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  1. #1

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    I think this song is a marvel of construction and a study in contrasts---as I just wrote in my (slowly) evolving book American Music Redux:


    Alone Again, Naturally

    In 1972 Irishman Gilbert O’ Sullivan released a tear-jerker called Alone Again, Naturally. This is a very well-constructed song melodically and harmonically, symmetrical* and balanced to the point where one could say it is formulaic. Hey, whatever works! This song works beautifully---and goes ‘out of formula’ regularly enough to be a classic study in contrasts (lyric against melody and supporting chords).

    The first thing this writer notices is the almost snappy medium bright tempo, selected possibly by design to avoid a dirge-like slower tempo that, with the lyrical content, would make the song too depressing for popular consumption. Capital idea, Mr. O’ Sullivan. Then, there’s the melody’s arc---and arcs within the larger arc. He begins with a repeated 2 bar phrase, then slowly fans upward to the first mini-arc: on the lyric ‘I promise myself to take myself’. The phrase winds back down, only to climb again to crest at key points of emotion (‘when you’re shattered…’). It reaches a climax just before the title line payoff. Formulaic? I’d say it’s damn well thought-out.

    The use of flat 3rds---‘minor’ notes---within a major framework (in F# Major) is a tried and true composers’ device. O’ Sullivan makes good use of this, starting with an E natural in bar 5, a flat 5 in a A# Min 7th b5, or A# half-diminished chord. It is sung 3 times for stress (‘…promise my [self]…’), followed by a downward spiral to G natural---the resolution of the first mini-arc. This device is repeated many times throughout. But when he resolves lyrically to the notion of inevitable loneliness (‘..alone again, naturally’) the lyric is framed in scale-tone ‘natural’ notes throughout.

    The bridge has a nice and unexpected modulation: it travels to the flat III key of A Major---somewhat unusual for pop songs. (The Beatles’ Lady Madonna comes to mind). Further, it is 10 bars long, not the customary 8. So much for formula. (Irving Berlin did it in Top Hat, pretty fast company!). The last 2 bars is used to repeat the query ‘What do we do?’, and both arc downward to melodic resolution and harmonic smooth shift to the mother F# key.

    Now the lyric: It uses near-rhyme effectively and perfectly appropriately for a pop song (‘at sixty-five years old/my mother, God rest her soul…’). And, like all the verses, the lyric crests in sad content carried on major or dominant (‘7th) chords (‘…I cried and cried all day---day cresting, in another mini-arc, to F natural, the 9th of a D#9 chord). Then it again winds down (‘alone again, naturally’—C# B D#, down to F natural G# F#, the root.) The resolution with a typical II-V cadence of G# minor C# 7th F# major works effectively to contrast that dour lyric.

    Well done, sir!

    *‘Symmetrical’ because there are no ‘surprises’ in the melodic architecture, the construction repeats without altering notes. I don’t think there was any need to.



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  3. #2

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    Thanks for the analysis. Mr. O'Sullivan is a much underrated artist I think...

  4. #3

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    Never really listened to the words before, being beguiled by the easy-on-the ears arrangement. This is pathos on a par with Eleanor Rigby.


    Very perceptive analysis. Thanks, Joel!

  5. #4
    Yes, it's a great tune, and avoids mawkishness and bathos, I think, by his choice of tempo and contrasting dark lyric 'cadences' with brighter harmonic choices. Formulas develop from repeated usage, 'happy/sad'---dumb as it sounds. But he goes counter, and that's what's interesting to me.

    Also interesting: O' Sullivan has said in interviews that the song was not autobiographical in any way---which further shows a firm grasp of craft (and imagination). He really turned the spigot on this time...

  6. #5

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    Thanks so much Joel I agree an absolutely genius tune ....
    so great to meet you great people here who get it !

    I transcribed the changes of it a couple of
    months ago cos it got under my skin ....

    I LOVE the way the ii chord Abmin goes ii half dim then ii dim
    and on the iii chord Bbmin goes to Dbmin (or Bbmin half dim)
    Echoing the above move ....

    or maybe it could be heard as IV to iv minor in (now) Abminor

    the ambiguity is wonderful

  7. #6

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    Barney Kessel made a great version with Red Mitchell.

  8. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by jazzkenny
    Barney Kessel made a great version with Red Mitchell.


    thanks !

  9. #8

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    It seem that Gilbert O'Sullivan wrote 2 really great songs, before being persuaded by his record company to write more in the main pop idiom of the day. The other song was his first hit "Nothing Rhymed", a song I occasionally attempt myself with acoustic guitar. It's also worth another listen.



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  10. #9
    He has a very developed natural harmonic sense and ability to logically and emotionally expand a melody out.

    Just very intuitive. I'd be curious as to whether he studied music formally?

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by joelf
    He has a very developed natural harmonic sense and ability to logically and emotionally expand a melody out.

    Just very intuitive. I'd be curious as to whether he studied music formally?
    so would I

  12. #11

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    There is no mention of formal music education in his Wikipedia page. He was in a series of bands through high school in England and apparently received some rudimentary piano lessons from bandmate Rick Davies, who went on to form Super tramp.

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  13. #12

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    Roland Prince did a good version too, can't find it on you tube tho....made a few albums with Elvin Jones,
    Last edited by dot75; 05-02-2020 at 01:38 PM.

  14. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by pingu


    thanks !
    Won't play: 'This video is unavailable'...

  15. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by newsense
    There is no mention of formal music education in his Wikipedia page. He was in a series of bands through high school in England and apparently received some rudimentary piano lessons from bandmate Rick Davies, who went on to form Super tramp.

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    Was Davies related to the guys in the Kinks?

  16. #15

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    No - he was from Swindon. The Kinks Davies were Londoners and a generation earlier.

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  17. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by newsense
    No - he was from Swindon. The Kinks Davies were Londoners and a generation earlier.

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    Thanks...