Essay Hermeneutical Romance She Song Song Wrote

[10] The fragile tonal design of “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” with what seems to be a deliberate avoidance of tonic chords in root position for most of the song, mirrors perfectly the fragile emotional state of the song’s protagonist (which, in this case, we can assume to be Elton John himself).I do not profess to have to undertaken a systematic corpus study of post-1950s pop and rock songs (such as de Clerq and Temperley [2013] and others have done) and am therefore relying on the large database of pop and rock songs that I carry around in my head, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that most if not all songs with fragile tonics that similarly feature an abundance of second-inversion chords (and with a bass that snakes up and down mostly stepwise) were composed at the piano and not the guitar, since guitar-driven pop and rock songs tend to favor root-position “power” chords (octave-and-fifth doubled, with the third often omitted) and as a result lack the degree of voice-leading independence more typical of keyboard-driven songs.

With lyrics written by Elton’s lifelong songwriting partner Bernie Taupin (the “Brown Dirt Cowboy” to Elton’s “Captain Fantastic”), each song on the album provides an autobiographical glimpse into their struggles as young songwriters trying to make it in the London scene in the late 1960s.

ABSTRACT: This article explores the sometimes tricky question of tonality in pop and rock songs by positing three tonal scenarios: 1) songs with a fragile tonic, in which the tonic chord is present but its hierarchical status is weakened, either by relegating the tonic to a more unstable chord in first or second inversion or by positioning the tonic mid-phrase rather than at structural points of departure or arrival; 2) songs with an emergent tonic, in which the tonic chord is initially absent yet deliberately saved for a triumphant arrival later in the song, usually at the onset of the chorus; and 3) songs with an absent tonic, an extreme case in which the promised tonic chord never actually materializes. Audio Example 1 contains the end of the introduction through the first and on into the second verse.

In each of these scenarios, the composer’s toying with tonality and listeners’ expectations may be considered hermeneutically as a means of enriching the song’s overall message. [3] How are we to make sense of the tonal information that has been presented to us so far?

Close analyses of songs with fragile, emergent, and absent tonics are offered, drawing representative examples from a wide range of styles and genres across the past fifty years of popular music, including 1960s Motown, 1970s soul, 1980s synthpop, 1990s alternative rock, and recent U. All of the chords conform to a key signature of four sharps, suggesting E major, and yet the tonic chord is notably absent from the verse’s chord progression.

[1] Skilled nineteenth-century song composers such as Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms often exploited tonality and its expectations for symbolic or expressive purposes. Well over a minute into the track, the vocals enter with the first verse, the initial three lines of which are built upon this same oscillating vamp, yielding fleetingly to minor-seventh chords in the fourth line before returning to the vamp for the song’s second verse.


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