Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Top Ten List Of Popular Songs Which Contain Changes Of Key

As I may have mentioned here, I have been compiling a list of my top ten favourite ever pop-song key changes.  For many moons I've been meaning to share this list, since, after all, what good is knowledge if it's not passed on, but I've been held back by three simple things:

1) I'm lazy.
2) There were eleven songs in my top ten and I couldn't work out which one to ditch.
3) I have absolutely no idea whether "pop song" and "key change" should be hyphenated.

Number 1 is currently working in my favour, since it requires less effort to sit here and write this than it would to get up, get dressed and do something useful.
Number 2 I have decided to ignore.  Maybe no one will notice.
But number 3 is still giving me considerable anxiety, even after half an hour of googling.  It turns out that the laws governing correct hyphen use (correct hyphen-use?) are orders of magnitude more mysterious than, say, the proof of Fermat's last theorem, the great chicken-or-egg debate, or quantum entanglement. My last attempt at googling "should popsong be hyphenated" somehow led me to the IMDB's page of memorable quotes for the movie "Big", which I then felt compelled to read.  Classic movie, but not terribly relevant.  I am now suffering from a state of advanced hyphen paranoia, in which every pair of words I look at seems to be mocking me and daring me to put a hyphen between them.  So I've elected to circumnavigate the issue entirely by avoiding any further use of the phrases "key change" or "pop song" in everything I write for the rest of my life.

So, having settled that thorny issue, for your delight and delectation, your edification and amusement, for the furthering of musical education everywhere, and because - hyphen terror aside - it's still less effort than getting on with the day, I hereby present my Top Ten List Of Popular Songs Which Contain Changes Of Key.

10: Abba - Money Money Money
Your standard bread-and-butter modulation, beautifully and cheekily handled by the Swedish masters.  A clear precursor to the well-known Whitney approach.  (Incidentally, in my hyphen investigations, the one thing I did learn with certainty is that "well-known" is correct.  The rules about that are well known.)

9: Britney - Sometimes
Yes, I love Britney.  Especially vintage Britney.  I know, I know, I should be ashamed.  Whatevs.  The brilliance of this particular example of that thing which we are discussing is this:  its crassitude.  Seriously.  Listen to it.  If you can find a more crass example than this then I will burn my Britney posters.  (I don't really have any Britney posters.)

8: Taylor Swift - Love Story
Just the one, and it's fairly standard, but it's nicely executed and, crucially, it happens just as a guy is proposing.  If you need to propose, gentlemen, do it whilst simultaneously elevating the tonal centre of your song.  No girl can possibly say no to that.

7: Glen Campbell - If You Go Away
This is the undisputed Rolls Royce of the just-when-you-think-it's-all-over-the-strings-will-suddenly-come-in-and-swoosh-you-up-into-a-new-key-with-such-force-that-it-will-be-another-verse-before-your-stomach-catches-up category.  (That should keep the hyphen gods happy...)

6: Bon Jovi - Livin' On A Prayer
Every Christmas my brother and I used to play this in the car on our way to pick up our Granddad, in an attempt to get all the youthful enthusiasm and aggression out of our systems, ready for the awkward silence that would fill the car on the return journey after we'd exhausted our meagre repertoire of Grandfather-suitable conversations.  It's the unexpected rhythm that makes this one a winner - that and the fact that it takes the vocal line so high into the stratosphere that the only way to sing along is to scream.  Cathartic.

5: Michael Jackson - Heal The World
Risibly cheesy, but there are two - yes, two - perfectly executed feel-good semitone uppers in this hymn to philanthropy - and with less than 30 seconds between them.  Pure unabashed gold.

4: Delta Goodrem - Mistaken Identity
Of the many Neighbours-stars-turned-pop-artistes out there, the aptly-named Delta has probably changed key more times than all the rest put together - maybe in this one song alone.  I lost count.  It goes up, it goes back down, it goes sideways...  It's a tour-de-force of tonal indecision.  In a good way.  Also worthy of mention is her song "Not Me, Not I", which also turns some truly fruity tonal corners.

3.5: Diana Ross - When You Tell Me That You Love Me
Like a diamant√©-clad mountain goat, the lissom Miss Ross goes up and up and up in sophisticated leaps and bounds, and I defy you not to be moved by it.

3: Whitney Houston - I Have Nothing
Yes, I Love Whitney Houston, and who wouldn't after hearing this?  If anyone has seen the moment in Mission Impossible 4 when Tom Cruise launches himself implausibly through an open window hundreds of feet up in the air, well, the change of key going into the last chorus is exactly like that.  Exactly.

2: Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You
It had to be in here.  Come on, this moment pretty much defines Whitney and her music.  The aching, pregnant pause, the single reverb-drenched drum hit, the blazing, primal triumph of the new key... What purity!  What simplicity!  What class!  What cheese!

1: Michael Jackson - Man In The Mirror
Much as I love Whitney, the all-time award has to go to this song, for pulling off the brilliant coup d'√©tat of changing the key on the word "change". GE-NI-US.

So there you have it.  Happy listening, and I'll leave you with two important things I have discovered during the course of my research for this post:

1) "Crassitude" really is a word.
2) Westlife suck.



  2. If I could turn back time - Cher. If you happen to be in a covers band, and the singer decides to lengthen the song after the key change, then you come to that part again and go up another three semitones, and the singer quickly regrets their decision to wear fishnet stockings...