I was driving to work listening to one of my all-time favorite albums, Fulfillingness' First Finale. In a fit of poor judgement I tried to sing along. It didn't go well. Not just because Stevie can sing higher (and much better) than me but because I didn't know any of the words. Oh sure, I knew "Do do wop" and "Wo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo" but not the others. I've just never been one to focus on song lyrics - even for songs I've known longer than 30 years.
Which parts of the song do hold my attention (I hope) you may wonder. I have thought about this recently after a few conversations with friends about a style of music that I am "tone deaf" to - rap. Those conversations reinforced the conclusion in my mind that I can't properly appreciate rap because of the way I approach music appreciation.
What I do love is complex harmonies and funky rhythms. I think you can guess what I mean by funky rhythms. I'll briefly touch on that later. When it comes to harmony I am talking about chord changes for the most part. Sometimes there are other harmonic bits of interest - aside from the changes that is. For instance the Beatles do tons of counterpoint that I love but their songs are mostly simple in terms of chord structure.
I'm going to start this demonstration with a wonderful song by Fourplay. This group plays in the smooth jazz genre which is a turnoff for many… including me. But stay with me. Fourplay is a different beast comprised of some great guys. The keyboard player was making groundbreaking fusion back in the 70s and the bass player is one of my favorites as well.
I'll use the song: Bali Run. They do this trick all the time where at the end of the song they re-harmonize the melody and I just eat it up. Check it out. (If little players don't appear below you can click the links and listen on Grooveshark.
Variation 1, (4:13-4:25):
Variation 2, (4:55-5:08):
Other groups that I love work badass harmonies right into the song while keeping it relatable. This is no small task; I don't see it much outside of big bands. It's awesome when I do. A great example is Morph the Cat (not the reprise). Check out to the chorus at 1:45-2:05
Morph the Cat clip, (1:45-2:05):
You don't get this stuff very often in pop hits. But sometimes you do. Such as...
P.Y.T. The best part harmonically is the segue before the chorus - 0:30-0:45. I had remembered there are some 13th extensions in there and listening now it sounds like it ends on a dominant with a #5, which is my favorite dominant variation. That cord is also used to great effect in Stevie Wonder's I Wish at 0:44.
PYT clip, 0:30-0:45):
I Wish clip, (near 0:44):
Another pop song with a change I love is Vision of Love. This song was the first time I've heard the major III used as a variation on dominant. It's a cool sound. It's the chord at 0:34, 0:48, ...
Vision of Love clip:
Does Radiohead count as popular? Their Kid A album is full of suspensions that go on forever. Especially this song. It even puts me on edge a little bit and not much music can do that. When you talked about songs giving you a feeling that's not usually the case for me other than happiness. If I am listening closely to a song, I am analyzing. But this one gets me.
Everything in Its Right Place clip:
Let's not forget big band. I love the big bands. Man, the first 15 seconds of this tune makes my neck hairs stand up it's so awesome (first clip below). This one also has the screaming trumpets, Arturo Sandoval no less, that I love as a former trumpeter.
'Till We're Together Again, (0:00-0:15):
Mueva Los Huesos clip:
Funk is my favorite kind of rhythm. Especially with blaring horns. I could give you 50 Earth, Wind & Fire songs. But instead I'll go with… Get on the Boat by Prince. That's the kind of song that makes me move.
Get on the Boat clip:
And of course, Tower of Power. Couple of fun (harmony) changes in there such as 4:58-5:14 Where'd that come from!? But it's mostly funky beats, rhythm organ, rhythm guitar, busy bass and horns.
Ebony Jam clip:
I didn't even cover picked instruments, but that's enough for today.
At one point I thought I'd mix a song from Fulfillingness' First Finale into my own repertoire. The song was Boogie On Reggae Woman. Luckily I listened to the words before I started playing it out in public since it's about wanting lots of sex. The number of venues I could sing this in is pretty limited. I supposed if I never learned the words I could have just hummed it...
Boogie On Reggae Woman clip: