Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Young Rascals - "I've Been Lonely Too Long" (1967)

So, here we have a song that starts with the chorus but you don't really notice it. That's because it sounds like a verse!

It starts with the refrain line repeated twice, followed by two rhyming lines, for a total of eight bars. When the refrain lines come back afterwards, it sounds like the second verse is starting. It cuts off after the two repetitions of the line, though, and then the actual verse of the song ("As I look back/I can see me lost and searching" etc.) finally begins.

The contrast you get with this verse, however, feels more like the contrast you normally get from a bridge. That's attributable to the fact that the chorus that preceded it sounded like a verse, of course, but the whole thing strikes me as being super clever and, perhaps, very unique.

The other thing I really like about the structure is that the verse has two parts, with its twelve bars divided up as eight plus four. This exactly mirrors the way that the chorus, which is eight bars, is always followed by the extra four bars of the refrain lines being repeated twice afterward. These repeating twelves (all eight plus four) throughout the song makes for some really pretty symmetry.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Camper Van Beethoven - "She Divines Water" (1988)

Almost four minutes long and completely viable as a strong album track, this song is nevertheless comprised of only two verses and a (lengthy) coda. The verses have two parts, the second in waltz time and with irregular groupings of bars, both elements echoed in the imagery of "feel the world spin slightly off axis."

Bob Dylan once said something to the effect of dreams being "the place where the bottom falls out from reality" and that is what happens here. At the end of verse number two, singer David Lowery starts telling about a dream but then never stops, the chords continuing to circle around and back. We begin to feel that power on the level of a planet going off its axis now, the dream suddenly including images of fortune-telling, playing cards, and then, by a master stroke, the operatic chorus that seems to be overseeing the cosmic event.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Al Stewart - "Year of the Cat" (1976)

The question arises as to how the contrasting major key sections function in this otherwise minor key, wistful song. These modulations are a big part of the expansiveness of this almost-seven minute composition, but the way they contribute to the tone and theme of the song may not be immediately apparent.

The main one is heard three times - in the intro, solo, and closing. Each time, there's clearly a sense of emotional contrast and it does seem to have depth and a real relevance to the story. It's as though we're not just hearing of these scenes from the protagonist's life, but, like the protagonist, being swept away by them a bit. The movement in these sections is not only a simple shift from the home key of E minor to G major, but quite breathlessly to E major only four bars later, only to be pulled away and back into the home minor key almost immediately. The parallel in the story, of course, is that the protagonist will stay with the woman, but only for a time.

The return to the minor key is a pull back into the passing of mythological time as depicted in this song. So close to the tick-tock pulse of 120 BPM, time in "Year of the Cat" is framed by sadness over the knowledge of its finite context - one year, perhaps - and draped ultimately in that wistful E minor key to which it returns.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Husker Du - "Makes No Sense at All" (1985)

I always sensed that there was something rich in this song's harmonies and finally figured them out. Take a look at the extended chords implied by the melody in the first phrase here.

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The G sung over the F chord in the second bar makes for an added ninth harmony, while the same note over A minor in bars three and four gives that chord a minor seventh quality. In both cases, it's the tonic pitch accounting for the harmonic extension, and this centering around G anchors the song in its key while the chords (which are really more native to C major) are stewing about. The second part of the phrase is sung in harmony and the last two notes are on D, which is also not a part of that A minor chord but is, of course, the fifth of the "home harmony."

It's impossible to say what the contrasting section of this song is; its different set of chords give the impression of a bridge, but the part is heard with different words after both of the verses. (There is no chorus.) The more functional G major chord vocabulary here provides a sense of relief from the strange harmonic goulash of the verse, but the melody remains insistent with its extensions, emphasizing D as a major ninth over the C chord in measure three and as a minor seventh over the E minor chord in measure four.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

The Shins - "Simple Song" (2012)

A couple of instances here of a songwriter going the extra mile. First, the chorus at the very end of the song, heard for the third time but now with new words introducing, quite surprisingly, a whole new temporal reference point to the first person narrative - a sad little personally revealing anecdote when one was not expected, left as a final impression before the song disappears.

