Behind Blue Eyes – The Who

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One of the (many) recurring themes throughout Guitar Noise, whether you’re working through the various song lessons, reading the Guitar Columns, playing along with the Podcasts or even chatting with folks on the Forum pages, is that we truly want you to know it’s okay to not play a song exactly the way it is on the original recording. Yes, there are all sorts of good reasons to be able to make a musical carbon copy of a song, just as there are numerous compelling reasons not to. My own philosophy is that I’d like to hear someone create music more than I’d like to hear someone copy music. Personal tastes, I’m sure, and you’re more than welcome to your own thoughts on this matter.

But there’s also a matter of what’s important in playing a song. If you’re going to be performing a song in a single-guitar arrangement, that means you have to be comfortable singing and playing. Do you really want to add “playing it exactly like the recording” to that agenda? While it may be vital for some songs (although nowhere near as vital as one might think), for the most part you can more than get by simply playing a song in the general style or “flavor” as the original. More on that in a moment…

One additional short note before we get going, and it’s the same one I gave at the start of the last lesson (Feelin’ Groovy): while we’ve put this lesson in with the “Songs for Intermediates,” it is certainly within the capabilities of a beginner who’s not shy of a bit of practice. If anything, it will hopefully encourage some of you not to be skittish when it comes to just ad-libbing a rhythm part.

To assist us in this examination of “how much of the original song do we really need” is the classic Who song, Behind Blue Eyes. And we have to deal with this question right from the very first note, so before we get into the structure and chords and everything else, let’s use the introduction as a way to all get on the same page.

Think about this: the first two measures of Behind Blue Eyes are an Esus4 (022200) arpeggio in sixteenth notes. That’s thirty-two sixteenth notes strung together. Even if we all agree on nailing the first note, the E of the open low E (sixth) string, that gives us thirty-one chances to screw up the beginning of the song!

More important – Do you think that Pete Townshend sat down and deliberately wrote out exactly what note should be played first, second, third, etc.,? Not very likely! He probably turned on the recorder and then “got up his guitar and played.” The second take he played he may have kept certain notes here and there but, in all probability, didn’t get it exactly the same. He might have – artists all have their own individual footprints, little stylistic touches that come from their own personal experiences in playing.

If you think of the sheer number of variations possible, just playing two measures of sixteenth notes, it’s kind of mind boggling. And that’s not even taking into account that you don’t have to play nothing but sixteenth notes. Notice in the following “Example 1B” the cool effect by tying together one pair of sixteenth notes into an eighth note. That gives the music a little breathing space and makes it sound even more natural.

So here, just to give you a concrete, audible idea of what we’ve been talking about, are three examples: first, the “note for note” recording, and then two variations that were simply put together in the same basic style, or “flavor” of the original:

Takedown Notice

Now you can argue until doomsday as to which sounds “best,” but the bottom line is that anyone listening to you play any of these will immediately say, “Hey! That’s Behind Blue Eyes, isn’t it? I love that song!” And that’s all you’re looking for, unless your day job is being the guitarist in a Who tribute band (and wouldn’t “Who Are We?” be a great name for such a band?).

To repeat a point I can’t stress enough – if you’re playing a song and your brain is on overload because it’s trying to make sure every note is correct, you’re going to be way too tense to play.

But what if I just showed you an Esus4 chord and asked you to play an arpeggio for two measures? You’d have absolutely no trouble with that. You probably could sit right down and start playing and we’d be off on making music out of this song. And that’s what we want – to play a song. Any song is simply a bunch of chords and, for the most part, you can play those chords in all sorts of ways and styles.

Speaking of songs being a bunch of chords, let’s take a look at the structure of today’s song in question. Behind Blue Eyes begins with the two-measure introduction that we’ve just seen and listened to.

After that, we’ve got two verses. Each verse can be divided into an “A” section (the “no one knows what it’s like…” part), and a “B” section (which begins with the line “….but my dreams they aren’t as empty…”). The “A” section consists of four measures and the chords move from Em to G (first measure) to D (second measure) to Cadd9 (third measure) to Asus4 (fourth measure). Since we’ve a long time on the D, embellishing that chord by switching to a Dsus4 and back during the second half of the second measure is a nice touch. Using Cadd9 (x32030) sounds very cool and is a good example of the use of sustained notes that we’ve discussed in other song lessons, as well as in a Guitar Column all on its own. So here is a template of arpeggios to use as a starting point:

What I didn’t do for this particular example is give you a number of variations already written out for you to try. Why? Well, that should seem fairly obvious at this point – there are so many different ones you can come up with yourself that you don’t really need my help with it. Trust your instincts and try out some on your own. The only guideline you need is to remember that the Em changes to G at the third beat of the second measure.

Now you may ask, “What about the D and Dsus4 change in the second measure of this section?” And my answer would be that you can fiddle around with that change. It’s all based on the D chord and slight variations will not hurt anything, even if you’re singing and playing at the same time because you’re not singing on the last two beats of this measure. Cool how that works out, isn’t it?

A few things that are important to note here – first, in all likelihood, this isn’t just going to happen on the first try. It might! But even if it does, chances are that you won’t think it sounds good because “it’s not the same as on the record.” Or you may not think it sounds good just because it’s you that’s playing it! We are, as a rule, not our own best judges. But remember that this is just background. It’s just chord arpeggios that happen while the lyrics are being sung. And whether we want to admit it or not, the lyrics are the important part of the song here. The guitar part is just part of the delivery service.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be stunning and stellar. It just means that we should play our part with the lyric in mind, keeping our playing, if you’ll pardon the pun, in harmony with the spirit of the song. Hopefully when you listen to the final MP3 in this lesson, you’ll have an understanding for this.

