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.