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.