The Phantom of the You: The Young Rascals, “How Can I Be Sure” (1967)

What an unexpected song!

As emblematic of the whole wonder, I admire certain unexpected low notes in the melody. They come at these places in the first verse:

Whenever I, whenever I am away from you (0:28)
I want to die, ’cause you know I want to stay with you (0:37)

And again in the second verse, setting up a special effect that will soon follow:

Whenever I, whenever I am away from you (1:03)
My alibi is telling people I don’t care for you (1:12)

The note of that you is a G, a step down from the easier choice, A. In the accompaniment we’re going back and forth here between an E-minor chord and an A major. The G note belongs to the E-minor, not the A major — that is, to the preparation for the A resolution, a step off from the A resolution itself — so even though it’s in harmony at that moment there’s something stubborn and backward about it. It’s one of the telltales of the unsure undercurrent of love.

This G has made such an impression that it haunts a later note that is fully three steps higher, the note for “who’s”:

Maybe I’m just hanging around with my head up, upside down
It’s a pity, I can’t seem to find someone who’s (1:27)
as 
pretty and lovely as you

“Who’s” is on C (backed by an F major chord), same as the C of “(some)one,” but it would make so much sense to go down to G again (and “who’s” does rhyme with “you”)  that my ear reaches all the way down for it. I’m aided by a blurring of the C and the F-major feeling by a lower harmony-vocal E note dropping in, strange reminder of the old E-minor (and making a spooky major seventh of the F chord, potentially a major ninth including a G). I may also be loosened up by the words “I can’t seem to find someone . . .” The result, for one or more of these numerous reasons, is a definite phantom G. Now that I concentrate fifty years later on hearing what the note actually is, I’m quite surprised it’s way up there at C.

I must now try to erase that knowledge. This is not a hook for which clarity is helpful. Sorry.

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Just Stay There: Beck, “Dreams” (2015)

This just in from Beck, re-issued on his 2017 album Colors: a wonderful simple chord trick in “Dreams.

The song’s main chord progression is stated right away (this forms the reference baseline for the trick that comes later). It’s a C-sharp to D-sharp to A, then E to F-sharp to C-sharp, which as we’re in the key of C-sharp could be written:

1…………………2……………….3………………….4…………….. [the beats in each measure]
I……………………………………II…………………bVI*………… [the chords]    *with added 2nd
…………Come on     out        of      your      dreams

bVI………………………………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………………………and

bIII………………………………….IV……………….I……………………..
wake    up     from    your       re   –   ve   –   rie

I……………………………………………………………………………………

There’s already a good trick here, starting each major segment a beat early on the 4-beat. It’s a common device for getting you to put down your foot hard on the 4, making more of an event out of each measure’s turnaround. But that’s not what rang the Hooks bell in this case.

The chorus starts for the first time at 1:16, and it mutates the verse pattern in two affecting ways. First, it drops in the sweetest chord we didn’t hear in the verse, the flat-seventh (bVII), to make an extra step between the bIII and the IV in the third line. Second, watch what’s done with that IV:

1…………………..2…………………3………………….4……………………
I………………………………………..II……………….bVI
Dreams

bVI………………………………………………………………………………..
……………d   –    d    –   d   –   dreams

bIII……………………………………bVII……………..IV…………………
……………………She’s                  mak – ing        me  high,

IV…………………………………………………………………………………..
……………………she’s                  mak – ing        me  high

See how we’re up there with IV for five whole beats instead of returning to I in the fourth line of the unit as we ought to have done? Prolonging the IV induces an unusual, slightly bewildering experience of staying high.

So yeah, stay there, don’t let go of your high; or, on the other model, don’t leave your dream yet: keep your eyes closed for a few more seconds. You can.

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Stepping Up: The Association, “Windy” (1967)

steps

Nothing in 1967 affected me more strongly, more transportingly, than “Windy.”

It’s true that the tune does not come out of the gate like three-weeks-at-#1 material. It’s stiff and slow, and the bass riff it offers is insipid (a simple pentatonic figure that the melody will pick up and drive into the ground). Our ears get interested, however, by the harpsichord buzz added to the bass line (first heard at 0:07, and prominent on the 1-2-3-4 turnarounds at 0:28 and 1:21) and the juicy sound of congas in the bridge. In the second verse we’re won over more deeply by background vocals in a nice ascending pattern that pulls against the descending bass line.

Let me explain. The verse bass line goes from F to Eb to Bb to C, and the first two of those moves are downward. That’s the way a I-bVII-IV-V progression usually feels (compare “Just Like Me”). But the background vocal notes are F followed by a step up to G (the third, rather than the tonic, of the Eb chord), then a step-and-a-half up to Bb, then a step up to C. It’s the lift (G to A) of a drop (G to F), a seriousness made a buoyancy.

