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.