Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Red Krayola - "Ravi Shankar: Parachutist" (1968)

A lot of small, unusual, interrelated ideas packed into this song's two minutes and nine seconds. It starts with a two-bar riff on the tonic and major third of F, but then tonicizes the third (A) for the first verse. That major third (chromatic mediant) relationship is then heard again in the first chord progression of the verse: A major to C# major. These chords are repeated once and then shift down a whole tone (G major to B minor). The shift is momentary, however, and then it's back to A major and C# major, both functioning as the fluctuating tonic.

The verse is followed by another guitar/bass riff, starting with the same descending third heard in the opening riff but transposed up a major third (C# down to A). The riff then involves a higher F in a descending line moving down to the low F, showing us now that these notes are actually spelling out an augmented chord (F, A, C#, F). The last two bars of this three-bar riff are actually the same two bars that were heard at the beginning of the song, thus setting up the second verse in the same manner as the first.

The second verse has a different ending than the first, involving a little more dramatic diatonicism when the dominant chord in A is reached. Instead of resolving to A, however, the dominant E moves down to C# major, keeping up that same A/C# tonic fluctuation.

C# then serves as the key for the singsong bridge, played at a different tempo. After the bridge, the guitar and bass once again make their way back to that same two-bar riff on the tonic and third of F, making clever use of the major third interval (a big element in this song) along the way. What follows, finally, is an abbreviated third verse with two lines, this time just moving up from A to B, then A to B to C# (all major chords). After the C# chord, the guitar and bass play the same return to the initial riff as heard after the first verse, but this time using the F as a weird dominant prep chord that leads to G#, the dominant of the final tonic resolution in C#.*

* C# is heard in the bass, anyway, though Mayo Thompson does not play a straight C# major triad on the guitar on the last beat.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Left Banke - "She May Call You Up Tonight" (1967)

There are a number of '60s groups, and even specific songs, that probably tend to be most commonly identified as the precursors to power pop. Listening to songs like "Feel a Whole Lot Better" and "Mary Mary," though, there is a certain musical gap that seems to exist between them and the songs of power pop groups from later decades (those that were not extremely '60s revivalist-oriented anyway).

That's not the case with this Left Banke song. The harmonically exploratory bridge, of course, is a big Nazz precursor. More striking, though, are the verses and the chorus, which really somehow seem to predate that specific '70s musical vocabulary more than any song I'm aware of from the period.

Also unique with this song is its piano-driven sound, which predates Procol Harum a little bit but in a much more pop-rock-oriented context. An incredible piece of work.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Athletico Spizz 80 - "Energy Crisis" (1980)

Vocal melody is only the root note of each chord throughout both the verse and the chorus. The phrase modulation from the dissonant progression rooted in A minor (verse) to the hardcore-like progression rooted in F# major (chorus) is a real example of a writer just reaching for anything at all, regardless of tonal relationships. Works because of the surprise, the aforementioned melodic simplicity, and the energy with which Spizz as vocalist nails it.

The idea of this chorus is so good, in fact, that Spizz just repeats the first two lines over again. And then this four-line structure, the whole of the chorus, is such a good idea in itself that they repeat it after each verse.

Topping things off, this 4:38 track could easily end with the vamp on the verse chord progression after the third chorus, but instead includes a coda of entirely new musical materials in another somewhat random key (B major). Suggesting even more of a sense of urgency, Spizz reduces the melody on this final section to one note only.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Desperate Bicycles - "Smokescreen" (1977)

Here's a good contrast to the last post. While the verse in "Gotta See Jane" lasts for about thirty-eight seconds, "Smokescreen" starts off with four verses in quick succession lasting a total of only forty-four seconds! The unusual rapid pace of lyrics is something both songs actually have in common. Both are also very tightly constructed. "Gotta See Jane" has a slightly more elaborate harmonic vocabulary, but we can see here that the biggest aesthetic difference between these songs, as compositions, is this structural element.

Those four verses, all with separate text, occurring before you hear the chorus for the first time, make for an amazingly articulate burst of energy. Following that first chorus with four more verses, all once again with new text, just continues to push this song into the stratosphere.

