Friday, 20 January 2017

Reach Out I'll Be There - The Four Tops (1967)

I've had lots of emails and comments from people over the years asking me to analyse this particular song, and I can see why. One of his most famous lines, it's classic Jamerson through and through - taken from a great Motown track from the labels heyday. It also happens to be one of the more challenging tracks I work through with my first year students at BIMM Bristol, so hopefully they will also find this insightful. Here we go!


The intro to this track is a classic Jamerson groove. Here he sets up a strong rhythmic theme that extends throughout most of the song - crotchet on the first beat of every bar. Using just root and fifth, he creates a syncopated groove through the Ebm, with the final F acting as a dominant approach to the Bb in the next bar. Over this Bb he continues to skip up and down the octave, before a simple chromatic move over the last beat of bar two.

The groove repeats for bars five and six, with seven seeing a slight rhythmic variation over beats three and four. We are dealing with the same notes here, just root, fifth and octave, but rhythmically be begins to change it up a little. For most of the final bar he just hangs on that high Bb, before a quick drop the octave and into a chromatic passing phrase to the Ab in the next bar.

The tricky thing about this passage is the rhythm. It's really syncopated, it varies slightly throughout the eight bars and it's pretty fast. Melodically however, this is quite straightforward - essentially just sticking to the root, fifth and octave of each chord, before transitioning to the next chord via a chromatic phrase.

Verse 1
Sticking to playing a quarter note Ab on the first beat of the bar, Jamerson then playing a quick fifth (Eb) before walking up to the Db. He continues to hold this for the whole first beat of bar two, before a quick rhythmic ghost note phrase over beat two. The quaver walk at the end of bar two is a simple one - here he plays the fifth, root and sixth of the Db major chord, before a final G that acts as a chromatic step back to the Ab in the third bar. This two bar phrase forms the verse groove, and is repeated a couple of times.

The combination of a solid down beat on the one, the semiquaver skips on the Eb and the walking phrases over the second half of the bar are classic Jamerson. Anchoring the groove, outlining the chords and giving the song a real driving feel.

In bar six we see a slight variation right at the end, where he plays an A to chromatically walk up to the Bb in the next bar. Over the next four bars he straightens out the groove and sticks mainly to driving quavers. For the most part he just plays the root notes of each chord, with the first couple of bars descending right down to a low Gb. In the last beat of bar eight he jumps right up the octave, walking down to the D and ascending up to a high F. This simple switch in registers is very effective at building the track towards it's chorus.

The last beat of bar ten sees Jamerson drop back down the octave via a now familiar root / fifth phrase, and into the bass break. I'll look more closely at these breaks later on, so for now lets move on to the chorus.


By the time we get to the chorus, the root / fifth octave skips are familiar territory - which is great as they form pretty much this whole section of the track. Sticking to a strong emphasis on beat one, Jamerson dances up and down the octave over the Bb, always with the semiquaver in the same place on the and of two (2e&a). Rhythmically he changes it up a little over the Ebm, but still we are playing around with the same couple of note choices, root and fifth.

After repeating the phrase we move onto bar five, where we see a final A natural right at the end to chromatically pass up to the octave Bb in bar six. Here we have a simple three note phrase over a high Bb, which is then echoed the octave down (via a ghost note) before hitting the open A to transition back into the verse.

As far as Jamerson lines go, this chorus passage is pretty straightforward. The verse deals with very similar rhythms, so once you have got the octave skips down the rest of the chorus falls into place.

Pre Chorus Runs - A Comparison

Run 1

Run 2

These little bass breaks are great, but the slight variations between them are often overlooked. There are three of these one bar bass breaks in the song, two are the same and one is different. Lets take a closer look... Both begin with the two hits on the F, followed by a quick open A. Run 1 is an ascending phrase, walking up from the F to a G, Ab and A natural. Essentially a chromatic walk up to the Bb in the chorus. Run 2 is slightly different. Here we play the G natural, Ab and A earlier in the bar, before hitting that Cb (just a B natural) and descending to the Bb in the next bar. A very slight variation that changes the approach note before the chorus. One ascends up from an A, one down from a B.

Other than that, the track is pretty straightforward. It's quite repetitive, and aside from a couple of very slight variations it sticks to the same verse and chorus phrases throughout. It's a great example of a Jamerson line - a driving groove with some simple yet effective note choices, tied together by some chromatic passing phrases.



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