Ever Ever After

From: Dan

To: Ian

This song has an unusual structural property:

At least I can’t think of another song with this structural property.

If you hate the song so much you can’t bear to listen to it, I’ll just tell you, but if your wife is having a baby right now, that’s no excuse not to give your full attention to this thread.

Continue reading to find out (another) cool thing a Disney princess song does… →

Parenting Advice from the Doctor of Rock

…battling the harmonic wasteland of kids music.

From: Dan

To: Ian


Since you’re about to become a father, I think it’s time for us to have “the talk”. The one where we prepare you for empty chasm of harmonic complexity in which you’re going to live for the next 6-14 years. Right now, you’re probably under two incorrect impressions:

  1. “My child and I are not going to listen to silly kids music, he/she is going to be raised only on [The Beatles / Radiohead / Bach / insert your own dreams and aspirations here], and I will fully avoid exposure to songs about ladybugs who eat ice cream.”
  2. “I know kids music is simple and dull, but it can’t be that bad.”
Continue reading to have these impressions de-bunked, and to find cause for optimism…→

Melody/Harmony Ambiguity

From: Dan

To: Ian, Raja

Today’s challenge (for which I have no answer):

Think of a pop/rock song with two vocal parts where at least 30% of listeners would disagree with the other 70% about which part is the melody/lead. Call/response not allowed, needs to be simultaneous harmony vocals. Octaves not allowed either (though I can’t think of a clear case where that’s an issue).

Continue reading for our best shots at this (then tell us yours, because we’re very unsure about our answers…) →

Saving All My III For You

…how Whitney avoids the chords, and thus avoids not blowing my mind.

From: Ian

To: Dan

Today’s song with basically perfect chords:

I can’t remember if this amount of jazziness bothers you; for me it’s a reasonable amount. I hear the verse chords as I → vi → ii → V:

A [A]few stolen [F#m]moments is [Bm]all that we [E]share
[A]You've got your [F#m]family and [Bm]they need you [E]there. 

…with some 7s, 9s, 11s, whatever.

The pre-chorus throws in a couple nice vi → II changes:

Though I [F#m7]try to res[B7]ist being 
[F#m7]last on your [B7]list,
But [A]no other [F#m7]man's gonna [G#m7]do [C#7b5]

…where clearly the III7b5 at the end is the best chord in the song.

The chorus takes us back to a familiar IV → iii → ii → V → I:

So I'm [Dmaj7]saving [C#m7]all my [Bm7]love [E]for [Amaj7]you

The bridge is pretty great too:

[G#m7]You used to [C#]tell me, we'd [F#m7]run away together
[Bm7]Love gives you the [E]right to be [Amaj7]free.
You [D#7]said be [G#]patient, just [C#maj7]wait a little longer
But [Bm7]that's just an old fanta[E]sy

If you’re keeping track of non-diatonics, that’s two III’s, a #IV, and a a VII.

Summary of quality things that happen:

  1. I never object to a vi → II.
  2. That III7b5 going into the chorus. None of the transcriptions I can find online even mention the b5 in this chord, which makes me sad. I also don’t quite know whether to call it a b5 or a #11 or what the difference is.

Continue reading to debate whether Ian's favorite III7b5 is even the most awesome thing about this song... →

Major/Minor Ambiguity

…Hall & Oates leave us wondering where our third is.

From: Ian

To: Dan

Here’s a song with what I consider to be simple but high-quality non-diatonic chords:

Let’s start with the chorus, because it’s easier:

Because your [C]kiss, your kiss, is on my list
Because your [Eb]kiss, your kiss, is on my list
Because your [F]kiss is on my list, of the best things in [C]life

This is clearly in C, so it’s I bIII IV I. Something simple I can get behind.

Here’s the verse:

My [Cm]friends wonder why I call you all of the time
What can I [Fm]say
I [Ab]don't feel the need
To [Bb]give such secrets a[C]way

This verse seems to start in C minor and end in C major! I think a while ago I wrote something about songs that exist somewhere in between a major key and its relative minor (like the verses of One Headlight, or Just What I Needed), but the verse of Kiss on My List exists somewhere between a major and its parallel minor!

I guess you could say the verse is in Cm, and ends with a Picardy third. But then there would be a key change, and I’m reluctant to call the transition from verse to chorus a key change. Alternatively, you could say the verse is in C, but the C major chord is jarring enough that I’m reluctant to call it the tonic.

I guess harmony is something that defies strict classification.