If one knows The Association, one is optimistic at this point that some magnificent vocal effects are in store. Compare the spine-tingling massed background vocals in “You Hear Me Call Your Name”, especially from 1:42.

And guess what? Exactly at 1:42 “Windy,” too, goes into turbodrive with the new background vocal action of the returning second verse. It turns the long notes F-G-Bb-C that we heard the first time into purposefully enunciated steps upward: F-F-G-G-Bb-Bb-C-C. This little bit of further articulation and hastening adds enough energy to the verse to wrench it free from the pleasant lassitude of the sunshine pop experience. Suddenly we are doing something, trying to go somewhere, succeeding the way you succeed step by step on a stairway that’s well matched to your ascending stride. The blend of sound in the invigorated arrangement is as smoothly beautiful as ever. Felicity, stay a while . . . through four repetitions of the verse, almost enough to get us to the heavenly top of the stairs.

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Scary: The Who, “I Can See For Miles” (1967)

scary fish 2

Next in my series of fifty-years-late appreciations of music in the year of wonders, I turn to a September 1967 (U.S.) release.

Some tracks burst into your life sounding unnervingly good in a deeply unfamiliar way. (The uniqueness makes this a different phenomenon than the sounding-incredibly-good of “Bell Bottom Blues.”) You’re taken on a ride you had never come close to imagining and something of this shock stays with the experience. For me, “Purple Haze,” “Dreams,” and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” are among the supreme examples.

Slowly in recent years I’ve been regaining my ability to hear a song of this order that got beaten flat by overplaying on the radio when it was first a hit, “I Can See For Miles.”

Dave Marsh said rightly that “I Can See For Miles” sounded “so big it was scary” [1]. Scary-big is certainly what The Who were after. But now we can discriminate levels of scare. There’s the bombast. There’s how scary-good it is at what it’s doing—how pure its arrangement, how bracing its playing, how fat and sharp its sounds, so different from everything else around.[2] There’s (I almost forgot!) the menace of “I can see you.” And there’s something else in the song that’s so threatening I can barely voice the thought.

“I Can See For Miles” starts as an intro, or a tease, with an even 8/8 pulse dramatically inflected with drum crescendos, and it never stops being that. Its pulse never resolves into a rock ‘n’ roll beat with accents on 2 and 4. It’s not even a rock ‘n’ roll song—it’s all portentous prelude. It implies, negatively, You must live without rock ‘n’ roll as you have known it, or positively, Here is something greater. In the parts that should finally give us the beat, right after “miles and miles and miles and miles and miles,” the drums are just texture and it’s Townsend’s upward-bending guitar notes that mark the 2 and 4 spots so that you’re not completely bereft of a rock point of reference.

And it’s long, too, with no real solos–four minutes long, in 1967! It makes sure you get the point.

_______________________________________________________________________________.

[1] Dave Marsh, The Heart of Rock & Soul (New York: New American Library, 1989), p. 33.

[2] I didn’t know about “E Too D” by The Small Faces (1966).

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Too Beautiful: Small Faces, “Itchycoo Park” (1967)

Itchycoo
The year of wonders, 1967, is well-represented on the Hooks site, but I’d like to lift up one more wonder to mark its fiftieth anniversary.

I’ve always found “Itchycoo Park” (released in August 1967) tremendous, but to protect the experience I’ve long felt I must not think about the song’s cutesy title, dodgy subject matter, and most of its words. My objections have thankfully fallen away over the years. “Bridge of Sighs” (for Cambridge) and “dreaming spires” (for Oxford) now sound like canny references to a hypocritical old cultural fascination with getting high. “Why go to learn the words of fools?” now sounds biblically grand and redeems the school/cool rhyme in the line preceding. Perhaps I still would rather not feed the ducks with a bun, but that’s a minor issue.

The song has a quiet, gorgeous heart in the second and third chords of the verse. The four-chord sequence you might first guess for this verse would be A to E to G to D (I-V-bVII-IV), but it’s A to C# minor (I-IIIm), lovely in itself,[1] for “Sighs” and “spires” for example, and then the change from C# down to G becomes a daredevil use of the weirdest of all intervals, the flatted-fifth or sharped-fourth. It’s a real plunge, not in pitch but in harmonic logic; you land, however, on a polytonal bed of roses, the A chord of the melody’s notes hovering fragrantly over the G accompaniment while a droning organ G-chord-with-A held through that measure (“I’d like to go there”) assures that you’re aiming at a real place that is lush.

