Skip to content

Halloween

It’s Halloween and that means it’s time for minor chords. Aeolian and Melodic. Hungarian and Harmonic. Chromatic like a carnival. October is the month of minor pop odes like “Thriller”, a mostly Dorian groove, and the reverse picardy choruses of the mostly Mixolydian “Ghostbusters”. Speaking of which, all the classic Halloween themes come from movies. The quintessential Halloween pop song has yet to be written…or has it?

Beyond the single minor mode, there’s overly minory chord progressions, modulating from one minor key to the next. This technique for evoking the spooky is probably as old as the Oriental motif.

John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) has a classic modulating minor theme composed by Carpenter himself on the electric piano. The upper registers of the ivory-keyed piano are literally bone-chilling, especially when sparsely played atop long shots of POV slasher kills. The 5/4 time signature recalls another famous theme song—the same odd-time rhythm as Mission Impossible. Drag over the noteheads below.



The theme starts on an F# minor; the melody quavers on a perfect fifth and up to the minor sixth. In the third bar, the melody transposes down a semitone, while the bass goes up to an A#, creating an A# minor (add 9) chord. The entire progression is repeated down a semitone and then again down another semitone. Minor madness.

The i—iii chord progression of Halloween can be found in a few other songs. The Snow Goose by Camel begins with the same minor chord progression as Halloween—Gm to Bm, but more plaintive than spooky. Also, check out The Running Man Main Theme—Em to G#m with a cool melodic minor modulation.

I would be remiss in closing if I didn’t mention Devil Doll, the Slav Goth Rock band from the ’90s, that showcased many minor modulations to evoke the spooky, such as in “Mister Doctor”. Whether you’re Slavic, a Goth kid, or just in the Halloween spirit, Devil Doll is the perfect soundtrack for the munchy-crunchy leaf-perving Autumn spring.

Can you think of more minor seasonal themes? Put ‘em in the comments below!

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Favorite Chords

A man’s favorite chord can change throughout his life, but finding one is about as rare as falling in love. Of course, there are thousands of chords out there, and in a way I love them all just the same.


In my teens, I was infatuated with Diminished chords, the ugly formation of minor thirds stacked on top of each other, dark and humorous as a carnival1; I made whole songs out of the diminished, then branching out into the half-whole, whole-tone, using tonal tricks borrowed from Zappa and Stravinsky. Tritone is love; tritone is life.



In college, I mellowed a bit I guess, and it was Major Sevenths, especially the excessive use of Maj.7ths a la Jazz, Sean Lennon, and Hum. The chord of love in the key of life.

Anyway, this is one of my all-time favorites—the E Major Thirteenth, which has a Major Seventh chord in it.

You can play it on guitar: 0-11-11-11-12-11. This guitar voicing of the E Major 13th is found in the Zappa song “Zoot Allures” at about the :42 mark.

The EM13 has every note of the E Major scale except the 4th, lending itself well to either Ionian or Lydian. It is a six-note chord with a bunch of fourths in the middle and a Major Third interval on top (between the fifth and the seventh). It sounds seductive and dreamy like we’ve just dropped melatonin after staying up all night. You can play this chord all day. Entire ballads have been written to this chord alone. Men have died for this chord. Chord is kill.

Look for the EM13 to be overused in every new Los Doggies song! Do you have a favorite chord? Please put it in the comments section below.

[1]
Yo but where my juggalettes at?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Song of the Day: How to Make a Mouth in Nature

“How to Make a Mouth in Nature” is a psychedelic allegory about art and morality. Historically, most musical instruments have macabre origins—the catgut of stringed instruments and their horsetail bows, the goatskin of drumheads, the bone glues of guitars, and not to mention, the occult sacrifices of the Big Three.

Andy Goldsworthy is a plant-based sculptor who strings leaves together and calls it art. He sculpts in the medium of the forest allowing the winds of time to help shape his work as if he himself is a force of nature. Now imagine his inversion: an Anti-Goldsworthy. Such an artist would be as a demi-god playing upon the animals themselves. His footsteps make kick drums as he walks along the path. He can absorb the powers of the forest merely by ingesting its pizzles.

The main melody of the verse is suspiciously similar to the verse of the Gentle Giant song “Inside Out”, almost as if the composer directly ripped it off. “Inside Out” is what happens to 70s Prog bands in the 80s, but it’s also a really good song. The melodic movement follows three whole tones in a row (A B C# D#) before resolving on the Perfect Fifth (E).

