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

Timothy Hughes timothyhughes at mac.com
Wed Jun 18 03:15:36 PDT 2014

Thanks to everyone for all the interesting examples. To get back to the original post, I suspect one of the inspirations for Beyonce’s tune is Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady”, which I’ve written about in the past. I like to describe its ending as a sort of hybrid of the extended fadeout vamp of songs like “Hey Jude” and the “Pump-Up” or “Truck Driver” stepwise ascending chorus modulation so familiar to us all. Essentially every other time the chorus repeats at the end of the song it modulates up by a semi-tone. It lasts about 1:20 or so and you can hear about 4-5 modulations before it becomes inaudible. In this respect it’s like the opposite of (and perhaps a conscious answer to) Yes’ “I’ve Seen All Good People”, which modulates by descending semi-tones in a slow fadeout over about the last minute of the song. (This ending, however, doesn’t alternate direct repetitions with modulated repetitions.) The modulations in “Golden Lady” are also rather smoothly done by starting on a minor triad and ending on a Major 9th a semi-tone above. The major 7th and 9th of the final chord are the root and 3rd of the opening chord, smoothing over the direct repeat, while the modulation is accomplished simply through a shift to the parallel minor. There’s also a nice bit of prosody in the segue with the next song on the album, as the chorus lyrics are “Golden Lady, Golden Lady, I’d like to go there”. After Wonder sings that repeatedly while climbing step by step, he fades into… “Higher Ground”. (For more detail, see the second chapter here: https://www.academia.edu/217945/_Groove_and_Flow_Six_Analytical_Essays_on_the_Music_of_Stevie_Wonder_)




Dr. Tim Hughes

Department of Music and Sound Recording
University of Surrey
Guildford, Surrey    GU2 7XH
United Kingdom

t.s.hughes at surrey.ac.uk

On 16 Jun 2014, at 04:53, 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
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