[Smt-talk] Popular Songs with 3 or more modulations?

hoffmaba . hoffmaba at gmail.com
Mon Jun 16 06:52:57 PDT 2014

Devin and list,

The song you are thinking of is Hall & Oates's "She's Gone," which
modulates by semitone from E major to G major within an instrumental
interlude that connects two choruses.   According to the research I've
done, stepwise modulations became more and more dramatic over time,
focusing the drama on one grand moment (think Dolly Parton/Whitney
Houston's "I Will Always Love You"). Thus, modulating  several times (more
than twice) like "Love on Top" is not common in the last twenty years or
so. The best example I can think of is Michael Jackson's "I Will Be There,"
which does this and is stylistically similar  to "Love on Top."

The practice of including several modulations in a single song was most
popular in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly with novelty and story songs
such as The Playmates' "Beep Beep," Little Anthony and the Imperials'
"Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko Bop," Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife," and Sheb
Wooley's "Giant Purple People Eater."

I'll also mention that songs with three different keys (two modulations)
are relatively common throughout pop music. So, I just want to make sure
that when you say "three modulations," you're referring to songs that pass
through four or more keys.

I imagine everyone has his or her favorite, so I won't rob anyone of his or
her fun by including any more examples. However, I will take this
opportunity to plug my article on stepwise pop-rock modulations, which
addresses their role in pop-rock form and style.  It is "in the pipes" and
will hopefully get picked up and published before we're giving our Spring
2015 final exams.

Brian Hoffman

On Sun, Jun 15, 2014 at 11:53 PM, Devin Chaloux <devin.chaloux at gmail.com>

> Greetings list,
> Listening to Beyonce's 2011 single "Love on Top" from the album "4" has
> prompted an inquiry to those on this list. For those familiar with the
> song, the end features four successive modulations of the chorus up by a
> half step (thus moving from the initial key of C major to the final key of
> E major). It's a particularly striking example of modulation in pop music,
> especially recent Top 40 hits. I'd venture to say that even finding two
> modulations in one pop song is a fairly rare occurrence in the last 10 or
> so years of Top 40 radio...let alone three or four.
> I seem to recall Brian Hoffmann presented at least one example at the
> recent MTMW meeting, but the name of the song is escaping me at the moment.
> Are there any others that you can think of?
> Best,
> *Devin Chaloux*
> Indiana University
> Ph.D. in Music Theory (enrolled)
> University of Cincinnati - College-Conservatory of Music
> M.M. in Music Theory '12
> University of Connecticut
> B.M. in Music Theory '10
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Dr. Brian D. Hoffman
Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Theory
Butler University
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