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5.   Discussion


5.2.1   Harmonic Language

Chord/s Nature’s Best Rolling Stone

I 36.4% 32.8%

IV 20.2% 22.6%

V 13.7% 16.3%

bVII 6.5% 8.1%

Primary (I, IV, V) 70.3% 71.7%

Table 5.1 Nature's Best and Rolling Stone Harmonic Distributions1

To further confirm similarities between the data, the minor submediant, vi, was the fifth most common harmony in Nature’s Best songs; all harmonies with a submediant root were the fifth most common of the Rolling Stone corpus.

These results can be compared again to Temperley’s earlier statistical analysis of classical music harmony.2 His analysis of excerpts from Kostka and Payne’s theory textbook Tonal Harmony revealed tonic and dominant harmonies to be used more often (40.9% and 22.3%, respectively), subdominants much less frequently (6.8%), and the major flattened seventh almost never (0.6%).

Furthermore, supertonic harmonies score higher at 8.8%.

Of particular note are the different roles of the subdominant between classical and popular music. When Temperley analysed Ic chords as V, it emerged that IV was succeeded most often by I and almost as frequently, by either II or V.3 Thus, he argues IV had three main functions in classical music: as part of a plagal cadence, as part of a tonic expansion (I-IV-I) and as a dominant approach chord. Changes from IV to II are chord substitutions that retain the dominant approach function. One can infer from Temperley’s data that these three functions account for around 80 percent of subdominant harmonies.

In popular music, the presence of IV is significantly higher and II somewhat lower, suggesting that the same functions do not reveal the full harmonic picture. For example, in Nature’s Best, ii and II have proportions of 3.85% and

1 From Trevor de Clercq and David Temperley, “A Corpus Analysis of Rock Harmony,”

Popular Music 30, no. 1 (2011), 60.

2 The following discussion of classical music harmony, unless otherwise stated, is taken from David Temperley, “A Statistical Analysis of Tonal Harmony,” from

http://www.theory.esm.rochester.edu/temperley/kp-stats/ (accessed 15 November 2011).

3 This is because Ic is often considered to be an expanded V harmony.

2.17%, respectively. Compared to the norms of classical music, supertonic harmonies often appeared in capacities other than dominant approach chords.4 The major supertonic chords are still used as applied dominants, such as in

‘Better Be Home Soon’ or ‘Blue Smoke,’ or as a passing chord between I or V and IV, as is heard in ‘Down In Splendour,’ ‘Blue Lady’ and ‘In The

Neighbourhood.’ The latter function supports the voice-leading 5-#4-4. But also frequently, II concludes a phrase as what Everett describes as a “dead-end colour chord.”5 Neil Finn favours this technique in ‘Message To My Girl’ and the instrumentals of ‘Better Be Home Soon’ and ‘I Got You.’ The same can be heard briefly in ‘Slice Of Heaven.’

Further analysis would be required, but one can reasonably postulate that the subdominant also serves as more than a dominant approach chord in popular music. A number of examples confirm the traditional approach function, such as

‘Not Given Lightly,’ ‘Loyal,’ ‘Sway,’ ‘I See Red’ or ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over.’

But other examples suggest IV holds greater significance in relation to V in popular music.

‘Whaling’ is built upon I-V-IVb; ‘How Bizarre’ repeats I-V-IV; ‘Lydia’

progresses I-vi-iii-IV in the verse and I-V-vi-IV in the chorus; and ‘Venus’

descends I-Vb-bVII-IV. This observation is supported by de Clercq and Temperley’s findings regarding common three-chord progressions in popular music. The combined total of VI-IV-I, bVII-IV-I and V-IV-I progressions far exceed the combination of IV-V-I and II-V-I progressions.6

The results from both studies confirm the fundamental harmonic principle of

“tonicity”7 common to classical and popular music harmony. Middleton argues that the tonic is prolonged through “structures of harmonic difference.”8 The term “prolonged” is specific to Schenkerian analysis, but the basic premise is

4 Temperley found II was followed by V approximately two-thirds of the time.

5 Walter Everett, The Foundations of Rock (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 278.

6 De Clercq and Temperley, “A Corpus Analysis of Rock Harmony,” 63.

7 Richard Middleton, Studying Popular Music (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1990), 196.

8 Ibid., 196.

appropriate; that is, the tonic chord is the most important within the harmonic hierarchy.

The harmonic analysis suggests that the next level in the hierarchy is much more contested in popular music than classical music. Whereas the latter contains an inherent “V-I bias,”9 the subdominant is often treated as a harmonic focal point in popular music, as evident in the examples provided above. This observation was also supported in Section 4.2.5 on cadences, where it was noted that perfect and plagal cadences occur roughly as frequently at the end of choruses.

Cadences from bVII and bIII to I were common enough to argue that the V-I, and by extension leading-note/tonic relationship does not axiomatically define popular music harmony.10

In further support, tonicizations and modulations avoided the dominant as an alternate key area. In terms of tonicizations, the flattened leading-note was explored as frequently as the dominant, while the subdominant and tonic minor were more common. Only two songs modulated to the dominant. More often, the music modulated to parallel keys or in seconds or minor thirds. ‘Tears,’ for example, contains five modulations with not one by a fifth. The sum of these observations is that there remains a harmonic hierarchy in popular music, however, it is articulated differently from classical music.

The implications of this argument were considered in Chapter 2. From a methodological standpoint, Schenkerian approaches must be adapted so to incorporate other structural harmonic relationships. Lori Burns outlines a way forward for analysts by combining different Schenkerian-based graphs, each of which reveals some aspect of the harmonic structure.11 Although Burns only analyses one song, Tori Amos’ ‘Crucify,’ the framework is flexible enough that other songs could be admitted.

9 Ibid., 196.

10 See Allan Moore, “The So-Called ‘Flattened Seventh’ in Rock Music,” Popular Music 14, no.

2 (1995), 187.

11 See Lori Burns, “Analytic Methodologies for Rock Music,” in Expression in Pop-Rock Music:

Critical and Analytical Essays, 2nd ed., ed. Walter Everett (New York: Routledge, 2008), pp. 69-71.

The more important implication concerns interpretation. Everett was criticised in Chapter 2 because his analysis of ‘Soma’ equated tonic and dominant harmonies with harmonic stability with listener relief, in a context that,

arguably, did not justify such an explanation. There is little doubt the dominant-tonic relationship can signal closure, security and stability to listeners in certain contexts. But this effect cannot be accepted a priori as normative, because the evidence suggests the V-I relationship is not normative in popular music.

One cannot argue the converse position either — songs without a V-I relationship lack the aforementioned qualities. There is nothing to prevent Everett hearing the music as he does, but his “critical argument,” to return to Scruton, is not sound. Moore tentatively suggests various modes and their cadences have attentive qualities, such as the “nonetheless” quality of the Aeolian cadence bVI-bVII-i12 or the “illusory possibility of escape” contained in the raised Dorian sixth.13 But as Moore also states, “This hermeneutic construct is yet to be empirically tested.”14 Although this study has not carried out the empirical testing sought by Moore, it is clear bVII and, especially, IV are used in popular music to effect harmonic closure. Thus, one must critically examine songs on their merits, rather than fit them into rigid frameworks. This is a challenge for the popular music analyst, but can lead to greater interpretative rewards.