(Also enjoyable about "Smokescreen": the harmonic vocabulary! You hear F minor in the verse as a borrowed iv chord, but then it goes to C minor and Bb major, as though there's a momentary modulation to the flattened subtonic.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

R. Dean Taylor - "Gotta See Jane" (1968)

Rhythmically, there's so much emphasis on beats one and three in this song that it's easily perceived as being in cut time. The drums that enter on the second verse play a backbeat rhythm, though; and analyzing this in terms of a quicker four-four beat is actually helpful in seeing how it's put together.

The long verse structure starts with a couple of four-line sets of lyrics, both sets lasting for six bars. The first two lines of each set, one measure each, have one-syllable rhyming words falling on beats two and four. The third line of each set, however, holds off on the rhyming word until the first beat of the fourth measure. The fourth line also holds off on its rhyming word, this time until the second beat of its subsequent measure (the fifth). The section then comes to an end with a rest through the remainder of measures five and six.

The second part of the verse, similarly, has two short sets of lyrics. These sets start off with three lines delivered in the same manner as line three in the preceding sections, lasting for one measure each with the last rhyming word occurring on the downbeat of the subsequent measure. Unusually, these three lines all rhyme with one another and are followed by a non-rhyming line. As with the preceding section, this non-rhyming line is followed by a rest that extends through the fifth and sixth measures. The lack of a rhyme leaves the section open-ended, however, so Taylor completes it with an additional two-measure, two-line rhyme. This makes for an unusual six-plus-two measure phrase length overall.

All of this takes about thirty-eight seconds! The full song structure involves two of these verses, a bridge, and then the verse structure heard again with an instrumental section of strings heard instead of vocals over the first half. Apart from the vamps at the beginning and end, that's only four sections total: AABA.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Percy "Thrills" Thrillington - "Ram On" (1977)

This is Paul McCartney's instrumental version of the Ram album, released under a pseudonym. Really struck by how much the version of "Ram On" here sounds like something from Basil Kirchin's Abstractions of the Industrial North.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ellie Pop - "Can't Be Love" (1968)

Really remarkable Beatles-influenced song. The intro is in A major, but there's a quick interruption after only three bars. An abrupt shift in tonality occurs here, too, as the verse begins on a B major chord (sounding like the tonic), then moves to F# major (V), but only for an irregular bar of two beats. Next is a bar of G major, which could be a bVI chord in the key of B, but is instead used as a pivot, turning out to be a IV chord in D major. The progression then moves from D major (the new tonic) to E minor (ii).

That E minor ii chord goes nowhere, though, as the third line of the verse then phrase modulates back for a repeat of B major to F# major. The G major chord follows once again, but this time it has no function, as the fourth line then occurs over a repeating progression of the (harmonically unrelated) B minor to E major.

These chords, naturally, sound like a ii-V progression in A major, and the song allows this to play out when, after the completion of the second verse, the bridge begins on a tonic A major chord. (Remember, this is the same key that the song started in!) Immediately, however, they throw a curve ball by switching to the parallel A minor. Next chord is an E major (the dominant), followed by C major (III), but then they reassert the major tonality with an A major tonic chord.

This is a tonic resolution to A that works despite the fact that there is no cadence and that it occurs at a weak rhythmic point, the beginning of the seventh bar of the bridge. It is also a slight variant on the chord progression heard in the intro, creating a wonderful sense of compositional cohesion.

"Can't Be Love" on Amazon.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

R.E.M. - "The Great Beyond" (2000)

Two choruses. First time through, you hear the first one. Second time, you hear both, as though it was one long chorus. In placing them together, they create liaison between the two by a vocal harmony part (not heard in the first utterance of chorus number one) that comes in at the end of the first and continues in the second.

After this, the instrumental break. Violin (or maybe fake violin) and what sounds like some reed organ.

Third time through, you get both choruses once again. The second chorus is self-sufficient, though, and it's this one that repeats for the closing.

SIX times.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Shocking Blue - "Blossom Lady" (1971)

This is bubblegum music, really, and yet there's some folk quality to it that is very rooted in tradition. Notice how slowly it is played. The dynamics, with the soft drumming, are a bit more like Fairport Convention than they are the Sweet, yet the composition and arrangement - the economy of the verses, the snare on every beat - are bubblegum rock.

