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Why The Beatles Didn’t Write As Many Great Choruses As You Think

In discussing great Choruses, The Beatles usually come up; no discussion of superior songwriting is complete without the songs of Lennon & McCartney (and sometimes George Harrison).

But not every catchy refrain or Title phrase they wrote is actually a Chorus. Many of the Beatles most popular songs were written in the AABA form, which dominated songwriting during what now you might call the ‘pre-Beatles era’. And the AABA song, catchy as it might be, has no Chorus.

Let’s define our terms. In the Verse/Chorus song (examples below), the Verse has the same music every time, but different lyrics. The Chorus is the part that’s repeated frequently with the same, or very similar, lyrics (so you can remember and sing along), and almost always contains the Title. This is the song form that’s dominated the last 50 years.

Before that, when John and Paul were learning how to write songs, the AABA song ruled. In that form, the melody in every ‘A’ section is the same. The lyric changes, except for the Title, which is almost always at the beginning and/or the end of every ‘A’ section.

The ‘B’ section functions like a Bridge (the so-called ‘middle 8’ of a form that was traditionally 32 bars long) and has music and lyrics that are completely different from the ‘A’ sections.

So, during the AABA form, you hear the Title, with the same melody, at least three times (in every ‘A’ section). You still get enough repetition to burn a good Title phrase into your brain. (Most of what we now know as the ‘Great American Songbook’ were AABA songs.)

Turning to The Beatles’ hit singles (from their ‘#1s’ album), I find them split into three basic categories. The AABA songs:

From Me To You
I Want To Hold Your Hand
A Hard Day’s Night
I Feel Fine
Yesterday
Paperback Writer
Hey Jude
Something
Lady Madonna
The Long And Winding Road

Listen to them or sing them through. You’ll find that they follow the AABA structure pretty closely. John and Paul being Lennon & McCartney, there are often twists to the formula. But as much as those catchy ‘A’ sections may feel like Choruses, they’re not. Those sections begin or end with the Title, and these songs all have ‘B’ sections (Bridges).

Of course, The Beatles had just as many Verse/Chorus hits, with awesome Choruses:

Love Me Do
She Loves You
Can’t Buy Me Love
Ticket To Ride
Help
Day Tripper
Yellow Submarine
All You Need Is Love
Get Back
The Ballad of John and Yoko
Come Together

Then there’s a third category, form-busters, which involves songs that could be looked at as AABA songs with Titles that are extended and repeated enough to almost be Choruses, or that have short refrains that are also practically Choruses (‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ could also fit in here). OR your could possibly look at them as very unusual Verse/Chorus songs:

Eight Days A Week
We Can Work It Out
Eleanor Rigby
Penny Lane
Hello Goodbye
Let It Be

Whatever you call them, they’re great. It’s just interesting to remember that many of those unforgettable Beatles’ ‘Choruses’ aren’t really Choruses at all… and that the AABA form is still pretty cool.

Thanks for reading! Let me know your thoughts, additions, disagreements in the Comments section below:

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8 responses to “Why The Beatles Didn’t Write As Many Great Choruses As You Think”

  • Rich Meitin

    My favorite composition subject!

    There are certain kinds of storylines that beg for AABA, in particular where your narrative would feel “disrupted”’by the jumpy energy or hype of a chorus. Imagine how disastrous it would be to add a chorus to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” for example.

  • Excellent post… always nice to challenge the conventions we take for granted. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got some A’s to write.

  • wayne somerville

    Speaking of form, it’s interesting how many songs start with the title. On your lists I counted 13. I also read that it was George Martin who advised The Beatles to start Can’t Buy Me Love with the chorus. It seems obvious and inevitable that the chorus comes first but of course these are all decisions that the songwriter makes. I’m trying to think if any of my songs start with the title and I’m pretty sure none of them do. Interesting. I’m going to give that a try.

  • It was a transition time in pop music. Let It Be, Penny Lane and the like are verse/chorus – just that the chorus actually has some harmonic structure and contains a few words other than the title. AABA is great for many songs, lends itself to a more narrative style. Shame it has mostly fallen by the wayside these days.

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