Monday, December 16, 2013

Roberto Carlos - "Eu Te Darei o Céu" (1966)

Another structural marvel, with a chorus so good you've got to hear it six times.

A - solo guitar riff and intro chords (3+4 bars)
B - chorus (8 bars)
A' - intro chords - link (3 bars)
C - verse #1 (16 bars)
B - chorus (8 bars)
A' - intro chords - link (3 bars)
C - verse #2 (16 bars)
B - chorus (8 bars)
A' - intro chords - link (3 bars)
D - bridge (9 bars)
B - chorus (8 bars + 1 bar link)
B' - solo over intro chords (8 bars)
B - chorus (8 bars)
A' - intro chords - link (3 bars)
D - bridge repeat (9 bars)
B - chorus (8 bars)
A' - outro chords (4 bars)

Looks like seventeen parts to me. Even apart from the compositional brilliance, kudos once again to the musicians for memorizing this one.

Notice the unusual metric groupings. The parts I've labeled as "intro chords - link" are single measure alternations between the tonic and the relative minor chords, but the verse begins on what originally sounds like measure four of the link, on the relative minor chord.

Thus, the verse is off-kilter. And it doesn't resolve; at measure nine, a new melody asserts itself as though we are in a strong measure, but it doesn't feel like we are.

At nine bars, the bridge is also irregular, modulating to the parallel minor and progressing through a beautiful cycle of fourths back, as ever it seems, to that chorus.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Flock of Seagulls - "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)" (1983)

The three-note keyboard riff in this song proceeds as though the lowest note, Gb, is the root.

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Not only is it not the root, it's not even a chord tone. It's the fourth of the scale, a suspension.

When the notes then rise over the Eb minor chord, it's the third.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Schoolhouse Rock! - "Preamble" (1975)

The actual use of the text to the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution works as a sort of song within a song in this cartoon. As an entity unto itself, this short tune lasts about forty seconds and is heard twice (beginning at 0:45 and 1:55 in the video). The construction of the thing is quite beautiful.

There are 24 bars total, the first sixteen with a pattern of one chord and mostly one line of text over two bars of music. It looks like this:

We the people (I)
In order to form a more perfect union (IV)
Establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility (I to V)

Provide for the common defense (I)
Promote the general welfare and (IV)
Secure the blessings of liberty (I)
To ourselves and our posterity (V)

With only a few lines of text left, the tune now takes a turn. The melody is entirely new and the chords no longer hold for two bars each.

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Previously sticking to a limited tessitura with no note above G, the melodic line here skips up to the octave right when the chord changes for the first time without waiting for two bars. Text spills over into a four-bar phrase, and then a second one (broken in half) that manages a strong cadence with a real sense of conclusion that, despite the tune's real brevity, doesn't seem at all abrupt.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Dirtbombs - "It's Gonna Be Alright" (2013)

In a Spin piece, Mick Collins says of this track, "I listened to all five Archies albums with the specific aim of writing (a song) that sounded like an Archies song."

Apart from just sounding like the Archies (which I think it does), there are a couple of structural elements to this song that I wanted to point out. If these didn't come from Archies records, they certainly came from the vast, wider tradition in which pop songs do great and subtle things.

The song starts with a repeating riff, then switches to a vamp on the tonic chord and Collins starts singing. He sings the first line once, then it's repeated with a harmony vocal. It sounded like a verse was starting, but it's not; it ends there.

What is this? It is, I suppose, a refrain that is not a chorus. (I hear this and think, "I've heard this in a bubblegum song. Maybe more than one." I don't know which songs, though.)

After an instrumental section, the repeating riff comes back and now the verse starts as lines over the riff.

There are eight lines in these verses (two verses total in the song). You can understand why he did it that way; four lines over four utterances of the riff is too short. In the first verse, the second set of four lines aren't linked inextricably to the first four, but they are in the second verse where they extend the theme for a total number of eight lines.

To me, this is someone not taking the easy way out at all and is just real nose-to-the grindstone songwriting:

If you're feelin' bad
And you wanna scream and shout
Do this thing every day
That's really gonna help you out
Call some sunshine down
Let a little into your heart
Take the rest and spread it around
And that oughta do for a start

The album on which this song appears is being released next week and is currently streaming here.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Peppermint Rainbow - "Will You Be Staying After Sunday" (1969)

Apart from an intro line that repeats once and a bridge, this song also seems to be almost all chorus.

