The Beatles, Beethoven, and “Because”

Three Beatles With Headphones Getty

The influence of soul music, jazz, and Tin Pan Alley in the songs of Lennon and McCartney is well documented. However, when it comes to the influence of classical music on the Beatles’ music, most people attribute this to the work of their producer, George Martin. After all, it was Martin who provided the string quartet arrangement for “Yesterday,” the orchestral crescendo of “A Day In The Life,” and the woodwind, brass, and string arrangements throughout Abbey Road. Yet, there is at least one Beatles song that was based on a classical sonata – and it was written by John Lennon.

On Abbey Road’s second side, tucked between George Harrison’s remarkable “Here Comes the Sun” and the famous medley, is one of the Beatles’ less analyzed compositions, “Because.” Written almost entirely by John Lennon, it features an electric harpsichord and a three-part vocal arrangement that was realized with significant help from George Martin. But, it is Yoko Ono who deserves a good portion of the credit for “Because.” It is most obvious in the song’s lyrics which call to mind poems that might be found in her book Grapefruit. Less obvious is Ono’s help in the genesis of the song’s music thanks to her classical piano training and her love of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

In his latest TikTok video, Deconstructing the Beatles’ Scott Freiman explains how Ono — and Beethoven — helped in the creation of “Because.” In the first part, Scott examines the musical side, and the Beethoven connection:

In the second part, Scott dives into the hugely-inventive lyrics:

Taken together, it’s a master class in composition, and one of many high points on the sublime “Abbey Road.” (You can also watch the full video on YouTube if you prefer.)

-The CS Team

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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10 comments on “The Beatles, Beethoven, and “Because”

  1. Paul Zollo

    really enjoying CultureSonar – and this is nicely done. Just to add: one of the most remarkable things about “Because” = in addition to the brilliant use of those Beethoven-inspired chords and the arpeggios and lyrics – is the vocal harmony. It is among the most complex and beautiful vocal arrangements they ever recorded.

    In the intro it is written that they sing a “three-part vocal arrangement.” It is greater than that – Paul, George & John sang a three=part arrangement THREE TIMES. By which I mean three different parts each time – so the outcome is not a three-part arrangement – but a NINE-PART arrangement. There are nine different harmony parts ; each sings three different ones.

    However, due to the limitations at that time of multi-tracking, it was impossible to record each of their parts separately as would be done today, later mixing them together. Instead they had to sing three parts TOGETHER – perfectly – and do that three times. Paul, John and George had to sing their parts at the same time with each other onto the same track.

    Which meant that if any one of them – Paul, John or George – made a slight mistake, it would ruin the entire take – and would have to be done over. Then they had to do it two more times- for a total of nine tracks.

    To hear the fullness of what they did, you can listen on youtube to versions of Because with the vocals only – and hear all nine parts. Which is pretty remarkable – except for brian wilson and beach boys, rarely did pop music have such complex and remarkable harmony arrangements.

    And yes George Martin did certainly assist with this effort – as it was one of his best and most useful talents – sitting at the piano and helping with the vocal arrangements by playing each part. Still, even for the Beatles – this was not easy to do for them – and they had to do so many takes to get it right that Lennon got aggravated and said, “I wish I didn’t write this fucking song!”

    And as great as George Martin was, in fact this is not accurate as written: “… it was Martin who provided the string quartet arrangement for `Yesterday,’ the orchestral crescendo of `A Day In The Life,’ and the woodwind, brass, and string arrangements throughout Abbey Road.” He did not “provide” any of those. He transcribed McCartney’s ideas and figured out how to translate them to the orchestra. George Martin never wrote one of these on his own. The A Day In The Life idea of having the musicians randomly ascend on their instruments are Paul’s idea – not Martin’s.

    On Yesterday Martin did write a basic string part – but it was McCartney who suggested the cool, odd parts – like the bluesy use of a 7th – and the stabbing Psycho like rhythm.

    I appreciate you gave Yoko credit for being a pianist and bringing Beethoven to John like this. As John said, “Yoko didn’t just inspire my songs. She inspired me.”

    • Christopher Orlando

      Well said, Paul! Very nicely written and well researched. Thank you for posting that.

    • Paul F. Perry

      Musically, it’s still correct to call it a three-part arrangement, regardless of the fact that John, Paul and George triple-tracked it, i.e., sang the same three-part arrangement two additional times. There may be nine voices on tape, but there are still only three parts, a melody and two harmony parts.

  2. Oscar Suarez

    Scott is the master at analyzing The Beatles, and Because is a great example!
    Deconstructing The Beatles reveals so many hidden gems that most simply miss. John’s word play, Paul’s haunting gift of melody, George’s magical inclusion of Indian music and if course, Ringo’s original, creative riffs all mix so incredibly, as if they were meant to be.
    Thanks, Scott, for bringing all this to us.

  3. John-Magdalene Agel

    What happened to the video link?

  4. Randy Toma

    I think John wrote “Because” as an Earth sonata. As Beethoven’s is a musical reflection of the movement and moods of the moon, Lennon’s lyrics bring it down to planet Earth: the world, the wind, the sky.

  5. Paul F. Perry

    Stop the presses … or at least since 2005! I don’t know if it’s possible post a link in these comments (I’ll try below), but once you read “It’s Not A Sonata: A new theory of the classical origins of John Lennon’s Because” by Mark Mitchell, D.M.A.–and especially if you listen to his audio demonstration linked in the essay–you will be convinced that we’ve gotten the story wrong all these years and the actual song John heard Yoko playing was Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptu in C-sharp minor.


  6. Michael Massetti

    It is always insightful to listen to Scott about the Beatles. His musical prowess is phenomenal. Keep it coming!

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