Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Bobby Fuller Four - "Let Her Dance" (1965)

There can certainly be something freeing in letting go of V-I cadences. I think this two-chord song does have cadences, but they're all plagal: IV chord to the I, home chord. Plagal cadences are generally framed as being "weaker" than authentic, V-I cadences, but the vocabulary is problematic. There's nothing weak about this song.

To my thinking, plagal cadences draw less attention to themselves. They create smaller peaks and valleys. In fact, this song seems to present itself as a fairly straight line, and I think the unusual steadiness of the dynamics in the arrangement are meant to emphasize this. Can you do that and have a hit record? This one came out before the BFF had a breakthrough hit with their version of "I Fought the Law," so it's hard to say. The Seeds had a hit with "Pushin' Too Hard," a song with a similarly steady dynamic and no authentic cadences, the following year. I think "Let Her Dance" is a much more commercial record than "Pushin' Too Hard."

Two chords! The scope of what you can do with two chords! The repeating riff takes eight beats and divides it up into 3+3+2. (Can you do that in a hit song?) You hear this concoction four times at the beginning, with staggered entries from the drums and, secondly, that beautiful Buddy Holly and the Crickets rhythm guitar. Just like in "Peggy Sue," the sound of the Fender playing chords is all you need. That is the statement.

The 3+3+2 repetition is intoxicating and the verse doesn't let you out. Not four bars, not eight, not twelve, it's six bars long, propelling the motion further with no squared metric grouping slowing the flow. The lyrics are in two-bar lines, so you get three lines, a rhyming pair and a refrain.

But this song is generous. It has a refrain AND a chorus. You barely notice. The chorus is six bars, too, with the same chords, vocal melody starting on the same note as the verse, but this is the moment where they step forward just a bit, push it just a bit, lay it on just the right amount, the layers of vocal parts not waiting until the end, like they do in the verse. Giving you that slightly extended view of what the plateau looks like when the choir is singing and the bells are ringing.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Tommy Roe - "Sheila" (1962)

I don't think this song has a chorus. There's a contrasting part that repeats, but it certainly doesn't feel like a chorus to me. Has more of an exploratory feel. Someone might disagree with me. I think it gets away with no chorus because it has a refrain line at the end of the verses.

This song is complicated, structurally, while only taking two minutes and seven seconds. Here's a breakdown:

Four bar intro
A - Verse #1
A - Verse #2
B - Bridge
A - Verse #3
Repeat intro
A - Verse #2 repeat
B - Bridge repeat
A - Verse #3 repeat
Vamp for outro (with fadeout)

If you can remember the correct sequencing of these ten events, Tommy will take you on the road with the band.

One of my favorite things about this song is the plagal cadences (IV - I) at the end of Verse #2, both times you hear it, and at the end of the bridge. The bridge cadence is the only time in the song where bass player Bob Moore plays a note other than the root of the chord. Given that you've got a bar on the I before the bridge ends, Moore plays root-root-fifth-fifth to give something akin to a sense of transition even as the chord stays the same.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Storybook - "Beads of Innocence" (1968)

I couldn't figure out where the intro to this song ends and where the first verse begins, but I think I'm going to say that it's an eight bar intro. The problem seems to lie in the fact that you have two measures to close the intro out on a D minor chord and it (perhaps presumptuously on my part) ends in the middle, after only one of those bars. Plus, the vocal melody line has a pickup...


D minor (2 bars) / D major (2 bars) / G minor to D minor (1 bar) / A major (2 bars) / D minor (1 bar)

That's an eight bar construction, but obviously divided up irregularly into five parts. Nevertheless, you get the cadence from the dominant to the tonic of D minor at the end. The mode mixture in the alternation between tonic D minor and tonic D major doesn't affect how the other chords function.

Here's how the verse looks:

D minor (1 bar) / G minor (2 bars) / D minor (3 bars) / G minor (2 bars) / D minor (2 bars)

OK, I'm changing my tune here! I'm saying that the end of the verse includes BOTH measures of the D minor chord, unlike the intro. There's no pickup to the vocal melody throwing a spanner into the works. The metric construction at the beginning of one bar tonic, two bars iv chord, and three bars tonic is excellent.


A major (1 bar) / G major (1 bar) / A major (1 bar) / G major (1 bar) / G# major (2 bars) / G major (2 bars) / D minor (1 bar)

Alternation there between dominant and subdominant and then a chromatic embellishment before a plagal cadence. Also excellent!

