Vivek Maddala

Vivek Maddala

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Hi thegue, The original Prince version (and the Family version) does not contain the key change going in to the chorus -- so the entire song stays in the same key. Furthermore, he doesn't use neutral or variable thirds the way Sinead does -- so it lacks the aching quality of Sinead's recording. Prince's version is in B Major and follows the same verse pattern as Sinead's, but at the end of the verse he does something really cool: he plays a bVII chord -- an A9 -- and here he does indeed bend the 3rd down to D natural, creating a marvelous bluesy sound. Unfortunately, the chorus that follows is rather underwhelming. My main issue with Sinead's version is the fourth chord she uses in the verses. The verse chords follow the following pattern: F, C/E, Dmin7, F, C9. (In the last iteration before each chorus, she goes to A7 after the Dmin7, setting up the key change.) You can see that the first three chords walk down diatonically in F, but then, weirdly, the progression returns to F Major for the fourth chord, breaking the flow and returning "home" in the middle of the verse. This has always felt amateurish to me -- like they didn't know where to go next, so they just went home. The solution is very simple: the fourth chord should be an F/C (or second inversion of the F Major chord). It keeps the same character as the F in root position, but has a forward momentum that feels unresolved. Then for the C9 that follows, the bass note is already there and can continue pedaling under the chord change. From a "voice-leading" perspective, I think it works better than what's in Sinead's recording. Try it out and tell me what you think. In Prince's version, he doesn't use the I-->V cadence at the end of each verse cycle. Instead, he employs an awkward iii-IV-V-IV-iii-ii line that feels heavy-handed and jejune. (Later in the song, he uses the iv6 chord -- which is an Emin6 in the key of B, which is pretty cool. But the recurring motif still feels tedious to me.) What do you think?
Thanks Link! I find it exciting to rediscover these songs from my childhood (many of which I had forgotten) and to comment about them here. And I thoroughly enjoy reading your and others' comments on the music. Sometimes I worry that my comments might come off as self-indigent or pedantic, so I'm glad you don't read them that way.
Yes. Great observation. (I described this as well in my comment right above yours.) :-) Sinead's use of dissonance helps keep the song from being too "pretty" -- and I think it imparts a sense of longing, pain, and heartbreak that mirrors what's in the lyrics. It's a very effective (and affecting) amalgam of consonance and dissonance.
I hadn't heard this song in years, but listening to it now I like it a lot more than I had remembered. It's really quite exquisite. Here are a couple of notable things about the composition and performance of "NC2U": (1) Sinead's use of the "neutral third" and the related "blue note" are superb. In Western harmonic theory, common triadic chords usually consist of these three notes: 1, 3, and 5, which correspond to scale degrees. If the "3" is two whole tones apart from the "1," it's a Major third interval and the chord is "Major." If the "3" is one-and-a-half tones away from the "1," then it's a minor third interval and the chord is "minor." However, there's a concept known as the "neutral third" -- which is neither Major nor minor, but somewhere in between. It can be very evocative, especially in blues and rock music. A great example is Aretha Franklin's vocal performance in "Respect." Traditional Arabic music uses neutral thirds as well, as does a lot of American folk music. Some 20th-Century composers like Charles Ives also experimented with neutral thirds. Sinead uses the neutral third all over the place in "NCTU." For example, when she sings the line, "I go out ev'ry night and sleep all day," you can hear that she sings an A natural on the word "night" -- but she bends that note down in pitch almost to A flat. The chord she's singing over in an F Major, yet the resulting melody is in neither Major nor minor, but a little of both. I think it's totally rad and it's one of the best things about the song. Without Sinead's use of the neutral third, the song would probably sound boring and dirge-like. It's Sinead's tasteful and surprising "note bending" of the third that gives the song its edge. She also employs the famous "blue note" -- a concept related to the neutral third. The blue note is the use of a flat 3 (minor third interval relative to the 1) over Major chord, or a flat 5 (tritone interval) over a minor chord. At the end of the chorus, Sinead sings the line, "nothing compares 2 u" over the chords Dmin and Dmin/C. The phrase "2 u" contains the notes Ab and G -- which are the flat 5 and 4 of D minor. Those notes are also the #5 and 5 of C Major (which is really the chord that resolves the end of the chorus). Like with Sinead's use of the neutral third, her hitting blue notes in the chorus imparts a character that's both edgy and haunting. The song itself is very simple, so these melodic vocal gestures go a long way in breaking the song out of it's strict diatonic mold. It's striking, and it's so good. (2) The song's verses are in F Major, but at the end of each verse there's a deft use of a secondary dominant chord that functions as an unusually sort of pivot point into the chorus, in which the key center shifts up a perfect 4th to the key of Bb. For example, when Sinead sings "nothing can take away these blues," the chord underneath is an A7 -- which is the "V of vi" in the key of F, or a secondary dominant chord. But instead of modulating to D minor, as would be implied by the A7, the song lands on a totally unexpected Eb Major chord (the IV chord in Bb) -- a tritone away from the A7. It creates a surprising and amazingly effective lift into the chorus. The most poignant part of the song, to me, is second line of the chorus, when it goes to the iii (minor 3) chord in Bb -- which is the D minor. It's an unlikely modulation, but it feels satisfying -- and exquisitely heartbreaking -- from a harmonic standpoint. The lyrics serve only to amplify the emotion. And it's at the end of this phrase that Sinead deploys that haunting blue note I described above. I have some small quibbles with the song compositionally, but I won't get into them now. Anyone have other thoughts on this?
