Dave Stewart's Music Seminar (Part 8)
Part 8: Deep underground, this month Dave Stewart tells how you can work within the pop medium yet still manage to create interesting music!
Pop music has to have an apparent simplicity, or it ceases to be pop music. Thus, all 'progressive' music of the sort that makes a point of its own complexity has been banished from the pop mainstream. If you are in any doubt about this, compose a piece of complex instrumental music (ideally one with plenty of 5/8 and 11/16 bars and dozens of key and tempo changes), record it, and take it along to your local radio station. Will they play it? Is Saddam Hussein a Catholic? The injustice and stupidity of this no longer bothers me as much as it used to, probably because I have tired of beating my head against the wall — and my local hospital, short on blood supplies and bandages, feels the same way. But for those of you who still rage against the establishment, provoked beyond endurance by the unending disco beat, the mindless lyrics, and the total lack of any kind of melodic or harmonic interest in the pop charts — do not despair! It is still possible to work in the simple pop medium and yet create interesting and original music. If this were not so, I would have given it up long ago.
Let us take as an example the song 'Deep Underground' (another of mine — sorry for this apparent musical narcissism, but I know my own music the best). Although in many ways it is a straightforward 4/4 rock song with a few simple chords, there are treasures buried beneath the surface. The first chord is a good example of this. Despite its oblique harmonic content (which makes it the musical equivalent of opening a conversation with a joke in an obscure Eskimo dialect), the sheer power of the keyboards and multitracked guitars that play it gets the point across. The slightly insane programmed percussion break that accompanies it reinforces the eccentricity... (see Figure 1).
The Bbm brass theme gives way to a verse that starts simply in Bbmaj, changing after eight bars to Ebmaj.
Nothing earth-shattering so far — but then the changes start to come thick and fast, (Figure 2) culminating in the four quick chords at the end of the verse (B, Bbm7, Eb over Ab, Eb9 over G) that lead into the new key of C for the chorus. So, a conventional chord change (Bb to C) is effected by unconventional means, and the vocal notes (Eb and Bb) that sustain through the first two of the four chords add extra harmonic interest.
The chorus of the song is relatively straightforward, based on the chords shown in Figure 3.
However, there is an interesting twist halfway through when the Ab to Gb movement is changed and extended to create three big accents (Figure 4). The chord sequence of the chorus is also used as a basis for a keyboard solo (played on a screeching, howling Prophet 5), but after three repeats of the sequence some new chords are introduced, with a melody line for the distorted synth (Figure 5). I like to incorporate written lines into my solos, often starting the solo ad lib and then progressing towards something fixed at the end. The written line is usually something that I improvised in an earlier take, selected and repeated in later takes. In the case of 'Deep Underground', this written line is orchestrated by the addition of a sampled xylophone an octave higher, and for a couple of bars a higher harmony line played on a second distorted Prophet. After the conclusion of the solo on a sustained B9maj7 chord, the chorus comes back in the key of C — a pleasing chord change.
Just in case you were still thinking that 'Deep Underground' was a regular kind of rock song, take a look at Figure 6, which shows the short instrumental section that follows the final chorus.
Four big, accented chords give way to a tense sustained chord under which pizzicato strings spit and bubble, building up to the climactic re-entry of the blaring brass tune featured in the intro. While none of these parts are particularly difficult or complex, the unusual quality of some of the voicings and progressions gives the song a distinctive sound. It always surprises me that more people don't use chords like these! Please try the parts on your keyboard if you can (and watch out for the occasional Cb) — I hope you'll agree with me that simple-sounding pop music can still contain interesting musical ideas.
First published in 'Keyboard Magazine', Japan.
All music © Budding Music 1990.
'Deep Underground' is from the CD The Big Idea by Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin, available via mail order from Broken Records, to whom any correspondence to Dave and Barbara should be directed.
Broken Records, (Contact Details).
Review by Dave Stewart
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