“How to Make a Mouth” has a kind of New Wave feel with its tribal dance beat, droning ambiance, non-musical animal sounds, and general zany attitude. The song probably wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t for the shoulders of great bands we squat upon: TMBG, Talking Heads, and Gentle Giant.

The key of the song is an exotic key hardly ever used called Lydian Dominant. Lydian Dominant puts the “Lydian” back into Mixolydian. It’s basically a Lydian scale with a Dominant Seventh. Drag over the notes below in A Lydian Dominant.


I’d like to see more songs use this key. I can’t really think of one example that uses it in Popular music. The Gentle Giant song isn’t really in Lydian Dominant and only uses the raised fourth (D#) as a passing tone. Lydian Dominant is identical to the Overtone Series, the intrinsic scale wrapped up in the color of every note.

Go to bandcamp to purchase “How to Make a Mouth in Nature.”

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Full Metal Jody

In the US Armed Forces, military cadences are called “jodies”, and usually entail call-and-response melodies sung by soldiers while marching to a cut time beat. Left-right-left, like boom-pah-boom.

Sometimes jodies are dirty as is the case in Full Metal Jacket. Ronald Lee Ermey, who played the Drill Sergeant in the film, was an actual Drill Sergeant in Vietnam, and improvised many of his classic lines. We can assume the jody below was based on a real American jody.

Note: This widget contains profanity, misogyny, and racism, and is therefore not suitable for work, however, very much suitable for the internet. Point and click these bars.



The antecedent phrase has a symmetrical melody as can be seen in the top two bars, while the consequent resolves back to the tonic. Each phrase is echoed by infantry in unison. This particular jody is in the key of D Major Pentatonic. The above notation is more of a Fakebook Version; the real one has a swing and the notes are not quite exact in the 3rd bar.

Do you have any favorite jodies? Please put them in the comments section.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

This is the Way Wee Oh Wee Oh

Military cadences have seemingly taken over Popular Music. Everywhere you go, there’s four fours on the floors.

The people used to jitterbug, spastically flailing their limbs, just to break free from the boring ole beat of war drums—in a kind of music known as “Jizz” or “Jazz”. But now they welcome the March and dub it Dance music.

A classic military cadence is found in the movie The Wizard of Oz (Trigger Warning!). It is known as the “Winkie Chant” and is performed by the Wicked Witch’s Winkie Guards.





The “Winkie Chant” covers the interval of a Perfect Fifth—up and down from the root A to the fifth E. It’s essentially a Winkie Bassline.

Many different lyrics are heard to the chant–Oh we love the Old One, All We Own We Owe Her—but according to the script the correct lyrics are: O-Ee-Yah! Eoh-Ah. Here’s the scene (Trigger Warning).

No one mourns the Wicked!

More topical military cadences coming soon…

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Rock Star Grammar


Rock star grammar is a subject very dear to me, and woe to the Chicago-style Nazis and prescriptive word-wardens, the Creative Writing teachers and literalist listeners; woe to ‘em.

Sometimes the demands of the melody outweigh the goal of making sense or even expressing meaning to your audience. Sometimes the song just writes itself, and it don’t got nothing to say; it’s a beautiful nonsensical mess. As a general rule, when lyrics are written to music you get bad poetry, and when poetry is sung you get cheesy music.

Elton John, the Pizza Man himself, never writes any lyrics to his songs, so he probably uses food-related placeholders in the chorus, as well as random refrains of twinkydinks and other jibberjabberwockycocks, the very jive and scribble speech of our dreams, before his lyricist turns “Tony Danza” or “Can You Feed Me Pizza Pies?” into a Grammy win. Mac Culkin geniusly appropriated the raw pizza tracks as art-rock set-pieces.

As legend has it, Paul McCartney dreamt up the song “Yesterday”, and lest he be Kubla Khan’d in his sleep, he hastily recorded a demo version in the middle of the night with the subbed in lyrics “Scrambled Eggs.”

Scrambled Eggs
All my bacon seemed so fried today

We now know that Sir Paul’s bionetic doppleganger-stalker symbiote—Faul McCartney, the even cuter Beatle—wrote the song “Yesterday” the day after he buried Paul.

* * *

Probably the most iconic instance of rock star grammar is found in Meatloaf’s “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I won’t Do That).”

But I’ll never forgive myself if we don’t go all the way tonight
And I would do anything for love, oh I would do anything for love
Oh I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that, no I won’t do that.