I was in high school when "Opposites Attract" came out, and I remember having no interest in it at the time. But hearing it now for probably the first time in 30 years, I'm finding it oddly compelling. Tom wrote that it's hard to judge this song as a piece of music. I disagree. The song's production style is harsh and cacophonous, but I think the underlying composition is actually kind of cool. The song is in C Dorian mode, and the Cmin-->Bb--F/A chords under the line "we come together 'cause opposites attract" are pretty great. This is what gives that hook its memorable character. If you can get past all the annoying production elements, you might find that it's not a badly crafted tune. In one of the verses, Paula Abdul sings, "I take it easy," and then he sings "baby I get upset" -- over an Amin7b5 (or A7-half-diminished) chord with a bass line that walks up diatonically in C dorian. How often do you hear that kind of tasty harmonic movement in a silly dance/pop tune like this? The composition is actually pretty subtle -- which makes it hard to hear under all the noisy production. Oliver Lieber's choice to write the song in Dorian mode was smart. The minor tonality gives the song a bit of an edgy flavor, but the raised/natural 6th scale degree (the A natural) makes it feel light and fun. The resulting juxtaposition of the "C minor" and "F Major" tonality serves the song well. [For reference, a few other songs that use Dorian mode include "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk, "Blinding Lights" by The Weeknd, "Mad World" by Tears for Fears, and "So What" by Miles Davis.] Regarding the music video: the animation was done by Chris Bailey, who was at Disney at the time. He's now at Warner Bros. and has been doing the new "Scooby Doo" show. I got to know him a couple of years ago when he hired me to perform, record, and produce the theme song for the new Scooby show (after hearing my scoring work on "The Tom and Jerry Show"). I guess in a circuitous way, that brings us back to Paula Abdul and Gene Kelly. It's funny when all these different threads connect.
You rang? Ha! Yeah, "All the Things You Are" is a great Jerome Kern song. Like "Autumn Leaves," which Link mentioned, it's mostly based on Circle of Fifths relationships. "All the Things You Are" has a really cool feature: it uses "mediant modulation" to reorient the key center to the Major III chord (by way of a secondary dominant chord). So it starts in Ab at the beginning and then resolves at the end of the first section to C Major. Then for the next section, it shifts to C minor (the relative minor to Eb Major) and winds its way around the Circle of Fifths to Ab, and uses a secondary dominant pivot to land in G Major (the Major III of Eb Major). Pretty cool pattern, I think. The melody mostly hits 3rds and 7ths of each chord, so it clearly expresses the character of each chord without ambiguity. Like a lot of jazz standards that use the ii-V-I cadence, "All the Things You Are" is a great case study in functional harmony. I'm glad you brought up this song in the context of today's number one hit, "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" -- because that song also uses ii-V-I pivot cadences to modulate keys (like from Bb in the verse to Eb in the chorus). [For the record, I don't like Michael Bolton's recording of the song, but I think the songwriting itself is pretty good.]
"I think if Phil Collins can stay involved all problems can be solved." Ha! Yes, absolutely. And thanks for indulging me with this engrossing thread!
Speaking of getting through the 80s, here's my favorite 80s parody ever (and probably my favorite Simpsons intro ever). You all probably already know this clip well, but in case you haven't seen it, enjoy! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZu5iDTtNg0
Yeah, that song is pretty amazing, huh? Over the last few years, I've had to defend that song numerous times from criticism by friends of mine who scoffed at its corniness. I do admit the song is corny, but it's also awesome. Both things can be true. I think Rick Beato did a pretty good job of showing the chord changes, so I don't know that I can add much there. But I have often wondered what motivated Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (the songwriters) to use such audacious modulations -- in the context of a love song, of all things. Maybe it was like an exercise to see if they could make a catchy pop song using an incredibly unintuitive and complex musical architecture? I'm reminded of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" -- which he composed specifically as a kind of etude: a challenge to himself, requiring him to solo over an unlikely set of harmonic leaps (or "giant steps"). He had to devise melodic lines that sound musical and intentional and that make sense across that weird chord progression. That was the difficult task he created for himself, and many of us today recognize that Coltrane's act of creating it was itself a triumph. To this day, soloing over "Giant Steps," making a coherent melody over those changes at that tempo, is like a musical equivalent of scaling Mt. Everest. If this is what Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil were trying to do with "Never Gonna Let You Go," I think they succeeded. I enjoy the song simply for the listening experience, but I also admire the creativity and adventurism that undoubtedly went into creating it. It's cool to think there was a time when that level of musicality was not only tolerated but celebrated in pop music.
AdaminPhilly, thanks for the thoughtful comment. I don't think it's Pollyannaish to believe things can improve. On the contrary, I think it's crucial that we recognize that things can improve. I do have to disagree with you about the trends in world hunger -- the notion that it has gotten better. Anthropologist Jason Hickel at the London School of Economics and Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, among others, have independently demonstrated that the opposite is true. While the UN has been touting that its poverty reduction programs have cut global poverty and hunger in half since 1990, Jason Hickel, in particular, has shown how the UN has been cooking the books in order to make this claim -- using misleading and even intentionally inaccurate data. In reality, around 4 billion people (over half of the world's population) remain in poverty, and around 2 billion (a quarter of the world) remain hungry -- more than any previous time in history. Also, the once-popular perception that Norman Borlaug and the so-called "Green Revolution" were beneficial for humanity has been unravelling. Scientists, nutritionists, and environmentalists have been increasingly critical of the Green Revolution for having caused more harm than good -- due to the shift to large-scale monoculture and input-intensive farming, GMO-based practices, and non-sustainable and socially devastating farming methods. Indian scholar Vandana Shiva has written about this extensively, as have economists like Manfred Max Neef, showing how Borlaug's work has actually caused more deaths than it purportedly prevented. In any case, I agree with you that change is possible. In fact, it's imperative. As odd as it may seem to have this conversation on what is supposed to be a music-centric forum, I'm glad we're having it -- and I appreciate engaging with you. :-)

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