One last note on this song: After the second verse and chorus, the intro repeats, but the form changes. There's a diminished seventh chord with what seems to be F as the root. Then, the guitar goes to an A minor chord and the song breaks off into some glockenspiel flourishes.

How does the F diminished seventh chord function? We're going to have to go by an enharmonic spelling of it as an E# diminished - E# - G# - B - D. That's because I believe A minor is temporarily the tonic chord here and it resolves to that tonic: E# down to E, G# up to A.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Kinks - "Village Green Preservation Society" (1968)

Song starts with a vamp on the main chord progression, then into the first verse. There are three verses and they're eight bars, except for the third one, which is twelve.

My question is this: What do you call the section after the first verse? It's not really a chorus, even though it does repeat once. Could we call it a bridge?

We probably can, even though a bridge is not usually a repeating part and not usually something that occurs for the first time at twenty-eight seconds into the song. A bridge does not usually keep the same chord progression as the verse going either, although this one does go to a cool little plagal cadence by way of a non-functional secondary dominant chord (the E major chord in the key of C).

I don't know, maybe the cadence that closes the section does suggest that it's a chorus. I tend to think that both "chorus" and "bridge" sort of fall short of describing what's going on here and that we've ventured into some kind of expository style of songwriting that's just different.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Association - "Dubuque Blues" (1969)

The only place where I've ever seen much discussion of Gary "Jules" Alexander's songwriting as a member of the Association is way back in Richard Meltzer's 1970 The Aesthetics of Rock, a book in which Alexander figures in a fairly significant way. Alexander's obscurity over the years may be in part due to the fact that, like his three tunes that close out the group's first album And Then...Along Comes the Association, his songs can be a little hidden on the group's records. These songs are surely hidden to history also by the fact that listeners might not go to records by the Association for the kind of stuff Alexander does. His lack of a cult following might be explained by the straddling of a line between eccentricity and musicianship, between counter-cultural poetry and wordplay.

"Dubuque Blues" is a whopper from Alexander's return (after an absence of some time) to the group for their 1969 self-titled album. The 8-bar, country rock verse is structured as six lines of text: short-short-long-short-short-long. Alexander plays with rhyming expectations by failing to rhyme in the first two short lines, failing to rhyme the two long lines, but rhyming the second pair of short lines:

Do you remember Dubuque?
Have you even heard of that?
It's half between New York and California
There is a highway in and back
And an active railroad track
And the west side of the city sells no liquor 

These lines not only fail to rhyme, they do so with a major (and surely intentional) thud on the words "that" and "liquor." The poetry expands on the following section to longer lines with a rhyme of sorts of "thoughts" and "rocks," an internal rhyme on the next line, and a circuitous route to the end of the refrain:

And I can't recall the instances that keep it in my thoughts
City parks or nighttime girls or ancient limestone rocks
Writing songs of rights and wrongs and buying penny loafer shoes
Oh, definitely, most certainly, I've got the Dubuque blues

The choppy text in the final line is accentuated by two metrical hiccups, a bar of six-four time and an odd, three-bar ending that settles without cadence on a G major chord.

This section of the song is unique structurally, a sort of pre-chorus that swells amidst modulatory chord changes not to a chorus but merely to a refrain tag at the end. Somehow, between the whimsical poetry, the swelling intensity, the hiccups, and the floating end without a cadence, Alexander has found amidst all of this an utterly beautiful hook.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Muffs - "Baby Go Round" (1993)

Little things. Little things that maybe don't code as "genius," but why not? Are the things that code as "genius" so much bigger? Or so much more significant? I want to look at the structure of this:

Intro - vamp on tonic chord (4 bars) 

Verse (A) - 8 bars, 0:07 - 0:21 

Verse #2 (A) - 8 bars, 0:21 - 0:35 

Pre-chorus (B) - 8 bars, 0:35 - 0:48

OK, there's the first little thing that's maybe not so little. This song has a pre-chorus. The tessitura goes higher to build further toward the chorus. The chord vocabulary changes in order to (seemingly, at least in part) differentiate the section from the verse; whereas the verse had a major III chord and a secondary dominant chord, we switch over to a more classicist I, IV, and V only here.  