The great loud hook is the surprising rightness of Steve Marriott’s soulful shouts in the chorus–an element conspicuously missing in another chord-gorgeous psychedelic hit of 1967, “Incense and Peppermints.” Ian McLagan complained later that Marriott had made “It’s all too beautiful” too perky, but perky doesn’t describe it.[2] It’s sublime. (Consider how the very phrase “too beautiful” switches the aesthetic polarity over from the congenial Beautiful to the challenging Sublime.) Thanks to the eruptive yet precisely controlled high energy of the loud vocal, there’s nothing mushy or cobwebby about this climactic experience. It touches the sky.

_____________________________

[1] . Two more points about the C# minor: (1) well, you generally can’t go wrong with C# minor; but in this case (2) it’s the relative minor of E major, sharing with E the notes E and G#, so the A to C# minor move is something like going up to the likely E chord (A’s “dominant”) which would normally be reached by dropping down from A–in that up, a sense of slightly questionable yet happy lift.

[2] Interview in Small Faces documentary @ 27:05.

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Chops (Piano Edition): Billy Joel, “Prelude” (1976)

tommy-gun-bw

By Jonathan Bellman

Particularly for those of us who play instruments, one hook before which we are powerless is The Hook On Our Own Instrument That Must Be Figured Out.  Until it is owned, it will bewitch us, and (in my experience, at least) it requires being brought to ground by ear; getting it from a music book does not produce the same satisfaction.  Just such a hook is the opening toccata-like piano figure from Billy Joel’s “Prelude/Angry Young Man,” off Turnstiles (1976): as technically challenging as anything in the Rock piano repertory, this combines a martellato (“hammered”) rapid alternation of the hands on Middle C with offbeat chords in the right hand, while the thumb is machine-gunning the C.  Above the C, the added tones are all thirds—E and G, F and A, G and B, and C and E above—and these are played in a syncopated pattern: the right hand may be thought of as a rapid sequence of eighth-notes, while the left hand (use the third finger) plays the 16th-note offbeats.  The additional pitches in the right hand hit on the 3rd and 6th 8th-notes of the first sequence followed by the first, fourth, and seventh of the second sequence; this then repeats.  So:

RH:

……..G            G            A            A            A                 B            B            E           G             G
……..E            E             F            F            F                 G            G            C           E             E
C  C  C  C   C  C   C  C  C  C  C  C  C   C  C  C  B  C   C  C  C   C  C  C   C  C  C  C  C  C   C  C
1   2   3  4   5   6   7  8   1  2   3  4   5   6   7   8  1   2   3  4   5   6  7   8   1   2  3  4   5   6   7  8

As I say, the left hand third finger plays the same middle C as the RH thumb, alternating on the offbeats.  Final touch: do it at a gazillion miles per hour.  No sweat!

A couple of thoughts about what makes this so compelling: it’s as if Billy Joel, piano man extraordinaire, is doing his own take on the toccata bit at the end of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue; the motion is similar, and the patterns related.  Also, the rapid-fire repeated note contrasts with the syncopated chords that follow throughout “Prelude” to give a film-noir sensibility to the piece, as if gunfire alternates with sudden, police-photographer-type black-and-white stills of city hustlers flicking up on the screen, one after the other: a mug shot, a guy caught in the act in a police flashlight or searchlight, Mr. Wrong-Place-Wrong-Time in a pool of blood.

I wrote more at length about this on my own blog, Dial M for Musicology [see “Billy Joel, Piano Culture, and Rock’s Road Not Taken”], and offer this commentary at Steve Smith’s request.  Go listen to it, and see what I mean; if the pianists among you become obsessed until you can do it yourselves, well . . . sorry.

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Greatest Dylan Hooks

dylan-lyric-ms

What a great day, in a categorically confusing way: a popular songwriter has won the Nobel Prize for literature!

We must pay our respects! What for you is the greatest hook in Dylan’s lyrics, and why do you pick it?

For my own answer, I swear I didn’t see this coming, but I have two finalists that both include the word “chicken.”

1. From “Tombstone Blues” (Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)

The Commander-in-Chief answers him while chasing a fly
Saying, “Death to all those who would whimper and cry”
And, dropping a barbell, he points to the sky
Saying, “The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken”

2. From “Lo And Behold” (The Basement Tapes, 1975 [recorded in 1967])

I come into Pittsburgh
At six-thirty flat
I found myself a vacant seat
An’ I put down my hat
“What’s the matter, Molly, dear
What’s the matter with your mound?”
“What’s it to ya, Moby Dick?
This is chicken town!”
I am citing them together in a tie because my psyche is divided between two ways of being tickled by a chicken. The chicken scores zany points in each case, but the off-the-rails arrogance of the Commander-in-Chief in lyric #1 has an eerie seriousness in it, whereas the off-the-rails bawdiness of lyric #2 is just hilarious. As for my poor psyche, it seems to want to slam the doors on both of those human extremes, the one looking up and the other down.
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