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4.   Analytical Findings


4.3.1   Melodic Contour

cadence. The minor subdominant, to some ears, may convey a sense of open-endedness as it does not resolve to the tonic. Throughout the song, the narrator has addressed her partner, having caught him cheating with the titular “Lydia.”

Songwriter Julia Deans said the lyrics depict the gamut of emotions felt by someone in the narrator’s position, ranging from “oh right” to “no that’s fine” to

“how dare you” to the despairing “but why…”29 The final unresolved chord, perhaps, leaves the story unfinished with the listener unknowing as to the relationship’s fate.

Deans, however, wanted the song’s ending to signal the relationship’s end and felt the minor chord would deliver this finality better than returning to the major tonic harmony. This is a departure from classical music principles in which the tonic is equated with closure. That said, the minor subdominant had previously been heard in the bridge where the narrator is at her most furious. The A minor harmony, therefore, provides a subtle connection between sections, replicating the singer’s state of mind at each point.

Finally, ‘There Is No Depression In New Zealand’ has already been mentioned in terms of its inventive harmonic structure. Consequently, the final cadence, in all its bizarre glory, should be expected. Although ‘in’ E major, the song ends on F# major. The final cadence, however, is harmonically divorced from the local tonic, as the guitarist punches D#-D-C-F# in syncopated triplets. In relation to E, the chords read VII-bVII-bVI-II; in relation to F#, VI-bVI-bV-I. Either way, the Roman numerals are non-sensical and somewhat pointless given the song’s harmonic anarchy.

between the categories. One method considered was to match each category with an interval — i.e. a static melody had to remain within a major third, or an arch melody had to rise and fall at least a fifth. This option was discounted because it fails to account for what one could call “melodicity,” to borrow Stefani’s term.30 Middleton points out that different melodic shapes can be represented graphically, but are better “‘felt’ as kinetic patterns.”31 Musical intuition, rather than notation, has, therefore, been used as a primary tool for this analysis.

The melodic contours were analysed separately in each of the four main song sections: Verse, Pre-Chorus, Chorus and Bridge. This is in line with Burns’

assertion that popular songs often employ different melodic and harmonic shapes in different sections.32 The results are outlined in Table 4.10.

Melodic Shape Verse Pre-Chorus Chorus Bridge

Ascending 4 3 3 12

Descending 22 4 21 11

Arch 49 7 59 14

Axial 9 1 6 2

Static 12 1 7 5

Table 4.10 Frequency of Melodic Shapes

In some cases, it was possible to differentiate between upwards and downwards arches — compare the verses of ‘Four Seasons In One Day’ and ‘Not Given Lightly’ — although other melodies rose and fell within the same section, such as ‘Words.’ To avoid complications, these melodies were all categorised under


A further issue was the difference between phrase shapes and sectional shapes.

In ‘Message To My Girl,’ for example, the verse is fragmented into two-bar phrases, each an arched arpeggio figure. In terms of the structural tones that

30 Gino Stefani, “Melody: A Popular Perspective,” Popular Music 6, no. 1 (1987), 21.

31 See Richard Middleton, Studying Popular Music (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1990), pp. 205-207.

32 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. 66-69.

begin and end each phrase, there is little movement. The verse begins on Cb, rises to Db and then falls to Bb. But to label this as “descending” or “static”

would ignore that the melody is borne out of an arch foundation. Most songs were structured in this way, with overall sections developing out of repeated figures.

Axial melodies revolve around one or two central pitches; in other words, on an axis. Often the axis is the tonic triad, such as the verses of ‘Gutter Black,’ ‘Blue Day’ and ‘Stuff And Nonsense.’ Axial melodies are closely related to static melodies by virtue of their limited movement; the difference is, arguably, one of degree. In ‘Stuff And Nonsense,’ for example, the verse melody moves freely within a range of a sixth, but returns frequently to the mediant and dominant notes. By comparison, the verse of ‘Heavenly Pop Hit’ does not venture outside of the notes A, B, C and D, in C major, and for the most part, moves only between A and C. This was considered a static melody.

The Chills’ other song ‘Pink Frost’ also contained static vocal melodies, in particular, during the chorus with an abrupt and directionless Bb-C-Ab figure.

The verse is marked by an angular melody F-Ab-C, although it is balanced somewhat by the descending guitar line Eb-C an octave lower. The melody is harsh, despite being a simple F minor arpeggio, partly because it ascends

quickly without any intention of falling, and partly because of the sound. Martin Phillipps’ vocal is deadpan, while the excessive reverb adds a shrill quality in his upper register that penetrates the murky accompaniment.

Whatever problems arise in categorizing individual melodies, some general trends emerge from Table 4.10. First, there is an overwhelming preference for arch melodies. This is not surprising for historical reasons. Moore suggests the

“downward sweep,” a descending arch, is a basic contour in rock music, derived from the blues tradition.33 The example he cites is Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Somebody’s Walkin’ In My House’; this shape can be heard clearly in Headband’s ‘Good

33 Moore, Rock: The Primary Text, pp. 50-51.

Morning Mr Rock ‘n’ Roll.’ Furthermore, Winkler identifies the arch melody as central to Afro-American music, from which much popular music originated.34 There is, perhaps, a more fundamental reason for this trend. Arch melodies are prevalent throughout Western music, popular, folk and art musics included.35 As Stefani points out, “Many ways of singing and playing melodies are clearly marked by speech”36; one can reason that the arch melody mirrors a sentence with rising and falling inflections. There may also be relevance in Scruton’s words: one hears “in…sounds a melody that moves through the imaginary space of music.”37 The arch shape fosters the sense of movement by exploring the horizontal (time) and vertical (pitch) dimensions of the “musical landscape.”38 One could discuss further this issue; suffice to say, the arch shape should be expected as a foundation of melody.

