-00:22.

    3.17     Analysis of ‘Imagine’, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, 1971 (Lennon-Ono), 01:50-


    3.18     Analysis of ‘For no one’, Revolver, 1966 (Lennon-McCartney), 01:02-01:09.

    3.19     Analysis of ‘A day in the life’, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967

    (Lennon-McCartney), 00:13-00:17.

    3.20     Analysis of ‘A day in the life’ (Lennon-McCartney), 02:28-02:31.

    3.21     Analysis of ‘Mother nature’s son’, The Beatles, 1968 (Lennon-McCartney), 02:08-


    3.22     Analysis of ‘Julia’, The Beatles, 1968 (Lennon-McCartney), 00:10-00:16.


    4.1       Analysis of ‘Mr. Moonlight’, Beatles for Sale, 1964 (Johnson), 00:00-00:05.

    4.2       Analysis of ‘Long Tall Sally’, recorded by Little Richard in 1957 (Blackwell, Johnson

    and Richard), 00:03-00:08.

    4.3       Analysis of ‘Long Tall Sally’, recorded by The Beatles in 1964 (Blackwell, Johnson

    and Richard), 00:00-00:06.

    4.4       Analysis of ‘Ready Teddy’, recorded by Buddy Holly in 1958 (Blackwell and

    Marascalco), 00:31-00:33.

    4.5       Analysis of ‘Anna (go to him)’, Please Please Me, 1963 (Alexander), 01:30-01:32.

    4.6       Analysis of ‘This Boy’, Side 2 of ‘I want to hold your hand’, 1964 (Lennon-

    McCartney), 01:01-01:03.

    4.7       Analysis of ‘This Boy’ (Lennon-McCartney), 01:11-01:15.

    4.8       Analysis of ‘This Boy’ (Lennon-McCartney), 01:24-01:28.

    4.9       Analysis of four statements of ‘Hey’ in ‘You’ve got to hide your love away’, Help!

    1965 (Lennon-McCartney), 00:39-01:41.

    4.10     Analysis of ‘Oh! Darling’, Abbey Road, 1969 (Lennon-McCartney), 01:38-01:41.

    Stereo mix.

    4.11     Analysis of ‘Long tall Sally’. Little Richard, 00:12-00:13, and The Beatles, 00:11-


    4.12     Analysis of ‘I saw her standing there’, Please Please Me, 1963 (Lennon-McCartney),


    4.13     Analysis of ‘Please please Me’, Please Please Me, 1963 (Lennon-McCartney), 00:28-


    4.14     Analysis of ‘Help!’, Help! 1965 (Lennon-McCartney), 00:09-00:10.

    4.15     Analysis of ‘Help!’ (Lennon-McCartney), 00:46-00:49.

    4.16     Analysis From L-R: ‘Sie liebt dich’ (01:01-01:03) and ‘She loves you’ (01:03-01:04),

    1963 (Lennon-McCartney).

    4.17     Analysis of ‘She’s leaving home’, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967

    (Lennon-McCartney), 00:48-00:53.

