Thursday, September 9, 2010

Anatomy of a Great Road Song

Disclaimer: This post will be long. . .and will broach upon a level of musical geekery that I don't often show. I went to school for music, took voice from an evil genius, and took 4 years of ear training, which turned me into a musical analysis robot. Thus, when I listen to songs, I'm hearing these kinds of things. . . . Thanks to the UNO music staff and mom and dad for money well spent! Careful, don't let me ruin any of your favorite songs:

The windows are down, the breeze is blowing, and the radios get turned up. There's nothing like a good road song. This summer, in my travels, I noticed a few common themes that are (maybe) part of what makes a road song "great". Most of these had heavy rotation for the Brittons in the summer of '10. Buckle up:

What makes a good road song?

1) Good use of ascending bass lines and the "IV major 7 (add 9)" chord.

Both of these characteristics give the sense of motion and journey to a song (not journey as in "don't stop believin", journey as in "trip"). A few examples:

"Red Dirt Road" Brooks and Dunn

Do you hear the chord on "tore it all to pieces" in the chorus? How about "just for high achievers"? That's the IV major 7 (add 9) chord. The vocal melody and harmony is dancing around the 7 and the 9 as well. I just hear "journey" and "nostalgia" when I hear that chord.

When the song hits the post chorus: "I've learned, I've come to know", that's a bass walk up starting at the ii(2) chord. Good times.

Other things that make this song a great road song: Some awesome Hammond Organ work. It's there throughout, very tastefully. . . but especially after the last chorus. . .nice.

Other great road songs that use these techniques: "Wasted" Carrie Underwood; "End of the Innocence" Don Henley/Bruce Hornsby; "Absolute" The Fray (great IV chord here)

2) Lyrical Painting

Rich Mullins, "Land of my Sojourn"

(nice political commentary from Rich at the beginning)

And this road she is a woman
She was made from a rib
Cut from the sides of these mountains

Umm, yeah, I don't even know what to say about that except no one writes like Rich, and that is an unbelievable lyric.

(I couldn't find the album cut of this song on youtube. . . .you really must get "Liturgy/Legacy". . .unreal)

You gotta have a lyric that takes you somewhere; takes you right into a place or a moment. Also lyrics that evoke nostalgia are crucial to the "Epic Road Moment" where time stands still and you forget about whatever is going on.

Other great road songs that use this technique: "So Small" Carrie Underwood; "The Color Green" Rich Mullins; "Miracle Drug" U2, "Cielo" Phil Whickam; "Running to Stand Still" U2

3) Chord Progressions that evoke travel, or space.

#41 Dave Matthews Band

The chord progression that is used throughout this song is: ii, iii, vi, V. That's a very unique progression. In fact, I've never heard it before. I'm sure other songs use it, but I don't know them. Something about this song makes you feel like you're going somewhere, or perhaps that you've been somewhere. Also, any song that has 6-7 minutes of violin/sax/guitar solo should be a great road song.

Other great road songs that use this technique: "Clocks" Coldplay, "Your Love" Tommy Walker, "In Your City" Phil Whickam, "End of the Innocence" Don Henley/Bruce Hornsby

5) Good use of dance-y piano, organ, and instrumental virtuosity

"End of the Innocence" Don Henley/Bruce Hornsby

Hard to argue with this song (it's in, like, all the categories). Most people associate guitars with road songs. . .but I think pianos might be more effective at times.

Other great road songs that use this technique: "Your Love" Tommy Walker, "Red Dirt Road" Brooks and Dunn, "Cause We've Ended as Lovers" Jeff Beck, "That's Just the Way it is" Bruce Hornsby, "Why I am" Dave Matthews Band

Also, if you want your face contorted, check out Tommy Walker's guitar solo on "Your Love". . . unreal.

Ok, I"ll stop for now. I may do more musical analysis posts in the future. . .we'll see.

1 comment:

Jody Britton said...

that was on the verge of torture you know....