Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Bernadette - The Four Tops (1967)

Hello everyone,

So here is my analysis of Jamerson's playing on the Four Tops song 'Bernadette'. Coming from Jamersons late 60's heyday, this is just classic Jamerson through and through. Often held up with other songs like 'What's Going On', 'Darling Dear' and 'For Once In My Life', 'Bernadette' is considered by many (myself included) to be one of Jamerson's best, and most recognisable lines.

That said, when breaking down and analysing his playing it becomes apparent that there isn't actually anything too 'out there' going on here. Compared to something like 'Darling Dear', this is actually relatively straight forward; with repeated phrases anchoring the song's verses and chorus'.

As always, there is a video at the bottom of the article. Thanks for reading this and please share the page with others. If you're feeling really generous, you can even donate to 'Jamerson Analysed' using the button on the right.



Intro and Chorus 1

After a couple of bars following the band with the stabs on the Eb, Jamerson drops into one of his most instantly recognisable bass lines for the first chorus. He skips up the Eb arpeggio via the root, major third, fifth and arrives on the octive. Then, immediately he skips back down the arpeggio and, via a D passing note, arrives at the Dbadd9 chord in the next bar, where he begins to do very much the same thing. This skipping up and down the arpeggios, as well as the chromatic passing notes to tie together the chords, is textbook Jamerson. Nothing too fancy or complicated, just taking simple chord tones and making them sound great.

This concept continues up to the Bb, where a simple root note and quick open D passing note takes us to the Db. Here, after establishing the Db, he plays a simple yet effective semiquaver run consisting of the root, fifth, major 7, root and the flattened 2nd. Or, out simply - a chromatic run back up to the Eb. As I have pointed out in previous analysis', although playing notes that on their own would sound 'wrong' (such as a flattened 2nd), by using them as part of an overarching concept like a chromatic run they begin to sound completely at home within the song. The pull of the chromatic figure is so strong, that's all you hear. You don't notice, and it simply doesn't matter that there are some 'wrong' notes being played.

After playing the same descending arpeggio line again, he changes his playing over the Cb/Abm, choosing instead to play longer notes that rise chromatically from the Ab to the next bar of Bb. This really sticks out in the track - after a relatively busy chorus, the slower, more gentle chromatic line in this bar works very well. The bar of Bb sees Jamerson essentially just expand on his already established arpeggio phrases from before. Here he uses the root, third, fifth, flat seventh and octive to outline the chord, whilst keeping the driving rhythm from earlier in the track.

Although there are some slight variations in later chorus', what we have here is essentially the same line used in every chorus of the song.

Verse 1

There is a little more variation between some of the verse lines, although again Jamerson seems to settle into a line and stick to it. Rhythmically, he tends to spend at least one whole beat on the root of each chord, following the progression; this is usually in the form of some ties quavers. This does a couple of things; firstly it means that the chord progression is really well established by the bass, and secondly it doesn't actually leave that much time in between root notes to add much else to the line.

In the first bar, he simply ties together the Gd/Db and Ebm with - you guessed it - a chromatic phrase. In the second bar however, he chooses to do something a little different on the Db7sus, playing quite a tricky little phrase that uses the root, fifth, sixth, root, major third, fourth and sixth. All chord tones so in some respect it's a straightforward phrase, but actually playing it is a little trickier! The next time we arrive at the Db7sus, he plays a slight variation that sets us up for the Abm in the next bar really effectively. By finishing up on an Eb, he is using the 'dominant approach', approaching the next chord from it's perfect fifth (which, by the way, is a concept is explored thoroughly in the excellent book 'Building Walking Bass Lines' by Ed Friedland. Highly recommended).

After just sitting on the root note of Ab, he plays a driving line over the Gb/Bb that culminates in a chromatic passing note up to the Db. Here, he plays a more complicated figure that uses the root, sixth and fifth in a classic Jamerson style, before again returning to the Eb for the dominant approach. The rest of the verse essentially sees the same phrases being played again, albeit with some slight variations. That's the thing with 'Bernadette', once you've worked through a good portion of the song you start to see familiar phrases come up and again and again.

A slight variation to the Dbsus and Db bar sees a chromatic climb up from a Db, to a D, that finally resolves in the Eb of the chorus.


The Gb sees Jamerson use a simple root, second, third walk up to the Cb in the next bar. Here, he plays the root and fifth, before climbing chromatically up the Eb, where a root, fifth and minor seventh phrase, plus a little chromatic approach note, takes us to the Bb and Cb°7. The line essentially repeats itself up until the Ebm, where after skipping around the root, fifth and seventh, he plays a lovely chromatic ascending phrase from an Ab to a Bb, which is held until the next verse. Whilst the bridge isn't at all flashy, and certainly isn't the hook of the song or his bass line, it is a really good example of how some simple, well placed note choices are all you need. Focusing mainly on chord tones, and strung together by the occasional chromatic passing note, Jamerson both outlines the tonal quality of the chord progression and keeps the rhythmic and melodic concepts already established in the rest of the song.

Verse 3

I have included verse 3 in this analysis to highlight the subtle variations in his playing between the different sections of the song. Although Jamerson's playing in this verse is very similar to both verse 1 and 2, it's the slight differences that make it worth a closer look. Firstly, on the Ebm in the first bar, he does something slightly unusual. He arrives at the Eb a quaver later than the rest of the band. Truth be told, I'm not sure why he chose to do this. It could have even been a mistake (although he does do this thing a few times in this piece), but whatever the reasons, it does make the bass stick out a little more than usual. The very brief Eb/Db that he suggests here works well, and is over so quickly that it is hardly even noticed.

Another slight difference worth  noticing happens in the fourth bar, over the Db7sus and Abm/Db. Although still ending up on the Eb (the dominant approach), he chooses instead to play a chromatic line from the Db. Slightly different from before but still just as effective, it highlights just how Jamerson often plays around with his bass lines; changing bits here and there and improvising parts as and when.

The second to last bar of the verse sees Jamerson again play around with his established lines. This time he plays a more rapid semiquaver run over the chords, leading up to the final bar of a familiar Db phrase.

Final Notes

In a nutshell, this is a great song for a number of reasons. Not only is it a fantastic bass line that is instantly recognisable, but in my opinion it also starts to shows another side to Jamerson's playing. I know that he has some incredibly intricate and complicated lines, with dazzling semiquaver runs that skip all over the fret board. But what I really like about Jamerson is when he sits back and just grooves. Although still a pretty complicated line, this is a good example of how Jamerson finds a groove or a melodic phrase, and just sits with it. He does his job as a bass player and ties it all together. It doesn't have to be over complicated, it just has to work; which is exactly what this line does.


  1. Nice work, really good breakdown of the song. This helped me out a lot, will visit again! :)

  2. The SITSOM book's transcriptions contain many mistakes, for example the figure in bar 2 of the verse (and subsequent variation in next verse) is an open string lick, not the "tricky" and harmonically inexplicable lick written in SITSOM.

  3. Why a 7Sus4 could containt a 6th, 3th as a chord tone ? It this a lick with scale diatonic or this is a special rule like in blue when the 6th is better than the 7th on a chord ?