Sunday, September 27, 2009

Chorus Lift-Offs

I was arranging the Style Council's blue-eyed soul classic "You're the Best Thing" a few years ago for guitar and trombone (with a cool Bacharach-y 6/8 feel) and I figured out why the song has such a sunny-sounding chorus. The verse lurks around A-major seventh and its relative minor, F#, ending on a B, which makes our ear subtly expect the chorus to start on an E chord. Instead it starts on an F# major, which gives us a double lift: We're a whole step higher than we expected, and the A# note Paul Weller hits at the top of the chorus (the third of F# major) "improves" on the verse's key of A. It's a nice trick (chorus at 1:20):

Not to stick with '80s Brit soul, but I noticed another brilliant chorus lift in Dexy's "Come On Eileen." The verses are in C, but notice at about 1:03 how the G chord vamps for an extra bar, then gives us the chorus not in the expected C but in D:

Not to toot my own trombone, but I used a similar trick in a song for the Ed Wood musical I'm writing with lyricist/librettist Justin Warner. In Ed's ode to his favorite material, "Angora," I put the verse in Gm, with a big helping of Cm and related keys with a couple of flats. The verse builds to a descending bass under a Cm chord, leading us in an ambiguous direction...and then I bust into a chorus that alternates A-minor and E-major, with some suspensions on the melody to up the tension. I think it works well, if I may say so myself. Performed by Kurt Robbins at Ars Nova:

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