With the horns and the vocal harmonies, the Shocking Blue show themselves to be masters of that genre. The archetypicality of the lyric, though, plays (also masterfully) into the deeper tradition.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Nazz - "Forget All About It" (1969)

This is something. Tubular bells at the beginning as a symbol of the divine (reminiscent of some freakbeat songs from the same period attempting such a thing in the context of real power music). First part of the verse in six-four time (four plus two) with a melodic line that both thrives on the irregularity and yet manages structural power anyway with some beautifully-timed long notes. Chord progression here is a loop of four chords - Bb minor/Eb major/Db major add 9/Eb major - and notice how the bass never grounds the Eb chord. Same pattern continues in the second part of the verse, where the guitar begins on F minor and then moves away and back while the bass keeps an F pedal. Singer is already in the higher part of his register here, but still they manage a higher harmony part. By the time of the last line of the verse, both singers are in falsetto.

The type of exploratory harmonic progressions (with continued vocal harmonies) heard in the bridge and at the very end was seemingly this group's domain only.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Buffalo Springfield - "Flying on the Ground Is Wrong" (1966)

I'd been thinking the harmonies on this sounded very unusual for the time: complex but not Beatle-esque. In figuring out the chords, though, I'm now hearing it as being more Beatle-like. If it is, it's quite an assimilation; if it's not, it's quite a feat in itself.

Perhaps the major difference is this song's big reliance on seventh (both major and minor seventh) harmonies. You hear this right away when the lead guitar climbs up from the fifth to the seventh over the tonic chord in the first seconds of the song. It is then driven home when, at the strongest possible moment for a tonic chord to be used, they instead use the tonic seventh chord on the word "sorry" in the chorus ("I'm sorry to let you down").

Very nice liaison between the verse and the chorus, making it all flow as one entity. This begins with an alternation of major and minor tonic chords, followed by a progression that uses the ii chord as a sort of sweet and wistful base to which they keep returning. (Even at the very end of the chorus, the ii chord is used instead of the dominant on the words "my side of town" before the return to the tonic.)

There's also an augmented chord in there and then the bridge uses a minor iv chord (D minor) as a pivot to modulate from A major to C major.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bread - "Diary" (1972)

The verse here is four lines. When the fifth line of text begins, we seem to have switched to a new section. As it's too early for a bridge, this appears to be an exploratory extension of the verse. Amazingly, though, this cuts off after two lines and instead of getting another two lines with a rhyme for line two at the end of line four, we get the song's chorus instead, itself two lines long (and rhyming, for the first time, line-by-line).

Macro-structure (arrangement, too) is worthy not just of McCartney, but of McCartney at his best. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, and then a bridge. Back for one final verse/chorus and then the bridge again, this time with a variant on the text and, with one added line bringing harmonic resolution, used as a closing.

That's a pretty concise structure, but this thing is 3:05 and reached number fifteen on the singles chart.*

* Worth pointing out that three of Bread's big hits actually do have a very short duration: "It Don't Matter to Me" (2:41), "If" (2:33), and "Baby I'm-a Want You" (2:25!).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Genesis - "Carpet Crawlers" (1974)

True prog rock that nevertheless manages an extraordinary compositional concision. Harmonically exploratory intro (with those beautiful keyboard arpeggios) is actually arranged as two consecutive sixteen-bar verses.* The song then modulates, not up but down from E to D, settling into its dark confines: the place from which, over four new verses alternating with four choruses, it seeks its transcendence.

Building on the first verse, the drums enter on the second with a part so simple, so unique, so perfect that no changes or fills are necessary through the rest of the song. In the third verse, the lead vocal is now in the higher register, stronger and stretching for a wider, plaintive melodic line. Fourth and final verse doesn't need another intensification; all it needs is to stay the course until the end.

* Second verse has an abbreviated text.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Love - "Softly to Me" (1966)

This song starts by moving back and forth between D minor and E minor. This is modal, but shifting back and forth between tonal centers: D dorian and E phrygian. At the end of the second line, though, it goes to D major instead of D minor. The D still feels like a tonal center, but with the next chord - a sort of D7 with an added 9th that's also heard in the intro - we soon find out that it's also modal (mixolydian).