There are a few different readings of this line and all are troublesome. If the “that” is to be interpreted as infidelity, then why does he phrase it with the conjunction “but”, when it doesn’t contrast with his declaration of doing anything for love, and later in the song he directly challenges the accusation of “screwin’ around” with “NO I won’t do that.”

On VH1 Storytellers, Meat used a pointer and chalkboard (with the lyrics backwards as if to befuddle the fans) to explain the “that” in the song is contained in the lyric right before each chorus. That = “I’ll never forgive myself if we don’t go all the way tonight.” However, a literal substitution is problematic.

I would do anything for love, but I won’t never forgive myself if we don’t have sex tonight.


While the song gives many examples of what “that” could be, the lyrics imply it is something Meat would not do for love, while the “thats” of the song are all things that further Meat’s love and deepen his commitment to Mrs. Loaf, except for cheating, which still doesn’t make sense using “but,” when Meat really means “so” as in “SO I won’t do that.” Or “And I won’t do that” works. But “but” sounds better, I guess, which is why the song goes like that. What need have you for proper grammar when you rock star?

The best interpretation of the “that” in the song, as is the case in Sir Elton’s songs, is Sodomic Sex Magick (S&S&M).

* * *

Another irksome example of rock star grammar is found in Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars”. The catchy chorus goes “If I lay here / If I just lay here”, which sure sounds good, but the correct inflection should go “If I lie here / If I just lie here.” Sorry brogues.


Likewise, Bobby Dylan’s classic should go: Lie Lady Lie; lie upon my big-ass bed.

* * *

For some reason, I usually don’t hear lyrics in Music, like I don’t speak the language, and that might explain why Los Doggies sings about farts and shit. And to let my plebiness show some more, I don’t really care for poetry either.

But I’ve always like this verse by Austrian painter and Patron Saint of Hebephiles—Egon Schiele.

I am in myself,
the other ones are marked by thirthy longings and
all is for them through me.
They are in theirselves with me.
Because all the otherones I love too.
I love the noble ones in accepting in my heart
by giving back what I received.
I am human loving death and life.

That’s a nice one there and the grammar is neat too, although it might just be a bad translation.

I may not like poetry, but when it comes to bad grammar, I am the fucking Lizard King. And I’ve always liked starting sentences with “ands” and “buts” so I can sympathize with Meatloaf’s buts.

But can you think of more examples of bad grammar that serves a musical purpose? Please share them in the comments section below.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Elec Man, Faithfully

In our last post, we explored the melody of Mega Man’s cooler older brother Proto Man. Today, we’ll look at one of the original Robot Masters: Elec Man.

Elec Man was designed to oversee atomic energy power plants. Like Godzilla, he is a Japanese metaphor for The Bomb. Like other ego-magnetic electro-maniacs, he wears a cool lightning mask. Quick Man may be quicker, and Spark Man may have more volts, but Elec Man’s Theme is more memorable, even if it is just a Journey rip-off.

Full Elec Man Song


Sit with this melody for a moment. Notice the symmetry of the rests and the 4 notes, beginning and ending with D#, framed by a quarter rest.

These 4 notes of the Elec Man Theme are also found in the same rhythm and key in Journey’s “Faithfully”. Nintendo’s Golden Age music was heavily inspired by ’80s New Wave, Metal, and Prog. Both songs from Journey and Elec Man are in B Major, repeat the same simple melody over 8 bars, and follow a similarly descending bassline.

The 4 notes are a popular cliché (3rd, 2nd, 4th, 3rd), and not exactly the same as Journey’s intro piano riff, so we might’ve just chalked this up to a Vanilla Ice kinda scenario, where the subtraction of a single note creates an entirely new song. But wait till the end of “Faithfully”, and Steve Perry sings straight Elec Man in “woahs”; it is undeniable. The bassline is similar in that it descend, while the melody vamps, but it’s slightly different. In Elec Man, we descend from the dominant 7th: I VII IV iv V, or B A E/G# Em/G F#7, while in Journey, it’s a I vi V IV progression: B G#m F# E.

If there ever were a legal battle, the court case would be as epic as a boss battle: Journey vs. Mega Man, and in typical Mega Man series fashion, it could only be settled by the creation of a Steve Perry Robot Master to be included in an alphanumeric sequel.

Can you think of any other songs that use this melody? Please write them in the comments below. Honorary mention to the M.A.S.K. Theme Song.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather