Today, I found myself searching YouTube for the Madness song 'In the Middle of the Night.' I don't recall why, I had a reason, I just can't remember it at this second. It might have been the way the music of the song works.
While I was thinking about it, I hit a few random chords I'm partial to on my keyboard, and hit an A minor. When I played that, I got an impulse to hit an E minor, and when I did that, my ears told me this kind of sounded like the song itself.
I thought back to the bass line, which I haven't forgotten. I learned it by ear years ago yet didn't know the notes. Knowing as I played that I'd end the first part on E, I realized I'd started on a high A and made my way down to E.
Recalling the other part of the bass line, the complimentary part of the first, I ended up working out, from memory, how the song works.
I then played the song and tested my ear's theories out. What I heard from my headphones and what I heard my fingers play on the piano matched. And after putting the acoustic guitar together as well, I figured I'd lay it out here.
Of the song, the first instrument I learned was its drum rhythm. Then the bass guitar, and finally the last two tonight. I know the lyrics, but what I can't do is sing them. Or play the sax. Or know for certain that the organ notes are the same as the chords on the piano, just their root notes.
But let me try and write out what I do think I know.
The snare drum is the main beat the song plays to; all the instruments cue off of the rhythm of the snare drum, at least in the verses. The bass drum takes over in the chorus. The bass drum beat is once every two snare hits, sometimes coupled as two eighth notes. During the chorus, the snare keeps its rhythm but the bass drum takes centre stage as the main beat everything starts on. Bass-snare-bass-snare-bass-snare-bass-bass-snare. The rhythm stays the same for the entire song, with minor snare fills at the start of each hypothetical measure.
Musically, I've identified the song's verses as a simple 1-5 progression in A harmonic minor. The chorus is in two different keys, G major and C major. With that knowledge, the piano and guitar both play A minor twice, then E minor twice, before then playing B minor and F sharp minor twice. That's for all the verses. The style is on-beat staccato, each time the snare plays. Am-Am-Em-Em, Am-Am-Em-Em, Bm-Bm-F#m-F#m and so on.
The chorus is very simple. G major, A minor, B minor, and back to A minor. Then there's the C part, C major, D major, E minor, and back to D. Chris Foreman plays this exact progression during the intro to the song, except on guitar I'm pretty sure he plays a B major instead of minor.
As for the bass guitar, it has an interesting style played on it. Mark Bedford fingers those strings very cleanly and quickly. Basically, he winds his way down from the root to the dominant (A to E) via G. Then he continues down to B from the same place, off of E, though not every time, and there are alterations to how he gets from A to E, and whether he goes to B. He does the same from B to F sharp, via A, and again, he may go all the way to C sharp, and may not. He may go BB-F#-A instead. For the chorus he simply does a G-A-B, or C-D-E. And back to A or D in each case.
The thing with 'In The Middle of the Night' is it's the kind of song where everyone's playing the same notes, or bouncing around them like Mark Bedford on bass. That makes it a simple song with a simple progression (two 1-5s joined together with a 1-2 for the verses, and a 1-2-3-2 progression for both keys in the chorus). The drums are a simple rhythm as well, a constant snare-led beat with sporadic bass notes and a hi-hat that is on-time and constant with the snare. Plus a few minor fills and crashes at the beginning/end of the chorus.
Before finishing, I must note that all of what I've written here is strictly based on my ear/synesthesia, and guessing from those. I could be very wrong, and have been before, usually by one step (semitone). If anyone finds this helpful or interesting, please remember to consider that. No one is perfect, after all. I also welcome corrections if I've made an error (given they're genuine and obvious).
I should also finish by saying that Mike Barson plays a tune on the piano right-handed that sounds a bit brighter and different from the left hand that's probably playing the G-A-B chords. I haven't totally figured that out yet.
Otherwise, it's an interesting song that I sort of stumbled upon figuring out.