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
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:


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.

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

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.

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.