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

Nicole Biamonte nbiamonte at aya.yale.edu
Sat Oct 3 10:43:16 PDT 2009

> > Notwithstanding Michael Morse's observations already posted to this list,
> I
> > would suggest "Lucky Ball and Chain" by They Might be Giants as an
> example
> > of a sad text set in an up-tempo, major-mode shuffle. I _do_ hear this
> > text/music juxtaposition as ironical, though I confess that I'm not sure
> > that I locate the irony in a simple "major mode vs. sad text"
> juxtaposition
> > or if there are other pop-music tropes working with (against?) the text
> to
> > create that sense of irony.
> > Stan Kleppinger, Ph.D.
> > Assistant Professor of Music Theory
> > University of Nebraska - Lincoln
> > skleppinger2 at unl.edu
> > http://skleppin.googlepages.com/

TMBG's "Lucky Ball and Chain" parodies the happy-music/sad-text type of
country song described by Jason Solomon in another post on this thread:
simple diatonic harmonies, duple meter, two-step rhythm, root-5th bass
pattern, and instrumentation (mandolin as well as accordion).  The sense of
irony is enhanced by the dramatic stylistic disjunction of the
dissonant instrumental break and the shifting rhyme scheme and
evaded rhymes.  The most obvious evaded rhyme is at the end of the third
verse: "Sure as you can't steer a train, you can't change your fate/When she
told me off that day, I knew I'd lost my . . . home" (instead of "mate").
The pause before the final word intensifies the deflection of the expected
rhyme.  Other examples are in the first verse ("I held on to my pride" is
paired with "I feel old and foolish now" instead of a line ending in
"bride") and the second and fourth extended verses ("I thought I was so
cool" is paired with "As she walked out the door" instead of a line ending
in "fool").  Other similarly ironic TMBG country-song parodies are "Hope
That I Get Old Before I Die" and "Alienation's For the Rich."

Nicole Biamonte
Assistant Professor of Music Theory
University of Iowa
nicole-biamonte at uiowa.edu
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