The Greatest Ascent: The Easybeats, “Friday On My Mind” (1966)


Long ago, in my pre-rock pupal phase, I read a novel about a Swiss boy who conquered a Matterhorn-like mountain called the Citadel.[1] The boy lived in a village where on any clear day you saw the Citadel looking down on you. So he grew up in the brooding presence of the great challenge he was born to meet. I find that a fascinating situation.

I find myself in that situation, sort of. Since 1966 I’ve been living in the presence of a pop song that towers mysteriously above all the others on the charts and seems impossible to tackle with hook analysis due to its dense assemblage of improbable attractions. Now when I look back at this passage in the novel, I think, “Dang! He could be talking about ‘Friday On My Mind’!”

It stood up like a monument: great, terrible—and alone. The other mountains were as nothing beside it. It rose in cliff upon cliff, ridge upon ridge, tower upon tower, until the sharp curving wedge of its summit seemed to pierce the very heart of the sky. It was a pyramid built up out of a thousand parts—out of granite and limestone and snow and ice, out of glaciers, precipices, crags, ledges, spires, cornices—but so perfect was its vast shape, so harmonious the blending of its elements, that it appeared a single, an organic, almost a living thing . . . [Rudi] had stared up at it from the village, from the forests, from the glaciers on every side, until its every detail was fixed indelibly in his mind. But familiarity had not bred indifference. The years had not paled its magic. Instead, that magic had grown stronger, deeper. And on this day, as on every day in his life when he had looked up at it, Rudi Matt felt again the catch in his breath and the wild surging of his heart.

There it stood. The Citadel. The last unconquered summit of the Alps.

“It cannot be climbed,” said the people of the valleys. In the past fifteen years no one had even tried to climb it. “It will never be climbed,” they said.

No?

Is this the day when I climb to the top of “Friday On My Mind”? Do I have the tools, the strategy, the stamina?

One little essay cannot negotiate all the precipices, crags, ledges, spires, and cornices of “Friday On My Mind,” but we can try to do something within the usual Hooks limitation of focusing on one eventful moment. Or make it two: a crag and a series of ledges.

For your reference, here’s a neat live performance from 1966 (good for discovering the rapid doot-doot-doot-doots in the backing vocals in the last part of the verse, starting around 0:44):

The Crag (in the verse). The verse starts with rapidly alternating first and fifth notes for the chords E minor, A, and D.

Monday morning feels so bad
Everybody seems to nag me

Excellent use of the “Pipeline” picking effect. This part of the ascent is straightforward.

But now we’re approaching the Crag. The next line starts out on a G chord and shifts to B7 on “better” (0:14):

Comin’ Tuesday I feel better

B7 in the key of E minor is the dominant fifth, the usual harbinger of a return to the home chord, but here it sounds all scrambled–it’s a contrapuntal mini-rockslide that knocks us down instead of helping us on our way.[2] (In the lyric there’s a shift of feeling to “better,” but you can’t trust that—it’s only Tuesday!) When we land in an E pattern in the next line we barely have any grip harmonically. This is the most hair-raising part of the ascent.

Even my old man looks good

It’s truly better when we reach the A minor at the end of the line (“good”), and the faux-Bach dadadadadadadadadah sounds like a more normal ornament.[3] Conventionally dramatic chord changes give us good handholds up to the end of the verse, where a wonderfully brisk four-chord coda chutes us across a little saddle to the chorus.

The Ledges (in the chorus). We’re coming to a series of high ledges. The surprising thing here is how we are winched up to new heights repeatedly by the force of just two chords.

I’m gonna have fun in the city
And be with my girl, she’s so pretty

So far we’re on the level, home chord A alternating with C-sharp minor. Now the ground starts to tilt upward with a D:

She looks fine tonight

An F-sharp major seventh is a key-modulating steeper ramp, taking us to a possible new home in a B-minor (“me”):

She is out of sight to me

And now we’ve climbed up to a brilliant-sounding return of D (B minor’s relative major):

Tonight I’ll spend my bread

Now how about a B major? How brilliant, triumphant, and surging does that sound?

Tonight I’ll lose my head

And then D again, but not sounding merely like “D again”; it’s another new pinnacle.

Tonight I’ve got to get

This seems to me one of the greatest of “Friday’s” miracles. Why does that last line in D have so much new intensity, when everything in it is a repetition? Is it just because we’ve gotten into a rhythm of climbing up? Is it that B and D have been perfectly positioned so you can toggle between them and each sounds like a brash relative major to the other?

The Ledges have challenged us to the point of exhaustion in just 15 seconds, but now we come out on the level ground of the chorus’s home chord A:

Tonight

We made it!

_____________________________________________________

[1] James Ramsey Ullman’s book was originally called Banner in the Sky, but I read it as Third Man on the Mountain because a Disney film version had been made using that title.

[2] The “rockslide” consists of Guitar #1 descending by half steps in the higher notes of the “Pipeline” pattern on the B chord while Guitar #2, an octave higher, plays a zigzag pattern (see the specifics below in the tab from ultimate-guitar.com). Suffice it to say that the ear is bewildered by hearing a bunch of notes in this section that are just a half-step off the proper notes of the B chord. It’s a judicious use of evil dissonance.

 B                                 
E|----------------|----------------|   
B|----------------|----------------|
G|--4---3---2---1-|--0-------------|   GUITAR #1
D|----------------|------4---4---4-|
A|2---2---2---2---|2---2---2---2---|
E|----------------|----------------|
  better                                    
E|----------------|----------------|   
B|----------------|--9-----7-8-7---|
G|----------9---8-|--------------9-|   GUITAR #2
D|--9---8---------|----------------|
A|----------------|----------------|
E|7---------------|----------------|

[3] The faux-Bach was inspired by hearing The Swingle Sisters, they said.


					
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About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Arrangements and Sounds, Rock Aesthetics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Greatest Ascent: The Easybeats, “Friday On My Mind” (1966)

  1. Pingback: Short little span of attention | Bobwords

  2. Mike says:

    Correction (I think)… Be with my girl she’s so pretty goes from A to C#m (not F#m)

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