Friday, July 8, 2016

Camper Van Beethoven - "Folly" (1986)

This song is like...you can't tell if its home mode is G dorian or A phrygian. It's both. The riff at the beginning starts on G like G is the root and ends on A like A is the root.

If I'm counting it right, the riff is played over a changing meter of 3+2+3+4+4. The first diversion in the opening instrumental part (at 0:18) switches to a steady meter of four and, interestingly, the mode switches to G aeolian at the same time which, like the regular four beat meter, is more "normal" to us. The chord progression is:

G minor/Bb major/C minor/F major

This phrase ends, however, by going back the G minor to A minor chord progression, so we're back in the original modal territory. It stays there for another phrase, but then there's a change.

At the downbeat at 0:38, there's a D minor chord. I'm going to say it's a root chord and we've switched tonic notes. The chord progression you hear is:

D minor/G major/D minor/G major/F major

So, it's a tonic note but it's a modal tonic note. The phrase is in D dorian.

When the singing starts, there's a repeat of some of the musical materials, but a new segment is also heard at 1:19. At the downbeat here, there's a C minor chord. I'm going to say that this is a root chord, too. We then follow a few diatonic chords in this manner:

C minor/Eb major/Ab major/Bb major

Two more amazing things happen before the passage ends. One is a gorgeous reiteration of the opening chords (back in the home mode), yet this time staying within the four-four beat pattern. G minor, D minor, and A minor.

The verse ends, however, with G major and F major chords, a little allusion back to that D dorian passage heard earlier.

Beautiful stuff.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Strawberry Alarm Clock - "Pretty Song from Psych-Out"

There are fifteen different chords in this song and I wanted to look at the way it navigates key centers. Let's start with the intro and the first verse.

Intro:
G# minor 9/E major 7/C major 7/D major/E major

Verse:
A major/G major/D major/G minor
A major/G major/D major/C major
F major/D major/G minor
Eb major/C major/Ab major/A major

OK, I'm going to call the G# minor chord at the beginning a tonic chord. Then, obviously, there's quickly a modulating passage and we have a perfect authentic cadence at the end of the intro and the beginning of the first verse and we're in A major.

The G major chord works as a bVII, but how to explain the G minor? I think it suggests that D has been tonicized. I think it's a borrowed four chord in D.

Obviously, then, we have a perfect authentic cadence in F at the beginning of the third line. This time, I think the D is a V/ii chord.

If that's so, the next line is a sequence down a whole step in the key of Eb. (It just goes to the IV chord instead of the ii.) The chromatic movement at the end gets us back to the beginning for verse number two.

Verse Two:
A major/G major/D major/E major
A major/G major/D major/C major
F major/D major/G minor
Eb major/C major/Ab major
C# minor/F# major/A major/E major/B major/F# major
C# minor/F# major/A major/E major/B major/D major

This verse is the same until the extension at the end. Maybe it's best to say that the whole extension, the last two lines, is basically in B major? It rests on F#, though, at the end of the first line. The D at the end would be a bIII, but ends up being a bVII instead when E is tonicized in the bridge.

Bridge:
E major/C major/D major/A major [X4]
F major/D major/G minor
Eb major/C major/Ab major/A major

That's a I-bVI-bVII-IV progression that repeats four times at the beginning, and the first time that this song has held on to any key center at all. Then, you have the repeat of the chords that make up the second part of the verse, in F and in Eb, plus the chromatic movement back to A for verse number three.

Verse three is the same as the second, but without the extension. What it does instead is move parallel from the Ab major chord to the G# minor 9th chord heard originally in the intro. This becomes the outro, then, moving from G# minor to the same E major seventh chord from the intro and ending there. I'll hold with calling this the key of G# minor even though it doesn't end on that chord.

So, in all, that makes for a total of seven different key centers (G# minor, A major, D major, F major, Eb major, B major, E major) that this song manages to traverse in its three minutes and eighteen seconds and its fifteen chords.

Pretty song indeed, to say the least.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Jethro Tull - "Inside" (1970)

Because the intro is ten bars long and the links between verses are six and neither of those is divisible by four.

