Thursday, June 14, 2012

Al Stewart - "Year of the Cat" (1976)

The question arises as to how the contrasting major key sections function in this otherwise minor key, wistful song. These modulations are a big part of the expansiveness of this almost-seven minute composition, but the way they contribute to the tone and theme of the song may not be immediately apparent.

The main one is heard three times - in the intro, solo, and closing. Each time, there's clearly a sense of emotional contrast and it does seem to have depth and a real relevance to the story. It's as though we're not just hearing of these scenes from the protagonist's life, but, like the protagonist, being swept away by them a bit. The movement in these sections is not only a simple shift from the home key of E minor to G major, but quite breathlessly to E major only four bars later, only to be pulled away and back into the home minor key almost immediately. The parallel in the story, of course, is that the protagonist will stay with the woman, but only for a time.

The return to the minor key is a pull back into the passing of mythological time as depicted in this song. So close to the tick-tock pulse of 120 BPM, time in "Year of the Cat" is framed by sadness over the knowledge of its finite context - one year, perhaps - and draped ultimately in that wistful E minor key to which it returns.

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