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What's going on with chords in Pop music?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by moley, Oct 9, 2002.


  1. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Has anyone else noticed the distinct un-originality in chord sequences in pop songs at the moment? I'm talking UK boy/girl band pop in particular here. I reckon someone must have made some kind of rule that the chorus must always start I V and that must be followed by either IV, II or VI. And it is forbidden to stray outside of the key, except for the occasional IVm and possibly the chord on the flat seventh, followed by the mandatory dominant. I mean, I've heard so many pop songs of late that have a I V IV/II/VI chorus, *why*? It's so boring! And what's the craze for bastardising old songs to make new ones? I mean like Will Smith - Men In Black (basically Forget Me Nots), Gettin Jiggy With It (He's The Greatest Dancer IIRC), Just The Two Of Us (Just The Two Of US by Bill Withers), Wild Wild West (I Wish by Stevie Wonder). And when I heard what the Sugababes had done with Shape Of My Heart by Sting for their (!) song Shape I almost vomited.
     
  2. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    I agree! This is the reason why I find most pop music to be so nauseating.

    My theory as to why they do it is because most of their audience is non-musicians, who aren't going to recognize cliched stuff vs. non-cliched stuff. And it's catchy and (usually) sounds ok, so they're probably going with the KISS principle.

    Never mind the fact that the producer probably wrote the song... :(
     
  3. ldiezman

    ldiezman

    Jul 11, 2001
    Nashville
    Thats just it.. It pop music.. it isn't supposed to be incredibly difficult complete with secondary dominance and altered chords. So it doesn't bother me.. Now if they were trying to be artsy and claim how difficult the music was... then that would be different.

    Also..you made mention of Stevie Wonder.. Now I love me some Stevie Wonder, he is an excellent musician, but there are a good number of his songs that have a simple chord structure.. he does alot more with his songs than most pop bands of today, but I don't think you should get mad because someone uses a I IV ii vi progression....
     
  4. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    It's true what you say about the audience being non-musicians, but wasn't that always the case? I guess the reason is that nowadays bands are manufactured just to make money, rather than for artistic reasons. Still, you'd think the songwriters that are employed would want to create something genuinely good, not just cookie-cutter songwriting. But perhaps even the songwriters are just out to make money, not to write good songs. Still, I do think that non-musicians *can* recognise this in some way - obviously they wouldn't be able to identify that the chords I V are used so much, but I think they would perceive the boring sameness of the songs. Still, I don't think it can stay like this - it will change.
     
  5. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    'Difficult' and 'Artsy' are *not* the same thing if you ask me!! I've got nothing against simple songs - I agree about Stevie - he wrote some great simple songs, but they were original. It's not the simplicity of songs I'm talking about, it's the unoriginality - they're all doing the same thing!! Take the Beatles - Sgt Pepper wasn't that 'Difficult', but it was very artsy. And all music is art, including pop music.
     
  6. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    I agree with you 100%. What also comes to mind is that pop music is more about image than the music (this is also the case in other genres, but IMO more so in pop). In terms of writing catchy songs, it's far easier and less time-consuming (and therefore cheaper) to go with proven formulas (such as I's, IV's and V's) for hooks.

    Some people do notice the sameness of the songs, but bear in mind that lots of people are only listening to the singer; thus, if the singer (or lyrics) are different, the song won't sound the same to them.

    I hope you're right about change being on the way. Trends seem to swing back and forth between the technical and non-technical, so perhaps we'll see an upswing...
     
  7. You listen to radio, fine. You like to hear interesting, intelligent harmonies in music, fine.

    Expecting both at once is what puzzles me. You do know who owns the radio stations who play that stuff, right?

    Think they care about modulative complexity and harmonic variation in the stuff they pay to have spun on the radio? They just want to sell it.

    Go for albums. Modern radio will never satisfy you if you have the musical knowledge to be bored by fifty flaccid iterations of good ol' I IV ii vi. And of course, there's nothing wrong with I IV ii vi, or for that matter i VII IV VI V, or I III IV V or anything else, as long as there is harmonic variety and melodicism to keep things interesting.
     
  8. Do you honestly think that this is any different than it was, say, 30 years ago? Pop music dumbed down considerably with the advent, in the '60s, of rock and singer-songwriter folk-rock. There's a reason that serious jazz musicians stopped playing contemporary pop tunes at that point: popular song lost the harmonic meat it had once possessed.

    One consideration: a lot of pop vocalists, especially in the cookie-cutter Euro-boy-band genre, simply aren't good enough of musicians that they can change keys on the fly or sing over non-diatonic harmonies.
     
  9. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Thrash - I agree, it's become a kind of formula thing, playing safe by following these formulas - because it's a relatively surefire way to make a hit.

    A lot of acts at the moment are basically trying to copy the more successful ones (who *are* doing new things not following old routines) and thus obtain success of the back of them. You could argue it's always been like this - perhaps it has - but I've noticed much more of this now than there was say in the mid to late 90s. At the moment I see fewer people doing their own thing, not jumping on bandwagons - and I think in the past it has been these people who have had a lot of success. The Beatles, for instance were making the music they wanted to make, saying this is how it is, but at the moment a lot of bands/singers are kind of observing how others say it is, and going with that.