Chorus (C) - 12 bars, 0:48 - 1:10

Another thing to note here. This is the first time the bars are not squaring up to an even numbered multiple of four. That's because the chorus has two sections (an eight bar section and a four bar section), both involving refrains. Do you see how elaborate this is? The song has a pre-chorus and then a chorus with two sections.  

Guitar solo (D) - 9 bars, 1:10 - 1:26 I'm calling this section D not just because it's a guitar solo, but because it's a guitar solo over chords that start out like the verse chords but then change to something else. Nine bars because it prolongs the pause on the borrowed iv chord.  

Verse #3 (A) - 8 bars, 1:26 - 1:40 

Pre-chorus (B') - 9 bars, 1:40 - 1:56

I'm calling it B' because it includes an extra bar of dominant prolongation.  

Chorus part one (C') - 8 bars, 1:56 - 2:10

First half of the chorus played in order for it to repeat when the full chorus is played after.  
Chorus (C'') - 14 bars, 2:10 - End

The first section of eight bars and then the second section with an additional refrain prolonging it two bars.

To summarize, a lot of little things. They're all packed in, they all occur at the right time. AABCDAB'C'C'' in two minutes and fifty seconds - heck yeah!

Monday, March 4, 2019

The Go-Go's - "Vacation" (1982)

A 16-bar verse, but there's irregularity, too. Five lyric lines with two sets of rhymes and then a line that doesn't rhyme with anything. (The measures are divided up into 4+4+2+2+4, the first 4+4 being the first rhyme, the 2+2 being the second, and the last 4 the line that's by itself.)

Hey, this song has a pre-chorus. There it is exactly 1:00 in: "A week without you," etc. One minute into the song, two verses in, and already the verses are done. (It's a three minute song.)

While the pre-chorus is an 8-bar, 4+4 rhyme, the chorus stays with the 4+4 but there is no rhyming. In a way, "Meant to be spent alone" is more profound this way. Because it, as a line of poetry, is itself alone.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Ronnie Milsap - "Daydreams About Night Things" (1975)

Who does this? (Well,...John Schweers, apparently.)

Start with the chorus - OK, that maybe doesn't happen every day. (Perhaps it does in country more than I realize.) It's a great one, though; you can see why he did it.

Then, verse one.

Chorus repeat followed by instrumental break.

Chorus again? OK, but wait, we're modulating up here and...oh wow, this is the end of the song!

That's what you might call tight. Two minutes and twenty-three seconds on the record and it's 1975.

The structure of the whole thing is ABACA, a total of five parts. It works because of what seem to me to be unusual lengths for both the chorus (A) and the verse (B). The chorus is actually seventeen bars you can break down into four sections of 4+5+4+4. Can also be looked at as 9+8, with the second eight bars starting like a repeat of the first part but with a different ending and cadence.

Curiously, the verse is seventeen bars also, but this time it's 4+4+4+5, working in the cadence in the last five bars with three measures on the V chord, one bar plus one beat on the I, and then the three beats on the V again for the pickup notes back into the chorus.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Standells - "Why Did You Hurt Me" (1966)

This is the b-side of "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White." My best guess from the Tower label catalog number is that it is from about mid-1966, maybe summer, although it certainly could have been recorded earlier. (The 45 is catalog number 257 and the entries on Discogs for Tower single releases from 1966 stretch from records numbered 195 to 298.)

Producer Ed Cobb wrote "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White," but this b-side was written by drummer Dick Dodd and guitarist Tony Valentino. It's one of two songs written by them that appear on their first Tower LP.

I would say that this is a pretty exploratory song for mid-1966. One verse and then, seemingly, a chorus. Then, at 1:15 what appears already to be a bridge. Not a bridge that just goes eight measures and is done, but one that modulates to a different key and takes an unusual, fourteen-bar journey back.

After this, the song becomes unusual in how abbreviated it is rather than how exploratory, never even constructing a second verse but just riding out the chords in a long vamp for a quick ending.

So, to the extent that someone might consider unusual song structures as one of the most compelling things about how rock music was evolving during the time (in some cases, at least), this record feels like something that was on the cusp. It also seems to me to be state of the art in a number of other aspects, a guitar intro possibly influenced by the Who, power, subtlety, creativity, and repetition in the rhythm, and that power tempered by the prettiness of their chords and their vocal harmonies.

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
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.