Call it perhaps a chorus that functions like a verse; it begins with a refrain line and then has different words that follow in each of its three utterances.

Is sixteen bars too long to call it a chorus? Maybe, but the last four bars are like an extension and are not even played the third time through.

Three utterances, that intro line that repeats once, and a bridge - I wonder how many other hit records from 1969 were under two and a half minutes.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hackamore Brick - "I Won't Be Around" (1970)

This song is only 1:35 and works almost as part of a medley with "And I Wonder" on the group's One Kiss Leads to Another album. The structure of the song is AABA, with two verses, followed by a bridge, and then a final verse.

The first verse is fourteen bars long and, seemingly accommodating the irregular set of measures, consists of three lines with no rhyming other than a nice internal one on line three ("Until then/You ain't no friend/Of mine").

Verse number two tags on a couple of measures at the end and a fourth line of text, but continues to forego line-ending rhymes.

The bridge starts off with another line sung as though it has an internal rhyme ("I can't pre-tend/You know what you're do-in'"). Four bars in, it then moves to the same B minor to F# minor chord progression that's heard in the very same spot in the verses.

Eight bars in we get the second half of the bridge, which looks like this:

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The phrasing of the words over the first four bars here sounds like it's following the pattern the song has established of having one line of text over four bars of music, but the same line seems to be continuing in bar number five.

The whole thing is ten bars long and the clever part is that they start the last four bar phrase on the F# minor chord, which in other parts of the song ends phrases rather than beginning them.

Notice that throughout the bridge, including the half-cadence at the end with the secondary dominant chord, they continue to refrain from rhyming. This is true of the fourth and final verse, as well.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

John Cale - "Macbeth" (1973)

I'll leave the guitar solo out for clarity's sake and diagram this song otherwise as AABCABC.

The A sections are verses and they're short - only four lines each. At first, you get two of them and then the B section, but it's not clear what the B section is. (This is the part that starts off with "And you know it's true/You never saw things quite that way.") It's certainly reasonable to call this section a bridge, but it's odd to get a bridge before you get to the chorus. The other alternative is to say that it's a chorus.

The C section ("Somebody knows for sure/It's got to be me or it's got to be you" etc.) is similarly ambiguous, catchy enough to be a chorus but didn't we just have one?

Given that both sections repeat after the third verse, I'm saying this song has two choruses.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles - "I Second That Emotion" (1967)

The second part of the chorus of this song looks like this:

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The first time it goes to the G major chord in measure two, there are two upper neighbor notes (F# and E) descending until it finally gets to the chordal tone.

The second time through the four-bar phrase, there is a melodic sequence sung at a higher pitch. On the A chord this time, G is sung as a blue note (a repeated minor seventh of the chord).

This quality is then echoed when the chord switches to G. Once again, there is an upper neighbor (A), but when it descends to F, it's sung as F natural.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Clash - "Train in Vain" (1979)

I wrote all of the lyrics to this down just so I could compare the verses. I honestly didn't know if they were all the same, but they are - twelve bars with the same chord progression each time.

There are a lot of words! Forty-four in the first verse, forty-four in the second, and a whopping forty-nine in the third and last. It's the contrasts in melodic contour with different syllable counts in particular spots of the verse that are so effective in this song. How many of them are real bigtime hooks?

"You say you stand/By your man."
"You said you loved me/That's a fact/Then you left me/Said you felt trapped."
"The heartaches hurt me 'til this da-a-ay."
"I've seen all my dreams come tumbling down."
"So, alone I keep the wo-olves at bay."
"Now I got a job/But it don't pay."

And the last couple of lines might be the sweetest, this time rhyming where they didn't rhyme before (with the two lines that precede them, making four rhyming lines in a row):

"But you don't understand my point of view/I suppose there's nothing I can do."

Friday, June 28, 2013

Paul and Linda McCartney - "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" (1971)

There's an octave and a half stepwise run in the first part of this song that looks like this:

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All is well when it lands on A (the fifth of the D chord) for the downbeat of the last bar, but it's a bit of a bumpy journey to get there. The offending note is the D over the C chord on the strong third beat of the previous measure. Listen to this on the recording and you will hear how dissonant it sounds.