    4.18     Analysis of ‘She’s leaving home’ (Lennon-McCartney), 00:54-00:58.

    4.19     Analysis of ‘She’s leaving home’ (Lennon-McCartney), 00:59-01:04.


    5.1       Analysis of ‘There’s a place’, Please Please Me, 1963 (Lennon-McCartney), 00:06-



    7.1       Analysis of Tensegrity in ‘Misery’, Please Please Me, 1963 (Lennon-McCartney),


    7.2       Analysis of ‘Savoy truffle’, The Beatles, 1968 (Lennon-McCartney), 00:05-00:09.

    7.3       Analysis of ‘Savoy truffle’ (Lennon-McCartney), 00:40-00:44.

    7.4       Analysis of ‘Savoy truffle’ (Lennon-McCartney), 02:14-02:18.

    7.5       Analysis of ‘Happiness is a warm gun’, The Beatles, 1968 (Lennon-McCartney),


    7.6       Analysis of ‘Happiness is a warm gun’ (Lennon-McCartney), 01:08-01:12.

    7.7       Analysis of ‘Happiness is a warm gun’ (Lennon-McCartney), 01:48-01:52.

    7.8       Analysis of ‘Happiness is a warm gun’ (Lennon-McCartney), 02:22-02:26.

    7.9       Analysis of ‘Dig a pony’, Let it be (naked), 1970 (Lennon-McCartney), 00:12-00:15.

    7.10     Analysis of ‘Dig a pony’ (Lennon-McCartney), 01:57-02:02.


    8.1       Analysis of ‘Something’, Abbey Road, 1969 (Harrison), 00:55-00:57.

    8.2       Analysis of ‘Something’ (Harrison), 01:20-01:25.

    8.3       Analysis of ‘All things must pass’, All Things Must Pass, 1970 (Harrison), 00:47-


    8.4       Analysis of ‘All things must pass’ (Harrison), 01:19-01:25.
























    There are many who deserve my thanks and appreciation for their advice, guidance, and support throughout the planning, writing, and publishing of this book. My passion for research in popular song, specifically the music of The Beatles, began in my final year undergraduate degree at University College Dublin when I analysed Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). Under the supervision of Julian Horton, I developed my knowledge of music analysis and solidified my interest in The Beatles and their music. I then completed a master’s thesis at University College Dublin under the supervision of Wolfgang Marx, who further supported my attempt to develop popular song analysis. This thesis advanced aspects of my undergraduate degree in English and music, which involved a poetic and musical analysis of Abbey Road (1969).


    I soon learned that traditional models of analysis were insufficient for examining recorded popular song, and with this unresolved thought, I met with Simon Trezise at Trinity College Dublin. He encouraged my thinking on this subject and supervised my PhD thesis ‘Paralanguage and The Beatles’. Simon Trezise has adopted many roles over the years: a supervisor, mentor, and dear friend. I thank him for his thoughtful discussions, continued encouragement, thorough feedback, and sharing his vast knowledge. I thank Gráinne Redican at Trinity College Dublin for her time and the TCD Home Hewson Scholarship and Taylor Bequest, which provided me with financial support during my studies.


    I am grateful to Glenn Stanley and Laura Watson, the examiners of the Society for Musicology in Ireland Harry White Doctoral prize, who awarded my PhD thesis the inaugural medal in 2020. With this, I thank the Society for Musicology in Ireland, and extend a special mention to the following members of academia in alphabetical order: Lorraine Byrne-Bodley, Majella Boland, Ciarán Crilly, Orla Flanagan, Steven Gamble, Jonathan Hodgers, Nicole Grimes, Michael Lee, Evangelia Rigaki, Kayla Rush, and Harry White. A scholarly community that provided joyful discussions over the years.


    My appreciation extends to my colleagues at the Department of Music, Dublin City University for supporting my research and teaching pursuits: Barbara Dignam, Patricia Flynn, John O’Flynn, Clare Wilson, and Robert Harvey. Thank you to the American Rock & Pop Music School who awarded me a scholarship to attend Walter Everett’s Beatles Research seminar in 2022. Thank you to Walter Everett for his advice, thoughtful insights, and feedback on aspects of this book.


    A special thanks to my mentor Justin A. Williams. His pioneering research in hip-hop and musical borrowing has inspired many aspects of my thinking. I am grateful for his unfailing encouragement and supporting my scholarly pursuit. A further thank you goes to Justin Williams, Lori Burns, Heidi Bishop, and the anonymous reviewers at Routledge for their evaluations and expert advice. With this, I thank Mark Katz, John O’Flynn, Simon Trezise, and Steve Waxman for their detailed feedback on various chapters.


    On a personal note, I wish to thank Bert Duggan, John Miller, and Sophie Barron. Thank you to my dear partner, Julian Ashe, for his kindness and encouragement. A special appreciation of gratitude goes to Ann and Patrick Duggan, Dearbháil Duggan, and Ultán Duggan. I thank my sister Dearbháil for her support, and my brother Ultán, for his thoughtfulness and reading of chapters. I express eternal love and appreciation to my parents Ann and Patrick. I thank them for their love and support, considered discussions, and encouraging my pursuit of music research and this book on The Beatles.


    With a wide-ranging impact on musical, cultural, and historical events, The Beatles’ music has captivated many people around the world. This includes my ten-year-old self who went home to learn the lyrics of ‘Help!’ after I had heard the song in school. I now thank John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr for their inspirational output. Whilst I remain fascinated by the eclectic range of their melodies, harmonies, use of instrumentation, and lyrics, what continues to intrigue me is their plethora of vocal styles. Accounts from their studio sessions by Mark Lewisohn have noted their individual aims to alter their vocals and Peter Jackson’s Get Back (2021) shows them experimenting with vocalisms. From such accounts, and by listening to many recordings and performances, I have pondered the idea that there is ‘Something in the way [they sing]’ and I now invite the reader to embark on this rethinking of The Beatles.

































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    Bláithín Duggan is a part-time lecturer at Dublin City University. Bláithín’s research focuses on a multidisciplinary approach to the analysis and interpretation of nineteenth- and twentieth-century popular song. This encompasses music theory and analysis, sound studies, performance studies, and paralinguistics. In 2020, Bláithín’s doctoral thesis ‘Paralanguage and The Beatles’, completed under the supervision of Dr Simon Trezise at Trinity College Dublin, was awarded the inaugural Society for Musicology in Ireland Harry White doctoral medal.