Friday, September 20, 2013

Schoolhouse Rock! - "Preamble" (1975)

The actual use of the text to the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution works as a sort of song within a song in this cartoon. As an entity unto itself, this short tune lasts about forty seconds and is heard twice (beginning at 0:45 and 1:55 in the video). The construction of the thing is quite beautiful.

There are 24 bars total, the first sixteen with a pattern of one chord and mostly one line of text over two bars of music. It looks like this:

We the people (I)
In order to form a more perfect union (IV)
Establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility (I to V)

Provide for the common defense (I)
Promote the general welfare and (IV)
Secure the blessings of liberty (I)
To ourselves and our posterity (V)

With only a few lines of text left, the tune now takes a turn. The melody is entirely new and the chords no longer hold for two bars each.

 photo 6c51d660-9175-4055-8036-e5085850be9a.jpg

Previously sticking to a limited tessitura with no note above G, the melodic line here skips up to the octave right when the chord changes for the first time without waiting for two bars. Text spills over into a four-bar phrase, and then a second one (broken in half) that manages a strong cadence with a real sense of conclusion that, despite the tune's real brevity, doesn't seem at all abrupt.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Dirtbombs - "It's Gonna Be Alright" (2013)

In a Spin piece, Mick Collins says of this track, "I listened to all five Archies albums with the specific aim of writing (a song) that sounded like an Archies song."

Apart from just sounding like the Archies (which I think it does), there are a couple of structural elements to this song that I wanted to point out. If these didn't come from Archies records, they certainly came from the vast, wider tradition in which pop songs do great and subtle things.

The song starts with a repeating riff, then switches to a vamp on the tonic chord and Collins starts singing. He sings the first line once, then it's repeated with a harmony vocal. It sounded like a verse was starting, but it's not; it ends there.

What is this? It is, I suppose, a refrain that is not a chorus. (I hear this and think, "I've heard this in a bubblegum song. Maybe more than one." I don't know which songs, though.)

After an instrumental section, the repeating riff comes back and now the verse starts as lines over the riff.

There are eight lines in these verses (two verses total in the song). You can understand why he did it that way; four lines over four utterances of the riff is too short. In the first verse, the second set of four lines aren't linked inextricably to the first four, but they are in the second verse where they extend the theme for a total number of eight lines.

To me, this is someone not taking the easy way out at all and is just real nose-to-the grindstone songwriting:

If you're feelin' bad
And you wanna scream and shout
Do this thing every day
That's really gonna help you out
Call some sunshine down
Let a little into your heart
Take the rest and spread it around
And that oughta do for a start

The album on which this song appears is being released next week and is currently streaming here.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Peppermint Rainbow - "Will You Be Staying After Sunday" (1969)

Apart from an intro line that repeats once and a bridge, this song also seems to be almost all chorus.

Call it perhaps a chorus that functions like a verse; it begins with a refrain line and then has different words that follow in each of its three utterances.

Is sixteen bars too long to call it a chorus? Maybe, but the last four bars are like an extension and are not even played the third time through.

Three utterances, that intro line that repeats once, and a bridge - I wonder how many other hit records from 1969 were under two and a half minutes.