15 June 2006

Popism #120 : Why Change the Lock When You Can Change the Key?

POPISM (N) : A musical or lyrical element used in so many pop songs that it becomes a cliche. Often known to evoke joy every time it is employed.

It's usually right after the bridge. You've been enjoying the song, bobbing your head to a verse and a few choruses, thinking you know what's up. And then, just to keep you on your toes, the song changes keys! Whoa! It's exciting because a singer shows off his or her range, and the same old lyrics and chord progressions feel revitalized. They do, you guys. They are in a different key.

I like to think of the key change as the moment in a song when, if the singer were standing outside, it would start raining really hard. Or lightning would strike three times in quick succession. The point is that something really dramatic would accompany the musical shift.

There are two major varities of key change. The first I'll call the "pause and jump," in which a song features a brief moment of silence before the singer leaps up to a new place in her register. Take Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This." Right after the bridge, she sings the familiar chorus line, "Some people wait a lifetime / For a moment..."

But then she pauses.

You can feel the particles charging in the ground. "Some people wait a lifetime/ For a moment... LIKE THIIIIS!" Key change! Lightning crashes! A new mother cries! Her placenta falls to the floor!

The other (and more sophisticated) key change is an "easy glide." One of my favorite examples is in Faith Hill's "This Kiss." She sings two choruses back to back, and she changes keys in the second without even stopping to take a breath. The music goes right up with her, and nobody breaks a sweat.

It's not as obviously dramatic, but this version of the key change is just as fun. And if you're singing along to a song with an "easy glide" that your friends haven't heard, you can impress them by working that right into your performance. They'll think you're clairvoyant, because who could have seen such a subtle change coming?

So what are your favorite key changes? Why do they always happen in ths chorus? Are there styles of this popism that I've overlooked? Do you wait for big moment in Robbie Williams' "Angels" as anxiously as I do?



At 10:06 AM, Blogger Laura B said...

One of my favorite key changes (which is in this case, if you might allow me to dork out for a moment, a half-step higher than the original key. Ooo, tension!)is in Bon Jovi's "Livin' On a Prayer." I can't remember exactly where it happens musically--maybe right before a chorus repetition near the end of the song--but I think that in the video, it's the point when the explosion happens and Jon Bon Jovi flys out Peter Pan-style over the crowd suspended on that wire.

At 7:33 PM, Anonymous katy said...

Yeah, I'm going to second that "Livin' On a Prayer" shout out. That's one of the all time greats. That key change just works me into a frenzy, I tell you. A frenzy!

Other key changes of note:

Get Out of My Dreams (Get Into My Car) -- Billy Ocean. After the dance break, we rachet the refrain up a key: "Get out of my dreams! Get into my car!"

Higher Love, Steve Winwood-- I could light the night up with my soul on fire. I could make the sun shine from pure desire. Let me feel that love come over me. Let me feel how strong it could be. And the key change! "Make me a higher love..." Brilliant.

Soldier of Love, Don Osmond -- We all know this is really Donny Osmond, but what are you going to do? He's willing to fight; he's a soldier of love. Another strong key change in this one.

What do all of these songs (including Livin' On A Prayer) have in common? Late-80s origins. What was it about the late eighties that made us so prone to the swelling refrain, pumped up further by an unapologetic key change?

At 3:01 PM, Anonymous Holtzwoman said...

Hands down Livin' On a Prayer. But a close second is Get Out of My Dreams (Get Into My Car). I have found community by sitting alone at my computer!

At 7:55 PM, Blogger Mark Blankenship said...

And welcome to this community, Ms. Holtzwoman. (You wouldn't to be Carrie, would you? Either way, welcome!)

At 7:43 AM, Anonymous kalle said...

"Livin' on a prayer" does win this category. But I will not try to sing it again in a karaoke. Had totally forgotten about the key change and I really blew the end (not that I sing that well to begin with).

I'm also thinking about Shania Twain's "From this moment" but that might have to do with her dress in the video...

(Mark, you may have noticed, it's my comment writing day... you have pretty compelling questions / topics... :o)


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