Hair Metal Chords

…aka “not even a fucking minor iv”.

From: Dan

To: Ian

By our usual metrics, can you think of any “hair metal” songs that are harmonically interesting? I loves me some hair metal, but it seems that things go right from the usual minor or mixolydian (mixolydian possibly being more common than major in hair rock?) (Ratt, Skid Row, Bon Jovi), to stuff you would call “non-chordal”, that borders on prog, like Extreme.

Footnote: once I picked up a pick from Pat Badger, the bassist for Extreme, after an Extreme show. That’s what was left after all the real fans crawled all over each other to get Nuno’s picks.

In any case, Google didn’t help much, but did turn up this article at, which I found pretty thoughtful. But it’s more about guitar interpretation than about underlying chord structure, and basically gives examples with a lot of I → bVII.

Continue reading to see what Ian comes up with… →

The NFL Rocks (a little less) on NBC

…and how the Sunday Night Football music failed to move the chains this year.

From: Dan

To: Ian

Ian, I’m sure you know this, because I know you totally give a crap about football… but for ~3 years the “Sunday Night Football” theme has been a cover of “I Hate Myself for Loving You”, with Faith Hill singing about football. Chords the same as the original, just up a half-step. I IV V in the verse (the same cool three-bar phrase as in the original), I IV V I in the chorus.

Hey jack it's a fact the show's back in town,
Cowboys and the Jets slugging pound for pound
The stadium's rocking, let's crank up the sound
[no fourth bar in the phrase, like the original, which is cool]

This year Faith Hill was replaced with Carrie Underwood, and for reasons I don’t understand, they changed the chords to always be a four-bar phrase by having her say “yeah” a little extra, then they changed the chords to I IV vi bVII. I’m writing the chords here in F for comparison, although this year it’s in F#.

Hey jack it's a fact the show's back in town, 
the Giants and and the Boys are about to throw down
The stadium's rocking, time to crank up the sound
[Eb]  [Bb]
Oooh, yea, totally unnecessary fourth bar, yeah-e-yeah
Continue reading to have your spirit crushed by chords in the new pre-chorus... →

“What Do They Have In Common?”, ep. 1

From: Ian

To: Dan

What do these songs have in common? If you go and listen you’ll figure it out right away.

Do you know any other songs that do this?

Continue reading to find out what Garbage, Soundgarden, and Rush all did... →

Kermit vs. Jason Mraz

…and other covers that make counterproductive changes.

From: Dan

To: Ian, Doantam

Ian will quickly identify his favorite chord in Kermit the Frog’s version of “The Rainbow Connection” as the secondary dominant (F#) in the chorus:

[Bm]          [E]          [C#m7]     [F#]
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection
    [Bm]        [E]         [A]
The lovers the dreamers and me

Here’s Kermit rocking the VI:

Jason Mraz, who re-popularized this song recently, changed the F# to a more predictable F#m, which should make Ian crazy:

Both versions are in A. Note that in the Jason Mraz video they clearly used random cuts of his hands strumming, so his hands don’t line up with the chords. But the chorus is clearly Bm E A F#m in the JM version, Bm E A F# in the Kermit version.

Continue reading to find out how Ian now feels about Jason Mraz... →

Alabama Song

…and the definitive “Doors chord transition”.

From: Dan

To: Ian, Doantam, Raja

Just listened to some Alabama Song. I can’t think of another song that does i → #vi (Am → F#m). I would think it would sound intolerable, but I actually think it works here, maybe because the instrumentation screams “weird on purpose”:

Show me the way to the next whiskey bar
[F#m]        [D]
Oh don't ask why

Ian, do you have another i → #vi?

I can think of lots of “not very happy” songs that do I → VI, but I’d usually call them both major.

Extra cool that it’s really Am Am F#m D (I like the IV in minor keys, though not especially unusual).

Also is it weird that my first instinct was to call this i → ♭♭vii instead of i → #vi? That’s how disoriented I am by this transition.