One could also consider the bIII, bVI, and bVII chords (my favorite ones) as coming from the parallel minor of a major key, so maybe this isn’t as interesting as I first thought. But actually playing the minor i seems less common.

Unfortunately, the instrumental guitar part later in the song is terrible.

Continue reading to discuss the compositional genius behind the horrific computer-generated drums... →

What’s That Chord… what’s that chord… it’s iv!

…breaking down the theme(s) to “New Girl”.

From: Dan

To: Ian, Raja, Doantam

Clearly my favorite chord in the 21-second New Girl theme song is the iv, as in IV→iv:

[C] Hey [A]girl, [F] whatcha [G] doing?
[C] Hey [A]girl , [F] where you [G] going?
[F] Who's that girl?
[Fm] Who's that girl?
It's [C]Jess!

The substitution of VI (A) for vi (Am) in the usual I→vi→IV→V pattern is nice, but I’ll take the iv any day as my favorite chord here.

In fact it’s so obviously the best chord that after season 1, they started airing it as just a 5-second version of the theme that’s only IV→iv→I, which isn’t explicitly on YouTube, but it’s literally just this:

[F] Who's that girl?
[Fm] Who's that girl?
It's [C]Jess!

If you like IV→iv, and you know I do, this is as close as we’re ever going to get to a song that’s 100% IV→iv.

Interestingly, pilot episodes are always a little rough around the edges, and the IV→iv was added after the pilot episode, because clearly what the show needed was more IV→iv. Here’s the IV→iv-less pilot theme:

The full song (longer than the TV-theme version) actually has all sorts of other good chords, including a dusting of II (D), and… wait for it… wait for it… wait a little longer… I→I7→IV→iv! Huzzah! It all comes back to I→I7→IV→iv.

My transcription below, non-diatonics highlighted as always.

Continue reading if this hasn't been enough analysis of a 21-second song and you need the full transcription... →

On The Origins of I → I7 → IV → iv

…with long digressions about sneaky-complicated ‘60s pop songs.

From: Ian

To: Dan, Raja, Doantam

I want to know the origin of I → I7 → IV → iv. I have a vague sense that a lot of songs do it, but I can’t come up with any besides “Desperado”.

Dear Prudence” is sorta close, as is the end of the chorus in “I Saw Her Standing There”.

     [G]   [G9]               [C]          [Cm7]
Desperado,      why don't you come to your senses

(For this thread, let’s just say “G9” is in the class “G7”.)

Continue reading to be inundated with I→I7→IV→iv's... →

Royally Ambiguous

…the battle between V→IV→I and I→bVII→IV.

From: Dan

To: Ian, Jeff

The Wikipedia page for “Royals”:

…currently has this self-conflicting (and grammatically incorrect) statement:

I intend to rectify this obscenity, but want to first small-group consensus on which of the two options are preferred. Chords:

...gold teeth, grey goose, trippin' in the bathroom
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin' the hotel room,
[C]                          [G]
We don't care, we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams.

I strongly lean toward:

…but in the score-with-minimum-accidentals sense, I would probably let it slide with:

Continue reading to see how we resolved this calamity… →

Non-Diatonic Melody Centers

…they feel so wrong, they feel so right.

From: Dan

To: Ian

Today’s challenge: songs where an “important” part of the melody (so no passing notes or notes you could drop without anyone caring) goes non-diatonic when the chords are still basically doing sensible diatonic things, and even better cases where crazy but important melody notes blatantly disagree with the underlying chord.

I was thinking about this when I was listening to “Heartache Tonight”, where the song is clearly in G and is a pretty traditional chord progression, but the note that really defines the melody in the chorus (and really defines the song), and is held for a good long while, is Bb:

In this case, at the beginning of the chorus, it’s more or less over a C7 (though it’s mostly only C7 *because* of the melody), so it’s not crazy talk, though still unusual. Later in this particular chorus (the second chorus), he really insists on the Bb over a bunch of other chords, still clearly in G:

                   [G]                    [G7]               
There's gonna be a heartache tonight, the moon's shining bright
   [C7]                     [Eb]
So turn out the lights, and we'll get it right

An even more pronounced example is “Long Tall Sally”, which may get by under the heading of “he’s just screaming his head off”, but the whole song is basically Bb in the melody over a G major chord:

I suppose you could argue that the instrumentation while the melody is playing is so sparse that we could disagree on whether it’s G major, but the song is pretty clearly in G major, and it’s clear that if we were playing this right now and forced to play a third, we’d all play a B (suggesting G major).

Continue reading for more singers making wrong notes sound awesome… →