Second, that little guitar solo that precedes the final chorus. At this point of the song, there's already been an instrumental break, but hey, let's have another one. It occurs over the buildup to the chorus, but the approach here is nuanced and subtle. We hadn't heard this buildup since the first chorus, when it was two bars long. Second chorus, it's not there at all. Third and final chorus, it's back with the guitar solo over the top and now extended to four bars to give things a kick, the guitar playing a lovely little variation on the melodic descent to the first chord of the chorus (heard originally on the keyboard). That's a classic rock move, big time, executed by somebody who knows.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Monkees - "You and I" (1968)

Love how this track just blazes forward with its appealingly strange harmony.

As a matter of fact, the forward momentum begins immediately with the lead vocal coming in after an intro that's only two bars long. The verse is twelve bars and seems to be working up to a cadence in F# minor towards the end. Measure nine has a i chord, followed by a V chord in measure ten, and then back to the i chord for measure eleven. Here, everyone starts playing quarter note triplets, though, including a lead guitar with a repeating figure of C#-B-A. These three notes emphasize the five (C#) and the three (A) of the F# minor chord, but the bass moves down to E on the second set of triplets in the middle of that bar, giving a suggestion of a VII chord (E major). This E then holds for all of measure twelve, with the repeating lead guitar figure of C#-B-A continuing in a sort of raw, expressive counterpoint.

Though twelve bars long, the verse feels irregular, perhaps partly because of the way the chords cut off and end without the expected cadence, but certainly in great part because of the melodic structure and rhyming pattern on top. Lines one and two of the verse each take two bars and seem to set up a pattern where the listener is going to get the rhyming word in line four at the end of measure eight. Instead, lines three and four have an internal rhyme of their own that has nothing to do with the lines that preceded them. Over the last four bars, we get three more lines sung over the triplets that all rhyme with one another:

We've got more growing to do
Me and you
And the rest of them, too

It's these three rhyming lines at the end that really account for the sense of irregularity over the course of the verse's fairly regular time frame of twelve bars.

The song has two verses, an eight-bar bridge, a guitar solo over the verse chord progression, and then ends really quickly with a repeat of the first verse. As we saw above, the verse ends with a descent in the bass from the tonic F# to the seventh scale degree (E) in measures eleven and twelve. This being the last verse, the song then ends on a downbeat after the final bar, but instead of returning to the tonic, the musicians continue the descent down to a D chord. The D is played as a major seventh - quite clever given that a D major seventh chord contains all three notes (F#, A, and C#) of the tonic triad that we were expecting to hear.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

John Lennon - "I Know (I Know)" (1973)

This song goes to the chorus right away after the first verse. More unusual is the fact that the chorus then repeats! There's only been one verse, but we're hearing the chorus twice. It has different words the second time.

After that, there's another verse and then it seems to go to a bridge section ("Today I love you more than yesterday" etc.). A repeat of the chorus with a derivation on its first set of words follows, but then what? The bridge repeats here?

Looking back at this point, we can see how those three choruses with the different sets of words are actually functioning like verses in relation to the bridge, which frankly sounds kind of like a chorus itself and is indeed functioning like one now in the way that it's repeating.

This notion seems to be borne out by the fact that Lennon then proceeds to use a derivative of the first part of this bridge/chorus as a refrain line that repeats four times for the song's closing.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Move - "Blackberry Way" (1969)

There's a chromatic chord movement in the second half of this song's verse that descends from the iii chord in G (B minor) to the ii chord (A minor) by way of the chord in between (A# minor). Of particular interest here is the melodic sequence of two descending thirds that's sung over the top. The melody starts on D, the third of the B minor chord, then moves down a third to the root, and then another third to the sixth (G). The chord then switches to A# minor and the melodic pattern is repeated: third (C#), root (A#), and sixth (F#). The melody then ends with the final note of the line back up at C natural, the third of A minor.

The only thing that might be considered unusual about this is the sixth, a nonchord tone appearing in what otherwise seems to be a triadic melody. Surely, one of the reasons it's used is that these notes are happening quickly and a bigger melodic jump from the root down to the chord tone, the fifth, would have been awkward. These sixths cannot be accounted for in terms of melodic analysis, though; they are not neighbor tones, escape tones, or passing tones. They are, seemingly, pure color, and their use here by composer Roy Wood is quite remarkable.