Because the chorus is traditional in a way that the verses are not and you don't expect the rock and roll, but they bring it!

Because the verses are four bars with two lines that rhyme, followed by five bars with two lines that don't (one long, one short).

Because the chorus is a bar of six and two bars of four, repeated three times, but it's not over. The traditional stuff sweeps it away, but even that is nuanced, with a plagal cadence.

Because they only give you the chorus once.

Because they give you SIX verses.

Because it's pretty much a three-chord song.

Because it's in the mixolydian mode.

Because that voice (and the harmonies on the chorus).

Because they sound like Can and Neu!


Thursday, August 20, 2015

R.E.M. - "Pilgrimage" (1983)

I'm counting fourteen different structural events that happen in this song. Let's look at what they are.

There's a fourteen second intro consisting of the chorus melody sung over just the bass. The song proper then begins with vamping on the verse riff as a lead-in to verse number one.

The part consisting of the lines "Your brown eyes" etc. seems to suggest a new segment, but then the chorus itself, "Take a turn" etc., sounds like a new entity once again. Call the "Your brown eyes" part a pre-chorus perhaps.

Verse number two follows, then the pre-chorus, chorus, and...what's this? Oh yes. Make that G chord a dominant like it certainly can be in an F-C-G progression and, boom, you've got a route into an entirely new, second chorus - a chorus delayed through two buildups and finally attained at 2:16.

Repeats of the second verse, pre-chorus, chorus, second chorus, and there's even a little bridge in there before they vamp on the first chorus a couple of times to wrap it up. It's the longest song on Murmur. ("Shaking Through" has been listed as two seconds longer, but that includes the little snatch of instrumental song sequenced between it and "We Walk.")

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lesley Gore - "Maybe I Know" (1964)

Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich again.

Starts with the chorus (vocals on first downbeat, no intro). When you get to the first verse, though, it modulates to a different key. This construction sounds more like a bridge, really, but only for the first four bars. The second four bars are back in the home key, but it's not just a way of finishing the verse but instead this sudden back and forth between the tonic and IV chords that turns out to be as integral a moment to the song as the chorus, complete with harmony vocals.

Chorus, really, had moved from D minor to the relative major (F) and the end of the verse confirms this by landing on A major as a dominant chord leading back to D minor when the chorus starts again. Bridge does this, too. This song is full of gold.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Merle Haggard - "If We Make It Through December" (1973)

How was this song written? Did he just ignore the question of where he was at any given point and let the exposition go on over four sections, one minute and thirty-nine seconds, as it pleased to suit the poetry?

Because you seem to start with the chorus, but it evolves over four lines as though it were a verse. And then there's another one, with new words. Two choruses to start a song?

That would seem to be the case. The next section ("Got laid off down at the factory" etc.) is a verse proper. Notice how it uses the harmonic vocabulary of the part of the chorus that sounded like a verse!

This section has an extension that turns out to be a bridge. That's clever placement but perhaps cleverer still is the fact that it turns out NOT to be exploratory, quickly returning to the haunting progression you'll hear a couple more times when he repeats the two choruses.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Shangri-Las - "Out in the Streets" (1965)

The wordless chant at the beginning, in G# minor while the song proper is in D major. An objet d'art.

Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich concocted this one. The other ladies start the verse out, but it's an uneven six bars. Part two is lead singer Mary Weiss and it goes a full eight bars like a self-sustaining unit, including a refrain line at the end. Deceptive use of a secondary dominant chord back to the tonic.

Beautiful stuff, but the bridge is what makes this a little symphony for the kids. In the verse (or refrain line at the end), Weiss only makes it once as high as B natural, cutting through so sharply: "His heart is out in the stree-eets." Movement higher is delayed once by the second verse; they have to ascend this once more.

Then, the drum roll. And the strings sweep into the key of F major as Weiss hits C natural.

HE grew up on the sidewalk
STREET-light shining above
HE grew up with no one to love

HE grew up on the sidewalk
HE grew up runnin' free
HE grew up and then he met me

Monday, December 15, 2014

Angels and Airwaves - "Tunnels" (2014)

This song is really rooted on the tonic note. First verse eight bars, second verse is six interrupted by an extension. I guess you could call it a bridge. The melody starts on the third there, but quickly deflates down to that tonic.