The other important thing to mention is that, in spite of yourself, you will find yourself changing what you do as you improve as a guitarist. You’ll have better command of your crosspicking, of your hammer-on and pull-off techniques. And, as silly as it may sound, this is another compelling reason to not be hung up on playing things exactly like a recording. The guitarist you’re intent on copying (hopefully) did not stop learning and growing as a musician after recording a song and undoubtedly began to incorporate new techniques and ideas into the old songs he or she played. That’s a natural part of evolving as an artist. Why wouldn’t you want to do the same?

The ability to create your own part becomes more interesting in the “B” section of the verse. Usually a person might be tempted to strictly strum this part, but why not add some picking and fills, too?

Yes, again I didn’t write out anything but a basic template for you here. And again, that’s the point. Even a relative beginner is capable of putting together a rhythm that will work for this. Let the music talk to your senses and then channel it out through your guitar.

If you’re someone who’s been following along with the series of Guitar Noise Podcasts, I suspect you’re having a lot of fun with this. If you’re someone who’s always needed to have each and every note of music tabbed out, then this is your chance to branch out and see that you can create music, too. Have fun with it.

After the first two verses, we then reach a brief instrumental interlude, followed by the “Bridge” section (“…when my fist clenches crack it open…”). The basic rhythm pattern for both these parts is essentially the same and here it is:

I want to note that while many Internet (and book) transcriptions and arrangements will use an E5 (or E power chord) here, I think that the E major chord is a better choice. First off, and this is especially true if you’re a beginner, you might have an easier time with this section playing all open position chords. You can easily avoid the full Bm barre chord by playing it with any of these options:

Options for Bm chords - charts

The last example (“Bm with E”) makes use of the open high E (first) string as a drone, something that Pete Townsend did on a regular basis. And since it’s the same shape as our standard open position E major chord, it’s relatively easy to move it from one place on the neck to the other.

It’s this ease, in fact, that helped me come up with a way to “borrow” the electric guitar lead line from the original recording and put it into our single guitar arrangement. On the original, the electric lead guitar is bending the F# note at the eleventh fret of the G string up to a G# (same sound as the thirteenth fret) while using the E and B notes at the twelfth frets of the first two strings as drones. It’s this sounding of the G# by the electric guitar, by the way, that gives us the true go-ahead to play an E major chord. After all, it’s the G# that makes it a E major and not just an E5.

With a little ingenuity, we can recreate the flavor of the electric guitar part, only an octave lower than the original, with our arrangement:

Here we’re going to start by hitting the open low E (sixth) string on the first half of the first beat and let it ring throughout. This gives us a good “oomph” to the bass and helps cover up the fact that we’re not playing a full chord until the end of the measure!

While hitting this open note, get your fingers in position. Put your middle finger on the G note (fifth fret of the D string) and your index finger on the fourth fret of the G string, which is the same note as the open B string. This is insurance. Even though it’s not in the notation, when I hit the first two open strings later in the measure, I will also catch this note at the fourth fret of the G string, so that the B note is doubled. The chance of hitting the open G by accident is pretty good and that’s the note I least want to hear!

After I hit the G note at the fifth fret of the D string, I bend it up a half-step to G#, giving me, along with the ringing low E string, two thirds of an E chord. Then I make a short upstroke on the first two strings (both open) to flesh out the rest of the E chord. This all takes a little practice, but it’s pretty easy (especially since we’re only worried about a half-bend instead of the full bend of the original electric guitar part) and definitely fills things out for a single guitar arrangement.

The rest of the interlude uses a combination of chords and arpeggios. You’ll notice that using the “Bm with E” makes for very easy fingering. I also like the sound of the Asus2 here, but you can certainly go with a regular A for the third chord if you prefer.

This “Instrumental Interlude” is played three times – once at the start of the Bridge, once in the middle and then again at the end. In the final MP3 of this lesson, you’ll hear me use this “borrowed electric guitar part” for the first and third Interludes while using the “Basic Strum,” from Example 4, for the middle one.

The final Instrumental Interlude ends with what might be considered a “turnaround,” a short group of chords designed to get us ready for the Outro, which is a repeat of the very first line of the song (one pass through the “Section A” part of the Verse).

This “turnaround” is a typical Pete Townsend chording approach, and I’ve taken the liberty of adding another of his “footprints” to it:

You can hear that while the initial B chord is ringing, I’m adding a drone of the B note in the bass (second fret of the A string). This is for two reasons – first (and most obvious), to keep time and to also keep the song driven. Totally dropping out seems way too abrupt and since I don’t have a bass or drummer to maintain the momentum it only makes sense to do it myself. Second, I think it sounds cool.

I should note that instead of playing the last eighth note of B in the second measure, using a sixteenth note triplet for that half beat will sound very cool, too.

After hitting the final B chord, we open up the A string in order to get “B/A” and lower the song’s dynamic by switching to an arpeggio of this chord. That leads us to playing our arpeggios throughout the Outro, until using a final Asus2 chord to close the song.

Okay, then, let’s put things together and see how it goes:

As always, I hope that you’ve had fun with this lesson and that you take to heart the idea that it’s more than okay to come up with a great arrangement on your own instead of relying on the “note for note” tablature. For a song like this one, the chances are very good that what you come up with will work just as well as the original. The object is to play to your personal strengths and to have your arrangement grow and develop just as you are going to do as a guitarist.

So try things out and see how you do!

And, as always, until our next lesson…