The Beatles: “Chains of Love” (with musicology notes)

The Beatles’ “Chains” (“Chains of Love”) is a wonderful early song, very rock-and-roll, totally C-F-G (or I-IV-V) in chording, energetic and catchy. It’s from their first album, Please Please Me.

It’s also a great Carole King song. Wikipedia (my emphasis):

Carole King (born February 9, 1942) is an American songwriter and singer-songwriter. King and her former husband Gerry Goffin wrote more than two dozen chart hits for numerous artists during the 1960s, many of which have become standards. As a singer-songwriter, her Tapestry album topped the U.S. album chart for 15 weeks in 1971, and remained on the charts for more than six years.

Her main success as a performer was in the first half of the 1970s, when she would sing her own songs, accompanying herself on the piano, in a series of albums and concerts; although she had been a successful songwriter for a decade previous, and has continued writing for others since. She had her first number 1 hit as a songwriter in 1960 at age 18, with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, which she wrote with Goffin. …

In 2000, Joel Whitburn, a Billboard Magazine pop music researcher, named her the most successful female songwriter of 1955–99, because she wrote or co-wrote 118 pop hits on the Billboard Hot 100. …

She has won four Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for her songwriting.

The Beatles’ cover of this song is probably its most popular version. Listen:


Musicology notes

This song is completely conventional in every aspect but one. It’s totally C-F-G (or I-IV-V if you will). It’s got the classic blues harmonic structure, three phrases, imported into rock-n-roll, like this:


Almost every rock song of that era has that blues harmonic structure. But the phrasing — now that’s interesting. Most pop songs have four-bar phrases, divide at the bar line. That  means, for example, in this excellent song from the musical South Pacific:

             Bali-     [upbeat before the primary downbeat]
hai may call you … Any
Night any day … In your
Heart you hear it call you … Come a-
way, come away. …

I’ve bolded the primary downbeat in the phrases. The upbeats are relatively short relative to the downbeats phrases — for example, “any” or “Bali”. The bulk of the phrase starts at the downbeat.

Not so Carole King’s “Chains”. The bulk of the phrase ends at the downbeat:

Chains … My baby’s got me
Locked up in  chains … And they ain’t the
Kind … that you can
See … Oh-oh these [etc.]

See where the phrase breaks are? Shortly after the primary downbeat. (In poetry, this is called “enjambment.”) This is not new in American or British popular music, but it’s new in rock-n-roll. Not long after this, Paul McCartney makes this “trick,” his signature. Consider a piece like “Yesterday”:

Yesterday … All my troubles seemed so
Far away … Now it seems as though they’re
Here to stay …

Now check out “Eleanor Rigby” or “Here, There and Everywhere” for more of the same.

Fun? I hope so. Musicologically yours, I remain ever faithfully


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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6 Responses to “The Beatles: “Chains of Love” (with musicology notes)”

  1. Zorba says:

    Yes. And I agree, Pete. The Cookies rocked this song.

  2. RonThompson says:

    Gerry Goffin, who wrote the lyrics, always received top billing in the song-writing partnership, in which he usually wrote the lyrics while Carol handled the music.

    I agree that the original by The Cookies, featuring the great Earljean McCree, is better than this tepid album track, recorded mainly to give John and Paul a break between lead vocal duties in the 10-hour session which produced ten songs for the album.

  3. PeteWa says:

    I do prefer the Cookies’ version – however, very interesting note on how covering this song likely influenced McCartney’s future songwriting, thanks GP.

  4. JozefAL says:

    And the Beatles wouldn’t have recorded it if they hadn’t loved the original version by the Cookies (a group that had backed Little Eva on “The Loco-motion”).

  5. GaiusPublius says:

    I did not know that therling. Thanks for adding this.


  6. therling says:

    The other catchy and innovative aspect of “Yesterday” is that it’s written in 7 bar phrases, rather than the more common 8 bar structure. It’s not something you’d notice unless you’ve played it. Count the measures and you’ll hear it.

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