More verses afterward, but now he's singing it an octave higher. And so it builds, slightly more involved melodies, running through that extension once again. Eight lines ending with the beautiful symmetry of those six-syllable lines that come at the end and then...POW!

The chorus! There, at 2:14, no longer anchored by the root. They've earned that higher plateau on the third scale degree now. Not eight bars and they're done; there's more to say. 16 bars, 44 seconds, and that beautiful, surprising internal rhyme at the end.

Repeat because they've earned that, too.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Moody Blues - "The Voice" (1981)

A top twenty hit in the U.S., this song has twelve parts. The verse is not of the type to occur in groups of two or more; it needs the chorus to follow, so that happens every time.

After the first two verses, you get the bridge. There is a way they could have ended the bridge after eight bars, but they don't. The four bars that follow ("Can you hear the spirit calling?" etc.) could also bring it to a close, but instead links to a developmental extension. And man, they pour it on here with long-held notes and harmonies. It's an irregular seven-bar phrase and we're already at nineteen bars of the bridge.

Is that enough? No, it needs a repeat! Keep it going! Here, they finally twist it around in six bars instead of seven to finally lead back in to the next verse. Thirty-nine seconds have elapsed.

After a verse, chorus, guitar solo, and another chorus, the bridge repeats. This time, there are new words for the first part, new words for the four-bar extension, but the ending part remains the same, creating a lovely refrain.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Roy Orbison - "Running Scared" (1961)/"In Dreams" (1963)

"Running Scared" is all verse, for a while. Four verses and we're over 70% of the way through the record. No chorus.

A bridge! Developmental, but only 10 bars total if you're counting it as 12/8 time. And that's it. Done. AAAAB.

"In Dreams" pursues a similar strategy, but of course starts with the vocal intro. That's section A.

And then the verses, but only two; this one's got a chorus. It's a long one - 17 bars. (The chorus proceeds like it might end at a square 16, but he adds an extra measure of holding onto the dominant chord.)

Here, we're at a similar point to where we were with "Running Scared," but this time we're only a little more than half-way through. What is the next section that comes? Is it like "Running Scared," where he's just ramping the vocal up into a higher register? No, it's a different chord progression. Doesn't sound like a bridge, though. It echoes the verse with the long-held notes on the downbeats.

Two times through and here comes the development: "I can't help it/I can't help it if I cry/I remember that you said goodbye."

Back to the verse that already changed forms once and now it changes again! The long notes on the downbeats, hammering that fifth scale degree before the finale, which is new chords yet again.

That last section has four distinct parts and so this song looks like ABBCDEFG. That's a far cry from "Running Scared" and yet they're similar songs.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Parliaments - "Don't Be Sore at Me" (1967)

After the intro, you get the chorus of this song first. It's not a chorus that rides a particularly dynamic peak, however, and is in fact quite expository in nature.

It therefore has verse-like characteristics. The first line (the refrain) occurs as the iii chord and the ii chord are merely descending to the tonic, arriving with a very weak cadence (iii-ii-I) if you can call it one at all.

Line two then moves from the tonic en route back to the iii chord for line number three, where you get a repeat of the chords from line one. Line four repeats the chords from line two. The expository nature of these progressions is, in my estimation, verse-like, but the phrasing of the words is not. It's a catchy chorus.

The verse has two parts. The first four bars have two lines of text that run into each other as the tonic chord makes its way toward a secondary dominant (V/ii). Now, they're going to use that ii chord that follows as a dominant prep, but it's not time yet. It's still near the beginning of the verse, so although the chords have been changing every measure for the first four bars, we now get a chord that stays the same for seven bars. When they finally go to the dominant chord in the twelfth and last bar of the verse, they phrase it as a ninth chord so it retains a little of the character of the long-held ii chord that precedes it. It's quite beautiful.