It certainly took some discipline to sing this whole passage correctly. How it might have been composed is an interesting question.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Beatles - "P.S. I Love You" (1962)

What's what here? I'm going to disagree with Allan Pollack and analyze the structure as follows:

A - "As I write this letter" etc.
B1 - "Treasure these few words" etc.
B2 - "I'll be coming home" etc.
A' - "As I write this letter" etc. with slightly different chord progression
B1 - see above
A' - see above
B2 - see above (with added coda)

I have a tendency to think that A and B work together as two parts of a chorus. The B2 section seems to suggest otherwise, though, as the idea of a chorus with two parts where the second part is then repeated with new words feels like we are stretching the definition.

Can the B section really be considered a verse, though? It consists of only a single pair of rhyming lines and then the refrain of the title words. ("Refrain" tends to imply chorus or at least some suggestion of chorus to my thinking.)

The A section is certainly not a verse. It has the same words in each of its three utterances. Even though it ends with a perfect authentic cadence, it doesn't feel complete enough to be a chorus in and of itself. It's only eight bars long and consists of four lines of text with one rhyme (lines two and four).

Every time it's heard, it's followed by the B section (either B1 or B2). If B is indeed the second part of the chorus, then we are looking at a song here that is, in fact, all chorus.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Wings - "Listen to What the Man Said" (1975)

Sometimes, a given harmony can only be said to be a suggestion, a color that exists apart from a chord's function. The B sung in the verse here over the D major chord really makes the harmony in the first bar a B minor seventh. Nevertheless, the arrangement is grounded in D in the bass and the feeling is one of a dominant harmony, albeit with some kind of coloration.

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In the second bar, of course, the B implies a C major seventh harmony.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Martha and the Vandellas - "I'm Ready for Love" (1966)

Here's another one that falls in the "How did they memorize this?" category. Actually, it's only true of the lyrics, which you'd imagine were sung off of a lyric sheet. It would certainly be remarkable to learn that they did this one live!

What's difficult to remember? The verse in the song is 32 bars long. And there's three of them.

Seventy words in the first verse, seventy-one in the second, and sixty-seven in the third, all different. If she was memorizing this stuff, then Martha Reeves was ready for Shakespeare next.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Knickerbockers - "Lies" (1965)

What an incredible patchwork this song is! It's two minutes and forty-six seconds long and just constantly moving, maneuvering its way through eleven sections. Must have been a challenge to memorize!

The structure looks like this:

A - Verse #1
A - Verse #2
B - Chorus #1
C - Bridge
A - Verse #3
B - Chorus #2
A' - Solo (over verse chord progression)
B - Chorus #1 (repeat)
C - Bridge (repeat)
A - Verse #3 (repeat)
B - Chorus #2 (repeat, plus coda)

Of course, the verse structure is very short, with only two rhyming lines. The chorus is, too, but it's comprised of two distinct parts (the "Some day I'm gonna be happy" part and the "Lies, lies/Breakin' my heart" part). Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that it's heard four times over the course of the song, alternating between two different sets of words.

The bridge is also remarkable for its catchiness, which is on par with both the verse and the chorus. Catchy enough, in fact, that it's also heard twice in its entirety, sandwiched in between everything else.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Peter and Gordon - "I Go to Pieces" (1964)

C sharp, the sixth of E major, is a crucial pitch in this song. It's heard as the first note in the melody over the first two chords in both the verse and the chorus. Note that it's an appoggiatura (non-chordal tone) over both chords in the verse, though.

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The chorus is almost the same exact melody, so what distinguishes it as more of a hook than the melody in the verse? There's the appearance of the title words, of course, but it's also significant that C sharp is not an appoggiatura over the vi chord in the second measure.

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Finally getting that chordal tone as the first pitch over C sharp minor is more direct and grounds the song in its harmony. The grounding is emphasized by the fact it's also a longer pitch (a quarter note, as opposed to the eighth note in the verse) occurring on the strong downbeat.

*Note: Song written by Del Shannon and it also appears on his 1965 album 1,661 Seconds with Del Shannon.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Raspberries - "Ecstasy" (1973)

At eight bars, there's a sense that the verse of this song is truncated. It's not just the length, though; there's also an irregular lyric pattern with only three lines of text (thirteen syllables, five syllables, and eight syllables, with lines two and three rhyming) and there's no dominant prep chord either. They just go straight from iii to V at the end.

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The truncation adds to the rush to the chorus, which comes after only this one verse, at only thirty-four seconds into the song.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

of Montreal - "Requiem for O.M.M.2" (2005)

The chorus of this song has a pretty simple harmonic vocabulary of diatonic chords (I, ii, IV, and V) plus one blue chord (bVII), but the melody is quite unusual. The fact that it sounds fairly natural is remarkable and somewhat mysterious.