The phrase modulation from D to B major that occurs in the bridge is easy enough, the F# in the melody being a common tone, but the move back from B major to the E minor to D minor progression is handled in a more difficult (and very beautiful) way. This occurs on the last note of the line "It's evident for anyone to see." On the two previous notes, we're on B, a common note between B major and E minor. The melody could have stayed on B on that last note of the line, when the chord changes to E minor, but instead it moves up to C, a non-chord tone.

To resolve the harmony, then, there is this really nice liaison between that last line of the bridge and the first line of the new (abbreviated) verse, "And I suppose they probably already do," where the melody doesn't land until the chord changes once again on the last note.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Oh-OK - "Choukoutien" (1983)

Incredible composition. Verses start with what sounds like a chorus refrain (containing the title word), but this line links to a consequent line and then an open-ended third line, forming an odd, and uniquely short, verse structure. Short enough that they put two of these verses at the beginning, followed by what seems at first to be a bridge. So far, the song has been going back and forth between A minor and F, but this new section starts moving between A minor and B minor, suggesting (but not defining) a new tonal center. This is derailed, however, by a Bb minor chord, an extremely clever pivot back to the original progression.*

And in moving back to the original progression to end this section (so crucial to the composition that you can't really call it a bridge), we hear half of what had previously been the first line of the verse, followed by a concluding couplet (with vocal harmonies introduced for the first time) that turns out to be another refrain!

Substance of the song continues to expand with a third verse, but from here on out it's all lost-in-the-mystery repeat, first the second section again and then the first verse, softer and with an added vocal harmony part, and the second section one last time, keeping the upper harmony part going.

All of this framed by the haunting two word refrain only heard at the very beginning and the very end.

* Bb minor would be the borrowed minor iv chord if we look at F major as the home key. (A minor is really the home key, but this at least gives us a common way of defining and understanding the Bb minor chord.)

Oh-OK: The Complete Recordings CD

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Urinals - "Black Hole" (1979)

How far-reaching is this? Expanded diatonicism by the use of all major chords, just like a garage band circa 1967. Clever (and very beautiful) use of vocal harmonies at the ends of lines in both the verses AND the chorus. All of this presented within a compositional and arrangement context that had its closest parallel with the New York no wave bands.

"Black Hole" on Lala.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wire - "Outdoor Miner" (1978)

Really nice how this plays around with the descending vi-V-IV chord progression.

Verses each have a pair of rhyming phrases. The first phrase has less of a functional feel, starting on the IV chord and then going up to vi, from which it descends along the vi-V-IV. The precedent of going from IV to vi at the beginning of that phrase, though, sets up the next line. By ending the first line on the IV, they can move to the vi again and start the second phrase on that chord. That second phrase, then, is just vi-V-IV, a more recognizable, functional harmonic formula and the phrase that finally leads to the tonic chord that begins the chorus. (Note also that the more recognizable harmonic line is where they bring in the vocal harmonies.)

Last part of the song, the single verse with the different melodic lines and the abbreviated conclusion, is all quite pleasant.

"Outdoor Miner" on Lala.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

R.E.M. - "Moral Kiosk" (1983)

Never realized before how big of a difference there is between the production on Chronic Town and Murmur. Maybe a big part of the appeal of Murmur is just how wet it is and yet how clear it is at the same time. On this track, the guitars are wet enough that they become a little obscured when the background vocals come in, but they're so crisp and clear on the verses and the two-line refrain.

Great example also of how R.E.M. were successfully blending things that were a little more harmonically abstract (the verses) with real power pop-oriented harmonic richness (the refrain).