At this point, they could have just gone into a chorus repeat, but the prominent ii chord of the verse contrasts with the crucial chord of the chorus, which is iii. Instead of just letting this juxtaposition occur, there's a little two-bar turnaround phrase ("Darling, forgive me please") where they prepare the iii chord by way of the vi.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Lynn Anderson - "Rose Garden" (1970)

Written by Joe South.

This song starts with the chorus. At 0:22, we get the lines "When you take, you gotta give/So live and let live/Or let go-o-o-o-o-o," leading into a repetition of "I beg your pardon/I never promised you a rose garden." 

What is this section? It doesn't repeat. You could call it a verse, but it's not the regular verse of the song.

Two regular verses are heard at this point, followed by another section not heard before ("Smile for a while and let's be jolly," etc.). Again, there seems to be no nomenclature for it. It ends with a half-cadence and leads to a repetition of the chorus, so perhaps one could say it's either a pre-chorus or an extension of the verse.

After the chorus this time, there is an instrumental section with a new harmonic progression (including an augmented chord), only four measures long. Looking back at the unique section heard at 0:22, we can note that it was four measures long, plus that four measure echo of the chorus.

What do you know? This section does the exact same thing.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Billy Joel - "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" (1977)

This song is based on a five-part construction that repeats twice, the second time with the first part removed. The parts play cleverly with perceptions of verse and chorus function to end up navigating a unique path.

After the intro, the vocal starts in with four lines of text over eight bars, the obvious sense of things being that we are in the verse. The fifth line starts as though the verse is continuing or the second verse is beginning, but diverts itself with an unexpected echo of the last syllable.

Working hard can give you a heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack

The next line - "You oughta know by now" - appears to be the beginning of the chorus, but it cuts off afterward and we're back in the verse. This time, however, the verse ends after only four bars and now the real chorus begins.

Oh, it seems such a waste of time
If that's what it's all about
If that's movin' up than I'm
Movin' out

As I say, the whole thing strikes me as a singular structure where the original diversion to the chorus is subverted and brought back to the verse only briefly in order to wind itself up a little more as a springboard into the chorus, the function of which is clearly to wind down.

The whole thing starts again at 1:11 in the song, repeating the exact order of events, and again at 2:07, beginning this time at the divergent line with the echoing syllable at the end. Apart from some vamping on the last words, these represent the sum total of lyrical events in the song (a #17 hit on the U.S. Billboard chart).

Friday, January 10, 2014

ABBA - "If It Wasn't for the Nights" (1979)

This is a song where the composers could have left the chorus as a single refrain line that happens at the end of the verse. It's a super dynamic line and would have sounded nice even if they'd just left it alone. Abba, instead, repeat the line with new rhyming words, giving them a chance to keep clinging to the chorus' precipice.

That's even nicer, but they don't even leave it there. Line three comes in next like another repetition, but then diverges, necessitating another line that rhymes with it and concludes the phrase. Harmonically, they're now set up for the return once again of the refrain line, heard now with a third set of rhyming words. This, in turn, allows them a consequent phrase, for which they finally repeat the original refrain.

All of this plays beautifully into the premise of disco as a music that relies on repetition, a forty-five second long chorus flourishing where some songwriters might not have had much of one at all.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Everly Brothers - "Man with Money" (1965)

Here's another one. Chorus as verse.

It starts right off the bat. First eight bars, there is really no question that we are in the chorus. The second eight bars (starting at 0:16 in the video) are clearly part of the same section of the song, but sound less like a chorus in that they don't sound like words that are going to repeat. So, call the whole sixteen bar section half chorus and half verse.

Nevertheless, the chorus half functions as verse too because the second time through, the words are different. Actually, they're only half different, so it's chorus-like when they're the same and verse-like when they're different.

What do you do with a song like this at this point? You could have a bridge. We're at 0:56 at this point in the video.

The 36 second part that unfolds here is no bridge. Could I call it a wrench? It throws a wrench into the proceedings, both as a musical composition and as a narrative. Navigating key changes and irregular measure groupings, the Everlys (the song was co-written by both brothers) nevertheless paste a beautiful, symmetrical eight lines of poetry over the top, landing somehow on the dominant chord of the home key at the end so they can nail that chorus, or that verse, once again afterwards.