[Smt-talk] Pieces contrary to the minor/major = sad/non-sad stereotype

Jason Solomon jsolo at uga.edu
Fri Oct 2 08:46:19 PDT 2009

Hi all,

Many country songs feature a sad text set in the major mode. I'm thinking in 
particular of a number of songs by such "old school" country artists as George 
Jones, Merle Haggard, Tanya Tucker, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and so on. 
A great example is "He Stopped Loving Her Today" (early 1980s) by George 
Jones, which is one of the saddest country songs I've ever heard. The verses are 
set to I - IV - V - I, beginning in G major and modulating to A-flat major after 
the second verse. Perhaps the slow tempo compensates for the major mode, 
because nothing about this song is happy.

Other fine examples can be found in the country-rock and alt-country genres. 
"You're Still on My Mind" by the Byrds (1968) is set to an upbeat, honky-tonk 
shuffle. In fact, it seems that a lot of the "woe is me" drinking songs found in 
country-related styles feature a fundamentally mournful text (though often with 
some humorous overtones) set in the major mode to a quick, lively tempo.

Jason W. Solomon
Assistant Professor of Music Theory and Classical Guitar
Western Carolina University
Email: jsolomon at wcu.edu

More information about the Smt-talk mailing list