Monday, August 7, 2017

Scott McKenzie - "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" (1967)

Well, maybe if John Phillips could write this song in 20 minutes, I can get this blog post out in that amount of time, too.

I think the verses in this song might be constructed such that you don't necessarily notice the demarcation of one ending and another one starting, but there are two verses that start the song. They're metrically squared except for a one-bar dominant prolongation at the end.

Chords one bar each, key of G:

vi - IV - I - V - If you're going to San Francisco
vi - IV - I - V - Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
vi - I - IV - I - If you're going to San Francisco
I - iii - vi - V (two bars) - You're going to meet some gentle people there

vi - IV - I - V - For those who come to San Francisco
vi - IV - I - V - Summertime will be a love-in there
vi - I - IV - I - In the streets of San Francisco
I - iii - vi - V (two bars) - Gentle people with flowers in their hair

Just a couple of comments here. Putting the tonic chord second in the third line is clever, I think. The plagal cadence that follows it grounds the whole thing in the tonic in a unique way. The vi - V progression at the end is a very soft cadence preparation.

There's a bridge that follows with a prominently featured bVII chord, but when the verse comes back, that's when things suddenly blossom:

vi - ii/IV - I/iii - V - All those who come to San Francisco
vi - IV - I - V - Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
vi - I - IV - I - If you come to San Francisco
I - iii - vi - I (two bars) - Summertime will be a love-in there

Two new chords introduced in that first line, a ii chord to start the second bar and a iii chord to end the third. They're played like they mean it; it's the most rhythmically dynamic moment in the verses up to that point. The vocal melody here includes an upper neighbor note on G right before those chords that's higher than anything that precedes it and the syllables of "San Francisco" are more empahasized.

The last line is a repeat of line two in the second verse, but set to a different melody here with the different chords. As line four of the verse, it also ends on a tonic chord instead of the dominant heard at the end of verses one and two.

The song ends with a modulation up a whole tone, from a vi chord on E minor to a vi chord on F#, and then an abbreviated verse.

vi - I - IV - I - If you're going to San Francisco
I - iii - vi - I - Summertime will be a love-in there

Notice that, while ostensibly the beginning of a final verse, it actually uses the chords from lines three and four of the previous verses. We end on the tonic chord just like in the third verse, but this time finishing off with a different melodic flourish.

(One final note here - just wanted to mention that the melody throughout the song is pentatonic with the exception of the diatonic bridge. Oh, and I didn't quite get this post done in 20 minutes!)

Friday, April 28, 2017

Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers - "When I'm Walking" (1983)

This song is all verse, with a refrain couplet at the end. Somehow in listening to this over time, I've never been struck by the amount of text in the song. As with this song that I wrote about four years ago, it wasn't until I wrote it out and looked at it that I realized how long it is - eighty-seven words for the first verse (excluding the repeated interjections of "well").

It occurs in ten lines, five pairs of rhyming couplets. The harmonic progression from couplet to couplet is exploratory, with a long-delayed cadence finally tip-toeing back to the tonic by means of an unexpected V/V chord.

Richman plays all the way through the progression with a chordal lead guitar part to start the song and it looks like this (chords one bar each unless noted).

I - IV - iii - ii
I - IV - iii - ii
IV - V - IV - V
I - IV - I - IV
I - IV - I - V (two bars) - IV - V/V - I

Interestingly, though, when it repeats and the first verse starts, it's not on that I chord. He hangs on the I for a total of five measures through the end of the intro and the transition and starts the verse on the next chord, the IV. He groups the measures in four, though, and ends on the next I chord. Second time through, the progression doesn't go to I, so he cuts it off at three bars.

IV - iii - ii - I
IV - iii - ii

The verse also does away with the weirdness you see above in the last line I've written out of the original chord progression, changing it to four bars of tonic prolongation and a perfectly square, four measure V - IV - V/V - I progression for that couplet refrain.

One more verse and we're done.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Public Nuisance - "Magical Music Box" (1968 or '69)

The I chord goes the the IV chord and then to the V. It resolves back to the I.

You play with these expectations to build structures for verses, bridges, and choruses, but no song I know subverts the whole business like this one.

"Magical Music Box" seems to have three distinct sections. The band first come barrelling in with a I-IV progression and the continuation of this is how the verse begins, riding that fifth scale degree in the melody and ready to plunge gloriously into some inevitable cadence. By the end of the second line, things are already going wrong.

The second line instead just flops down onto the tonic note. It doesn't rhyme.

Neither do the third and fourth lines. Then, there's a fifth line, "I wonder what will come," first scale degree up to the second as the chord changes from I to IV. The second scale degree is not a part of the IV chord.

So, after an irregular set of five lines with no rhyming they pick their odd spot to move up to the V chord. Nevertheless, they ride it out like that cadence is coming

It isn't, though. It's back to the IV chord to start the chorus (0:42). This time, it's IV-V, so I guess it's a cadence when it goes from there to I, but they're landing on the downbeat of a consequent line, not an antecedent line. It's not the right time for it. Plus, that first line was only one bar long, not two like the one that follows it.

Second line of the chorus starts on that I chord and moves to IV, two bars like the I-IV in the verse. Back in the third line to I-IV again; are we going to have a rhyme here? Nah, instead they extend it two bars by going to the V chord, the same dominant prolongation we had in the fifth line of the verse. Again, it feels like an odd time for this event to occur.