Continue reading for the only other i → vi we came up with... →

Some Bass Tones You Hear Sometimes

...a guided tour.

The great Duff McKagan once said something like “a bass player is doing his job when two different pieces of music sound different, and the audience knows it but really can’t explain it.” That largely sums up the fantastic anonymity of the bass, to all but bass players and prog fans. In fact the vast majority of music lovers have probably only noticed a song’s bass line just a few times, and have likely never thought about bass tone, which bassists of course spend many hours and many dollars crafting so they can — quietly and anonymously — influence the whole vibe of a song.

The main goal of this post is to give folks a a sense for the variety of bass sounds that permeate popular music, by presenting and discussing snippets of songs you probably already know. I’ve tried to choose clips where the bass is clearly audible, but in some cases you’ll have to work a little to really catch on to what the bass sounds like. Tip of the day: you don’t need fancy speakers to listen carefully to electric bass, but if you’re listening on a phone or tablet without headphones, save yourself a few minutes and stop reading now... electric bass is typically entirely inaudible on tablets and phones.

And I’m organizing the sounds I’ll discuss by putting them into a few categories (seven, to be exact). Of course, I understand it’s ridiculous to try to put all bass sounds in the universe into categorical buckets. Within the huge space of “electric bass for popular music”, I’ve tried to pick examples that highlight some of the canonical tones. In reality 99% of recorded bass is going to be somewhere in between the categories I lay out here. In engineering terms, I’m trying to lay out a basis for bass sound hear every day. A basis is a set of examples that describe some larger space, where everything in the larger space can be represented as a combination of the examples. So I’m not claiming that every bass sound I hear on the radio falls into one of these categories, but hopefully most can be described as somewhere in betwen these categories. Let’s call it a bassis (hahaha that was f’ing clever, no?). Also I’m only commenting on music I encounter in my rock/pop life; I have nothing at all to say about jazz or show tune bass. And even within my world, I’m focusing mostly on electric bass, and largely excluding synthesized bass, though I’ll include a few sampled/synthesized examples because sampled bass makes up such an important chunk of popular music (nearly everything in modern hip-hop and R&B).

And as best I can stick to this promise, this is not going to be “Dan’s top ten most awesome favoritest bass sounds”, though I’ll make no effort to hide my opinions. In fact, it turned out that there was a logical ordering of common bass tones moving roughly from my least favorites to my favorites, so that’s about what you’ll get. So with that said, crank it up, and let’s get started with a list of the basic tones that I’m going to discuss.

Continue reading if you're ready to rumble (literally)... →

Embedding Audio in WordPress with Sound Manager 2

This originally started as a test post, when I was trying to figure out a slick way to embed audio files in a WordPress post, with nice inline play controls. Sound Manager 2 is a great Flash/HTML5 hybrid audio player that just "does the right thing" depending on the visitor's browser, and offers lots of widgets for hosting audio files, so I settled on this as my player. I realized that others were also trying to figure out how to do this, so I'm cleaning up this post and leaving it up as a tutorial.

I'm going to show demos of the four "widgets" currently available as part of Sound Manager 2: the "360 UI", the "inline player", the "page player", and the "button player". The javascript and css files are hosted in a directory at my own Web page, and I'm pointing specifically to the "cross-domain" version of the swf file. You're free to use the URLs that I use in my demo, i.e. to link to the directory where I host the javascript, css, and swf files, but don't sue me if someday I move them. There's nothing magic about where I'm hosting them. Note that I have slightly customized the css for the individual players, i.e. the directory is not *exactly* just an unzipping of Sound Manager 2. But I haven't done anything special to make it work, other than unzipping the "cross-domain" version of the swf file.

So, game on, here are the four widgets:

The 360 player


The inline player


The page player


The button player

[mp3] Knockin' on Heaven's Door


I'm also linking off to a text file that contains exactly the content of my WordPress editor view, and an html file that does all of this in a standalone test page.

Happy playing!