The home key of the song is A-major. The frequent substitution of "flattened" scale degrees (flat-6 and flat-7; that is, in A-major, F-natural and G-natural in place of F# and G#) adds a jazzy folky sound to the song. The time signature is 4/4 except the compound quintuple meter intro counted as 15/8 or simply 2 bars of 6/8 plus 3 eighth notes.
The opening melodic lick E-F#-E-E-A (set to the words "The way I see it") is the fundamental source of the song's vocal line. It also foreshadows some of the dramatic chord progressions. The pattern is composed of two simple motions. The first is E-F#-E, a neighbouring-tone pattern in which the upward step to F#, and immediate return to E serve to embellish the E. The second is the upward motion from E to A in which the upward skip to A embellishes the E. Through both these simple motions, the primary melodic tone E is said to be prolonged over the entire lick. In scale step notation, these motions can be notated as 5-6-5, and 5-1.
In the 1970s, an instrumental version of the song was the theme music used for CBC Television's The Saturday Evening News, which aired at 6 p.m. till 1982 when it was replaced with Saturday Report.