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

John Cuciurean jcuciure at uwo.ca
Mon Jun 16 11:22:53 PDT 2014

Devin (and list)

Interesting thread. Admittedly, none of these are pop songs from the 
past 10 years or so, but have you considered:

"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" by the Beatles which moves from A for 
verses to Bb~>G for pre-chorus, then to D (mixo) for chorus.

"Layla" by Derek & the Dominoes has Intro & choruses in Dm, verses in E, 
instrumental postlude in C.

"Touch Me" by the Doors. I'm not sure I'd call the harmonic shifts 
during the verses actual modulations but the verses move from G -> Bb - 
 > Db where the tonic remains for the chorus.

"Lazy" by Deep Purple which is based on a 12-bars blues form that 
modulates from F to G to A with successive verses.

"Diamonds, Diamonds" by Max Webster. Another 12-bar blues form that 
starts in B then moves each successive verse up, first to C, then D, 
then E, followed by an unusual outro (at least for popular music) that 
incorporates a harmonic progression (if you can call it that) that 
traverses a WT scale outlining B-A-G-F-D#-C#-B (all major triads with a 
5-6 embellishment) where it then outlines a cadential formula in B and 
closes in the same key in which it began.

Lastly, there are numerous large scale songs from the prog rock era that 
move through multiple keys. "Yours is No Disgrace" by Yes, for instance, 
moves from A -> Bb -> Bm -> A -> Bb. But I suspect this is too far 
afield from the repertoire you're considering.

All the best,
John Cuciurean

On 6/16/2014 9:52 AM, hoffmaba . wrote:
> 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.
> Best,
> Brian Hoffman
> On Sun, Jun 15, 2014 at 11:53 PM, Devin Chaloux 
> <devin.chaloux at gmail.com <mailto:devin.chaloux at gmail.com>> wrote:
>     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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