No cadence even after the long-held V chord, it instead repeats the IV-V but with a different melody and this time for the full two bars. Still no cadence after this, it repeats instead that first line, but they treat it differently this time. They treat the two beats on the IV chord as a measure of 2/4 and then hold that V chord for two bars of 4/4.

You can't make this stuff up! (Well, of course, the genius that wrote this song did.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Bangles - "The Real World" (1982)

This song is mixolydian. If you're talking about the chords, you can't really use the normal numbers to identify them because...well, the five chord is minor, for example.

And that five chord is used in this song - very cleverly, I might add! It's really used as a color variant of the flat seven chord. You've got a verse where E is the tonic and it alternates back and forth between an E major chord and B minor. In the section that follows it (I don't know what you'd call it - a pre-chorus perhaps, but there really is no chorus), it's going back and forth between E major and D major instead. I definitely feel that these two different means of moving away from and back to the tonic are variants of each other and that the B minor is this sort of colorful harmonic variant of just going back and forth between a tonic and a flat seven.

Now, in that same second segment, after going back and forth between E major and D major a couple of times, they go to an A major chord. If we're talking about these as diatonic chords, that's a tonic I chord. Clearly, though, we've established E as a modal tonic, so it's more like a IV chord.

What is the function of a IV chord, though, in the mixolydian mode? There's no dominant chord, so it can't be a dominant prep.

The Bangles play with it. The first time through, they go from A up to a B major dominant chord as a bit of a surprise (briefly changing the modality). The second time through, at 1:23 in the video, they don't. Again, color variants.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Syd Barrett - "Love Song" (1970)

I think the whole first part of this song before the piano solo, not counting the intro, is one verse. The fifth and sixth lines ("By the time she was back," etc.) sound like they could be the beginning of a second verse, but then they end. It sounds to me like the verse is ending the way it started.

I want to look at this song in terms of how it uses the four chords - I, IV, V, and a V/V chord.

In the first two lines, a circular I-V-IV-V is established with chords changing every two beats. The second line ("She said she knew she would trust me and I her will") has three more syllables than the first and ends on the downbeat of the verse's fifth measure, such that another two bars are needed to get to the next line. This makes it uneven - a total of six bars (two plus four) for the first two lines.

The third line ("I said, 'OK, baby'," etc.) has the same chords as the first, but the V/V is re-introduced (having been previously present in the intro) in line four. It takes the place of the IV chord as the third chord of the series and it's used in its secondary dominant function, to go back to V. The fourth line is not extended the way the second line was, but Barrett, in order to make room for the same two-bar break between couplets that we had after line two, treats it in the same way. He puts the downbeat on "see" ("And see what I see"), which means that, yes, the bar before it is shortened by two beats.

Going back to the circular I-V-IV-V on lines five and six, Barrett this time decides to do the same thing he did on lines three and four, but without the V/V chord - the second time you hit that IV chord (on the words "big surprise"), it's a shortened bar of two beats.

It doesn't go back to the V at the end this time. It goes to the tonic instead, which leads you into the piano solo.

Which is strangely over a different chord progression, but only briefly! First it's a V-IV-I that lasts two measures. When this repeats, Barrett interrupts it after the V-IV and treats it like we're in the middle of the old progression, going back to V for two beats and then keeping the I-V-IV-V going. The two beats of V there is another shortened bar.

He wraps the solo up with another use of the V/V, this time in place of the last V chord but acting again as a secondary dominant, such that when the dominant chord is reached, we need an extra bar and it ends up an irregular five bars long.

After all these events, it's no wonder that Barrett is able to just repeat the words of the first verse again at this point. These will be all of the words for the song.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Who - "The Kids Are Alright" (1965)

Anyone know another song that treats verses and verse repetitions this way? Structure:

Verse 1 (all verses end with refrain line*)
Verse 2
Bridge
Verse 1 repeat
Instrumental break
Verse 2 repeat (plus vamp on refrain line to end song)

And that's it! Now, of course, it's normal for there to be a number of verses and then the first verse repeats toward the end. Wouldn't it have been strange if there had been a third verse with new words after the bridge in this song, though? It would certainly change the character of the song. Repeating the first verse right away indicates that those words are the ones that matter.

The instrumental break after this begins on the dominant chord, just like the bridge had already done, but this is just build, four bars instead of ten, and then...

Well, repeat the second verse, too! Those words matter, too!

* There is no chorus in this song, just a refrain line that appears at the end of each verse.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Nova Local - "If You Only Had the Time" (1967)

I just wanted to point out a couple of things about this song. One is that it has a pre-chorus (occurring for the first time at 0:31). If we let A be the verse, B be the pre-chorus, and C be the chorus, here is our structure:

AABCAAA'BCA'

A' is the instrumental break over the verse chords (heard first after the fourth verse and then repeated as a coda at the end).

That's a total of ten segments, though! In a two-minute and twenty second song!

The pre-chorus is really something. The song is in G major, but modulates to Bb major via a borrowed iv chord, C minor, which becomes the ii chord in a ii-V-I. At the end of four bars, though, the pre-chorus modulates again, this time to C minor. The way it lands on the tonic C minor chord right on the downbeat of measure five feels truly like we have entered a different section of the song again! Quickly, though, that idea is dispelled and the pre-chorus is wrapped up as we move harmonically from i (C minor) to VI (Ab major) and then, as the melody returns to the tonic note of C, to an F major chord, which becomes the dominant chord for yet another modulation (to Bb major for the chorus). It all takes place in eight bars.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Camper Van Beethoven - "Folly" (1986)

You can't tell if this song's 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 (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" (1968)

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.