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

Nick Braae braae.nick at gmail.com
Mon Jun 16 14:23:20 PDT 2014

Hi all,

Queen's songs often featured multiple modulations, although a number
blurred the line between a modulation proper, and an extended tonicization.
Nonetheless, 'Bicycle Race' has episodes in Ab (I want to ride my bicycle),
Bb minor (you say black, I say white…), F (Bicycle races are coming your
way…), as well as the refrain which never confirms any key, and is
presented differently with each occurrence (opens with on Eb/Bb, then
starts on D, then on F later on…).

Also 'Millionaire Waltz' (the follow-up to 'Bohemian Rhapsody') has a broad
structural progression from C-F-Fm-Ab-Eb-Ab-Eb-C; a number of the song's
episodes are harmonically closed through a V-I cadence, which fosters the
impression of rapid, but complete modulations.

Hope that helps - very interesting thread!

Nick Braae

PhD Student
University of Waikato
New Zealand

On Tue, Jun 17, 2014 at 6:22 AM, John Cuciurean <jcuciure at uwo.ca> wrote:

>  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>
> 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
>> _______________________________________________
>> Smt-talk mailing list
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>  --
> Dr. Brian D. Hoffman
> Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Theory
> Butler University
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