The first two phrases revolve around D#, the third of the scale. It's an odd tone for everything to be centered around because it's not a part of the ii (C# minor), IV (E major), or V (F# major) chords that we are hearing.

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The third phrase starts off on D# once again, but has to slip up a half-step to E when the A major chord is thrown in to avoid a tritone. E is a part of the A major chord, but the phrase goes up a pitch and then descends to B (a longer note on a strong beat), which is not.

The last phrase emphasizes D# on the downbeat once again over C# minor.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bruno Mars - "When I Was Your Man"/Justin Timberlake - "Mirrors" (2012)

Two current chart hits. The Mars song subverts rhyming expectations when line two of the verse doesn't rhyme with line one. This is nice in itself, but nicer still when he goes the extra mile and a half by (also unexpectedly) rhyming line three with line one and line four with line two.

The fifty-one second chorus in the Timberlake song strikes me as something utterly extraordinary. Its length, of course, is outrageous, but what a construction the entire thing is. There are two parts to it, but both occur over the same chord progression. The composers shape the sense of two distinct parts out of melodic configurations.

The first part consists of what are essentially eight lines of text, with line five rhyming with line one and line eight rhyming with line four. Lines six and seven involve a single, extended melody and are essentially one long line.

In the second part, you finally get the refrain line twenty-five seconds into the chorus. This section is more melodically concise, has more immediate rhyming, and repeats the refrain line at the end, creating a sense that it's truly a sort of chorus on top of a chorus.

As if all of this weren't enough, there's a combining of lines five and six as one long melodic passage, echoing the similar event in the first section even though these two parts are otherwise melodically distinct.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Three O'Clock - "When Lightning Starts" (1983)

I believe there's a ninth chord in this song on the dominant of B major. When played by barring the top three strings on the ninth fret of the guitar (if that is indeed what guitarist Louis Gutierrez is doing here), it's as though you're just extending the IV chord that precedes it by adding the sixth (E, G# and C#) or like the ii chord.

The bass outlines B-A-E-F# throughout both the verse and the chorus. A is played underneath a V/IV (B7) chord, so that makes for unusual stuff happening in two out of only four chords that are played for much of this song.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Who - "La La La Lies" (1965)

Two minutes and sixteen seconds:

1. No chorus, just a refrain line that comes at the end of each verse.
2. A bridge after two verses followed by a third verse with new words.
3. Key change and run through the I-IV-V verse chord progression in the new key one time to get revved up for the rest of the song.
4. Repeat verse one and verse three because they're so sweet. Magnify the sweetness with wordless background vocals on the last one.

That's an AABAAAA structure - an awful lot of As!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Laura Nyro - "Wedding Bell Blues" (1967)

There seems to be a casualness to how this song defies verse/chorus distinctions, as though it's just standard practice. It starts with what we might call the refrain of "Bill/I love you so/I always will," but it's not a refrain that stands by itself.* There's either liaison to the next section ("I look at you and see the passion eyes of May") or it's all one. What you might call this section is the question.

Really, it's all just verse, but if there's something like a chorus in the song, then this is it. The next section ("Oh, I was on your side Bill") is another verse segment. Up through this part, everything has been metrically square, in groups of four bars, but when you get to the "Kisses and love won't carry me" part, she cuts it off after two and makes liaison to the second long verse by ending on the first word of the refrain. The slight metrical disorientation contributes to the sense of falling heard in the melody, which subsequently settles once again into metrical squares.

The whole song consists of nothing but three of these go-arounds plus a coda.

 * This is particularly obvious in the second go-around, where the refrain is followed by a line starting with the word "and" - "And in your voice I hear a choir of carousels."

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Monkees - "Sometime in the Morning" (1967)

The verse in this song starts off with an eight bar section (tonic, ii chord, and iii chord harmonic vocabulary) that's straightforward enough. The second section has simple harmonies, too - I, IV, and V chords - but it's thirteen bars long. This supports an unusual word/rhyming structure:

Your love has shown me things I never thought I could see
I didn't know...
It could be done so easily - now I know
You're where it is for me

Coolest thing is when they take the last nine of these thirteen bars and stick them in again after the bridge, where they fit so perfectly, and where outfitting them with lyrics that are supposed to come at the beginning of the verse structure is so clever:

Sometime in the morning
You'll just reach out and she will be there
Close as the summer air