Regarding the other types of melodic contours, Jimmy Webb’s “emotional intensity scale” is useful. Webb suggests the formal design of a song can be mapped in relation to an “emotion line”; in general, pre-choruses are higher than verses, choruses are higher than pre-choruses, and bridges are higher than verses but lower than subsequent choruses.39 The “emotion line” is an arbitrary

measure, but, arguably, many songwriters would agree with these basic

principles of tension and release. One means of affecting the song’s intensity is through melody. Further, one can tentatively suggest that higher pitches create an “overall affective elevation.”40

This could explain the increased proportion of ascending melodies in pre-chorus and bridge sections. ‘Forever Tuesday Morning’ and ‘Six Months In A Leaky

34 Peter Winkler, “Randy Newman’s Americana,” Popular Music 7, no. 1 (1988), pp. 9-11.

35 For example, ‘Greensleaves,’ ‘Amazing Grace,’ Beethoven’s ‘Ode To Joy,’ the first subject in Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C, K. 545.

36 Stefani, “Melody: A Popular Perspective,” 29.

37 Roger Scruton, Understanding Music (London: Continuum, 2009), 43.

38 See Mark L. Johnson and Steve Larson, “‘Something In The Way She Moves’ — Metaphors of Musical Motion,” Metaphor and Symbol 18, no. 2 (2003), pp. 71-72.

39 See Jimmy Webb, Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting (New York: Hyperion, 1998), pp.


40 Robert Walser, Running With The Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music (Hannover: University Press of New England, 1992), 123.

Boat’ are excellent examples of the former, both ascending by a fourth; ‘Not Given Lightly,’ ‘Jesus I Was Evil’ and the dominant seventh arpeggio in ‘Good Morning Mr Rock ‘n’ Roll’ are typical of the latter.

If higher pitches are more emotionally charged, then the high number of

descending melodies may appear odd, especially in chorus sections. In a number of songs, however, the descending melody allows the initial note of the chorus to be the highest point. In ‘Weather With You,’ ‘I Got You,’ ‘One Day Ahead’

and ‘Mercy of Love,’ the first note of the chorus is the highest vocal note in the song. In ‘Why Does Love Do This To Me?’ Luck reaches an F# on the chorus downbeat, which is superseded only by an A in the final chorus. Similarly, the chorus of ‘Sway’ begins on the tonic, A; only the embellishing B in the third bar of the chorus is higher. Songs’ melodic highpoints are also heard in a number of arched choruses including ‘She Speeds,’ ‘Victoria,’ ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over,’

‘Beside You,’ ‘I Hope I Never,’ ‘Down In Splendour,’ ‘Message To My Girl’

and ‘Husband House.’ These two observations confirm the songwriting principle of having the chorus as the song’s focal point.

It was proposed above that movement is central to melody; it is, therefore, pertinent to offer some words on melodies in which movement is barely felt.

Putting aside disagreements over classification, it appears that static melodies are used as a tension device. If the first statement of this paragraph is true, then this position seems logical.

Of the twelve songs with a static verse melody, each uses a different melodic shape in other sections. Six turn to an arch in the subsequent chorus. A good example is ‘For Today’ in which the declamatory verse lingers around the tonic and third; even though the pitches are similar, the chorus gives the impression of a small arch and of greater movement. This feature relies on a tighter vocal rhythm and more precise vocal pitches compared to the verse. A similar effect is heard in ‘Spellbound,’ although the tension is maintained through both the verse and chorus in conjunction with static harmonic progressions. In the bridge, an applied dominant, VII [V/iii], changes the harmonic tone and ushers in a lengthy

arch melody that spans a ninth, in contrast with the minimalist verses and choruses.

The same trend can be observed in axial verse melodies, a shape also limited in movement. ‘Stuff And Nonsense’ is an appropriate example, although the arch chorus is preceded by a descending pre-chorus. Two contrary examples are

‘Gutter Black’ and ‘Rust In My Car.’ ‘Gutter Black’ moves from its axial verse to a static chorus with the backing vocalists repeating a descending line only from B to G. The chorus of ‘Rust In My Car’ is barely sung; Geoff Chunn half-speaks the title line. In both cases, however, instrumentalists provide a foil to the sparse vocals. In the former, Brazier’s virtuosic saxophone takes the melodic lead; in the latter, Chunn’s vocals punctuate the descending lead guitar riff. The chorus melody is not, therefore, lost but found elsewhere.

Jimmy Webb’s basic instruction for melodic construction is to “weigh the balance between adjacent tones and skips.”41 Analysing the “adjacent tones and skips” would be fascinating yet laborious; the key principle of Webb’s words is balance. It appears that Nature’s Best songwriters follow this idea, both at a surface level, as shown by the proliferation of arch melodies, and at a structural level. No song uses the same shape in all its sections; the vast majority change shape from section to section. This technique is epitomized in ‘Pressure Man.’

The verse is centred on C#, the third; the chorus is arched through a fifth; and the bridge inverts the chorus melody into a reverse arch.

34 songs employ the same melodic shape in the verse and chorus, but 26 of this group move from one arch melody to another. These melodies are, thus,

inherently balanced. Of the remaining songs, ‘Jesus I Was Evil’ and

‘Spellbound’ have contrasting bridges; ‘Andrew’ contains two distinct descending melodies; while ‘Renegade Fighter’ and ‘Venus’ rely on axial melodies but vary the instrumental textures from verse to chorus. Only one song, ‘Pink Frost,’ flouts the melodic rulebook, which, perhaps, signals the song’s ‘alternative’ status. This issue will be investigated further in Chapter 5.

41 Webb, Tunesmith, 171.