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

olivier.julien at free.fr olivier.julien at free.fr
Tue Jun 17 08:18:05 PDT 2014

Hi all, 
So do many tracks by Madness, a typical example being 'Our House' (1982). 
=> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwIe_sjKeAY 
I began making a list of the many modulations in the song, but then remembered Allan Moore already made it in Song Means: Analysing and Interpreting Recorded Popular Song . (I think he also wrote something quite interesting about Madness's unusual approach to harmony in Rock: The Primary Text , but I can't check right now as I don't have the book with me.) Devin, while digging into the eighties, you might also want to have a look at Stock, Aitken & Waterman's productions from the end of the decade -- most of the songs they produced for such mainstream artists as Kylie Minogue (e.g., 'Better the Devil You Know', 'I Should Be So Lucky'), Samantha Fox (e.g., 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Me Now') or even Cliff Richard (e.g., 'I Just Don't Have the Heart') featured modulations to remote keys between verses and choruses. 

Hope this helps. 

e-mail: olivier.julien at paris-sorbonne.fr 

Le 16 juin 2014 à 23:23, Nick Braae <braae.nick at gmail.com> a écrit : 

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. 

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? 


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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