"Moral Kiosk" on Lala.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Beatles - "All My Loving" (1963)

Rhythm guitar part is marvelous and the choice of chord voicings helps provide a sense of consistency through the whole progression. The highest note of each chord, on the high E string, only moves about slightly, starting at F# for the F# minor and B major chords, moving up to G# for E major and C# minor, up to A for A major, and then back to F# for F# minor, D major, and B major. Contrast in the ending when we hear the high note all way up on the ninth fret for C# minor and the twelfth fret for the next-to-last E major chord.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Afterglow - "Chasing Rainbows" (1968)

A lovely harmonic structure throughout and some nice structural aspects. The first line of the chorus is an irregular three-bar phrase with words that rhyme with the last line of the preceding verse. This line is a part of the chorus and yet functions as a lead-in to what might be considered to be the chorus proper. The cymbal-less drum pattern heard in the instrumental intro returns in the bridge, which the composition is already plunging into at 0:43. Chorus returns afterward, but this time the lead-in involves two lines and goes for five bars instead of three. At this point, the composition is only at 1:19 and yet, already, it moves to its final segment: one more repetition of the very nice chorus.

Afterglow album on Amazon.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Impressions - "Man Oh Man" (1965)

Holds together an arrangement at only about 74 beats per minute with fluidity, precision, and changes in dynamics. Really charming compositional elements in the way the bridge comes to a quick end (no rhyme at the end of the last line) and how the third verse repeats just because it's good enough to play it again.

"Man Oh Man" on Lala.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Every Mother's Son - "Come on Down to My Boat" (1967)

The intro is really remarkable on this. Very difficult to count or even hear where the upbeat or downbeat is. Excellent, unusual drumming continues throughout, particularly notable on the chorus. (Also note the fills at 1:43 and 2:13.)

"Come on Down to My Boat" on Lala.

Shonen Knife - "A Day of the Factory" (1983)

Excellent compositional craftsmanship on this song from their first album. Over three and a half minutes, but the intro is only thirteen seconds. One verse, and then a short refrain of a different melody over the same chords. Different chord progression used as a link and then back for the second verse, but they lay out for eight bars before it starts. Different words on the repeat of the refrain.

"A Day of the Factory" on Lala.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Boston - "Peace of Mind" (1976)

Slightly over five minutes, but nothing too out of the ordinary in its structure. Could easily have ended around the four-minute mark, but that instrumental coda, coming from the intro and building guitar harmonies upon the lengthy melody, goes on for over a minute to end the song. It's a progressive move, but so simple, so tightly constructed, and very charming.

"Peace of Mind" on Lala.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Beatles - "Don't Bother Me" (1963)

The rhythm guitar is really nice on this - perhaps a bit of a precursor to the rhythm part on "I Feel Fine."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Klaatu - "Dear Christine" (1978)

Simplicity emerging out of progressivism, not as a retro style but as structural pristinity.

With only two verses, this song's nearly four minute duration comes primarily from repetitions of its beautiful chorus.

The entire Klaatu catalog (CDs, LP, and mp3s) on BullseyeSongs.com.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Paley Brothers - "Too Good to Be True" (1978)

Here, it's the guitars that turn a fairly simple power pop song into a bit of a tour de force. Really unique and pleasant mixture of parts and tones, right through to the closing.

"Too Good to Be True" on Lala.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Shoes - "Too Late" (1979)

Such a period piece, and a very nice composition made great by the unusual vocal harmonies in the chorus.

"Too Late" on Amazon.

Friday, January 22, 2010

R. Stevie Moore - "Melbourne" (1976)

After the intro, a pleasant enough melange of sounds. First diversion is cut off after two bars and ends up functioning as a closing for the first (post-intro) section. When it comes back at 1:40 after the repeat, these same materials blossom into some kind of bold transcendence.

"Melbourne" on Lala.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Forever Amber - "Silly Sunshine" (1968)

True British Invasion-style compositional richness, but from 1968. Very moving to hear that essence, already lost at the time, preserved and delivered so beautifully.

From the album The Love Cycle.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bobak, Jons, and Malone - "On a Meadow-Lea" (1970)

The yin softness of a contained space. Graceful, even noble, movement ("Riding on a meadow-lea") within that space. Joy not just in light but in shadow.

"On a Meadow-Lea" on Lala.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Os Mutantes - "Desculpe, Babe" (1970)

Whatever genres this song may be said to evoke, it is an instance of bull's-eye compositional archetypicality: the great triumph of musicians managing in precisely that archetypicality to perhaps, in a small but profound way, say something for a whole culture, a whole people.

"Desculpe, Babe" on Lala.