    BehindTheMoon - It's not really about what I'm expecting to hear, it's just what I've observed. I've been listening to the radio for a number of years, and this is what I've observed in recent times. And I do, by the way very much, go for albums, not the stuff they play on the radio!

    Peter - Yeah, I think it's different to 30 yrs ago - though it's speculation, because I wasn't around 30 yrs ago! In the early to mid 60s, the singles was still an artistic outlet in it's own right, the single was still an art form - rather than promotion for albums, which is what it has become. And I don't think pop music lost it's harmonic meat - to me The Beatles had plenty, and in the 70s there was the likes of Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel etc.
     
  10. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Where do the Beatles (60's), Stevie Wonder (60's forward), and Steely Dan (72-80) fit into this generalization?




    Edit: Whoops! I just noticed that MOLEHILL just asked the same questions. Pete? Whatcha got for us today?
     
  11. JimK

    JimK

    Dec 12, 1999
    I was around in the '60s...& IMO, it is very different today(& seems to be getting worse; I know already what you're thinking..."Keller is just getting old". Right?).

    Whatever-
    I recall the charts being a whole lot different back in the day...even a schmaltzy Pop tune like "Brandy"(The Looking Glass) had something(well PLAYED, well arranged, dynamics, etc...IMO).
    I dunno what station my parents used to play in the car-
    I do recall hearing bands like Chicago, BS&T, Sly, The Doors, Jackson 5, , Motown, Stones, Beatles, et al all over Pop radio & The Top-40.

    Hey Pete-
    Back in the '60s, some "serious" Jazzers still played Pop tunes-
    Coltrane's "My Favorite Things"
    Miles doing a C,S, & N tune(I'm drawing a blank on the title; it's on the Circle In The Round album).
    Eric Kloss doing Donovan's "Sunshine Superman".

    Too, in the '60s, there was an exchange going on between Jazz & Rock(Pop) musicians...something not so normal in the following decade(s).
     
  12. jazzbo

    jazzbo

    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    I would thrown Motown into the argument.
     
  13. You can't tell me that the Beatles wrote too many songs of a harmonic complexity equal to, say, a Harold Arlen or a Richard Rodgers. As sophisticated and beautiful as a "Blackbird" or "Something" is, it's not quite as dense as a "Have You Met Miss Jones?" or "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea." Same with Stevie Wonder, or Billy Joel, or Bruce Hornsby, or THE DAN. The latter three, particularly, did not fit in with the dominant musical trends of the day.

    Perhaps "dumbed down" was a poor choice of words; "simplified" would have been better.

    Moley's right, though: at this point in the musical cycle, there is quite a bit of sonic copycatting. It seems to be a five-year thing: a group comes in with a novel sound (Nirvana and Pearl Jam in '92, Korn and Limp Bizkit and the Backstreet Boys in '97, the Strokes and the White Stripes this year) and the next four years are filled with groups pursuing variations and/or copies of the sound. In the case of the last five years, though, the 1997-2000 period was one of apparently unparalleled economic growth in the West, and thus enormous purchase of records to which consumers would otherwise be indifferent; thus, copycat bands proliferated at an almost unbelievable pace.

    EDIT: OK, Aja weighs in favor of THE DAN. But how many other massively successful (gold plus) records that sound remotely like it came out in 1977, or in the 1970s at all? I mean, was Al Jarreau ever selling at the level of, say, Van Halen?
     
  14. Hategear

    Hategear Workin' hard at hardly workin'.

    Apr 6, 2001
    Appleton, Swissconsin
    I'm stoopid -- I don't even know what "I IV ii vi" means. My guitar-slinging neighbor doesn't know either and he's been playing guitar for thirty-some years! Help!
     
  15. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    I, IV, II, VI etc. refer to the chords on the degrees of the scale in roman numerals. E.g. in C major, I is chord 1 - C, IV is chord 4 - F, II is chord 2 - D minor, and VI is chord 6 - A minor, etc.
     
  16. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Actually, much of the Beatles' later stuff was far MORE harmonically complex than "Miss Jones" as far as I'm concerned. Ditto Steely Dan's arrangements from the middle and late periods. You want harmonic complexity? Check out "The Caves of Altimira" and other songs from the ROYAL SCAM and AJA periods. The difference is that the Beatles and Steely Dan's **** was all arranged rather than improvised - although I think we can all agree that the session players who recorded the solos on those records did one hell of a job.
     
  17. Hategear

    Hategear Workin' hard at hardly workin'.

    Apr 6, 2001
    Appleton, Swissconsin
    Thanks, moley! That seems simple enough. Sometimes, the diarrhea eludes me.*









    *The simple stuff is easily overlooked.
     
  18. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    Was the song in question "Guinevere"?
     
  19. Read my "EDIT" section. Nobody was touching those records for sophistication.

    Oh, and I still can't believe Steve Gadd did "Aja" in one take. I mean, holy crap. That song is insane.
     
  20. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    RALLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!