Monday, January 19, 2015

F#min I III VII IV

When I did that synesthesia-chord personality thing, and rounded it up with songs from YouTube to accompany each chord/scale, some scales were easy to find songs for while others almost impossible. G sharp major was the one scale I could not find any pop song to accompany it. As for others, particularly minor scales, finding songs was pretty easy.

I found songs in those scales (over frequent use of the chord I was highlighting) largely to be true to what any musical person may take from what I'd written - if you were a musician or studied theory and saw "Dmin" you may assume I was talking about the scale and not necessarily the chord. Besides, root chord usage and scale usually go hand-in-hand - if a song predominantly uses an A minor chord to start its progression, it'll be likely that the scale is in A minor as well. The only way it wouldn't match the scale is if the chord were major while the scale minor, which is usually the case in pop music. It can be annoying as I found many songs in minor scales using major chords.

But on what I'm getting into here, some scales/chords were quite easy. But another interesting thing is musical progressions. F sharp minor is a scale that could produce a lot of pop music examples. Particularly in the I-III-VII-IV progression (1-3-7-4).

When I pulled into my driveway after work this evening, an unusual percussive beat came on the radio, an intro to a song. I found it sounded unusual, so I was intrigued to hear where it would go.

A keyboard synth began. The note sounded familiar. It went up three steps (not that I knew that exact number right away upon hearing it, but when it went up to the next note, I instantly recognized what I would likely be hearing). Would it go down to another familiar note? It did. Then up to the last one, completing the progression I expected to hear.

When you hear a certain musical progression often enough, you get good at predicting it upon hearing the second note. And I knew right away that the song was appealing to the ear, because it was a recognizable progression that would appeal to virtually anyone's ear. I'll explain how it has in a second.

The vocals were interesting. I was going to use my phone to record a video so I could re-listen to the lyrics best as I could while typing them down in a search online, but then I heard the lyric 'mad world' and instantly remembered that, although I'd never heard it, Tears for Fears did a song with that title. Now the voice sounded properly familiar.

It was a good song, and I quickly found that the root note (first note) was F sharp. So with that 1-3-7-4 progression and that key, the notes would be F#, A, E, and finally B.

That's when I realized that while it's a recognizable progression - I think of 'Alive' by Pearl Jam - it's not just the progression itself. It's the key it's in. F sharp.
That's when I remembered this song:

It's something I first heard when my mother recorded it to her VHS of music videos in the 90s. I've always liked the song. Same progression. Same key - F sharp. Just with guitars, and a little variation on some parts.
From the Britpop of the 90s I then remembered this:

Same progression. Same key. F freaking sharp. I liked the horn parts when it played in those Apple commercials seven years ago, and then my cousins happened to have it playing while on the beach, so from them I found out the song title and artist.

1-3-7-4. F#-A-E-B.

It's pretty amazing when a certain musical progression is so popular, in just this one scale, F sharp minor, that three different songs over three decades, over three very different genres, happen to use it. And all of them are well-known, relatively popular songs. 'Mad World' was Tears for Fears' first hit of any kind and gave them their first exposure. 'D'You Know What I Mean?' went to #1 in the UK and was a standard hit for Oasis. 'Around the Bend' is apparently the Dutch group's biggest single to date, thanks in part to those Apple commercials (and the song had a brief appearance in that spy comedy sitcom Chuck as well as being briefly heard in a segment of Top Gear). It's kind of funny. All of those songs sound pretty similar as a result. Different main instruments - from keyboard synths to hard guitar - but the same exact progression in general. 'Alive' by Pearl Jam had the same thing - but one tone down, on E. They're on E minor - two steps down from F sharp minor. E-G-D-A. It was just as popular. People described that as 'anthemic,' although that was due largely to the "I'm still alive" chorus.

This makes me think about one of the lyrics of 'Mad World:' "And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad. (...) When people run in circles it's a very very mad world..." Because it is kind of funny, and it is kind of sad. We are running in circles here. It's nice to listen to, but we're listening to the same thing each time. Yes, it's re-imagined and in a different genre with different dominant instruments playing slightly different parts in different styles, and there's some variation, but it doesn't go far, and in the main sense we are definitely finding the real appeal in that same progression, in that same scale. We really need to make a new one, because otherwise there's no more ways to get that exhilarating, heaven-like feeling when you're listening to something you haven't before and it's perfect to your ears - progression and key. We can't have exhausted every kind of musical progression out there, can we? If we can have thousands of words in the English language based on only twenty-four letters, surely we can come up with a wide variety of extremely appealing scale progressions with the twenty-four scales at our disposal.

Anyway, those three songs are pretty good. They use an appealing progression - in an appealing, bright, seemingly interested scale. I recall the chord of F sharp major being the kid with lots of neat things to share or talk about, the fun guy with the neat story. F# as a note and as a chord echoes that personality I get in each of those songs - though in a different colour (white-aqua shone on with blue light for Mad World, pale brown for D'You Know What I Mean? and white-brown shapes from the keyboard in Around The Bend). Of the three I probably like Mad World the best for its cool imagery/colour as well as the fact I'm new to listening to it.

Anyway, it's a mad world, eh? Full of Fs and sharps and 1s and 3s and 7s, all grouped together over and over like that cryptic, ominous group of numbers running through Lost.

Red Cloud
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