Most pop music lyrics rhyme. And most of those rhymes are symmetric, meaning the rhymed syllables fall on the same rhythmic beat of different measures. Take, for example, the first verse (0:12-0:32) of Maren Morris' 2016 hit '80s Mercedes':
In the first line she rhymes "last" with "dash", and in the second line she rhymes "practicality" with "me". All rhyming syllables are on the fourth beats of their measures (highlighted in red). This rhythmic consistency makes the rhymes symmetric.
But some songs break this pattern. The choruses of Madonna's 'Material Girl', for example, rhyme "world" with "girl", but the former is heard just before beat 3 (red) while the latter is heard just before beat 1 (blue). This lack of rhythmic consistency makes the rhymes asymmetric.
A more unusual example is Bon Jovi's 'You Give Love A Bad Name'. This time the syllable heard first on beat 3 ("blame" in red) is paired with the rhyming syllable on beat 2 ("name" in blue). The shift from beat 3 to beat 2 yields a displacement of one beat - unlike the 'Material Girl' example above, which pairs beats 3 and 1, a displacement of two beats, which is much more common.
One of the things that makes 'Bad Name' a particularly interesting example is that the lead guitar, which obviously can't sing lyrics, retains this asymmetry in the introduction (0:13-0:20). This proves that music doesn't necessarily need rhymes to employ asymmetry. It's just most common and most noticeable though lyrics.
For some reason - I have yet to pinpoint why - asymmetric rhymes seem to be most common in country styles. As a mandolin player, I'm quite fond of bluegrass, and Harley Allen and Mike Lilly's 'Suzanne' employs asymmetric rhymes in both the verses and choruses, each using the more conventional pairings of beats 3 (red) and 1 (blue).
Another conventional 3-to-1 country example is found in The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 'Baby's Got A Hold On Me':
Since asymmetric rhymes are more of a rhythmic device than a lyrical one, musicians could easily employ the same trick but on a deeper, hypermetric level. Indeed, hypermetric asymmetric rhymes can be heard in my opening example, '80s Mercedes'. The verses, as described above, use two-bar phrases with symmetric rhymes on the fourth beat of the first measures. But the prechorus speeds things up to a single measure.
The prechoruses rhyme "go" and "soul" just before beat 4 (in red). While these are still symmetric because each rhyme is on the same beat within the measure, the hypermetric quickening gives the impression of asymmetry in this specific context. However, in the last measure of the prechorus, she stutters, putting "go" just before beat 2 (in blue). And that is true asymmetric rhyming.
Yesterday, while walking my puppy dog, I did what I always do: put in ear phones.
I started with the audio book A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America by Bruce Cannon Gibney, but when that proved too depressing, I switched to music. A few days ago my wife commented on how she liked Ariana Grande's voice, so when I saw Grande's 2014 album My Everything in my library, I gave it a go.
The first track, appropriately titled 'Intro', immediately captured my attention.
First, a full structural analysis:
0:00-0:22 (A) Instrumental Introductory Verse (8)
(a) statement (2) Cb | Gb
(a) restatement (2) Cb | Gb
(b) departure (2) Fb2 Cb/Eb | Gb/Db CØ7
(c) conclusion (2) Cb | Db4-3
0:22-0:43 (A) Verse 1 (8)
(a) statement (2) Cb | Gb "I'll give..."
(a) restatement (2) Cb | Gb "Love me..."
(b) departure (2) Fb2 Cb/Eb | Gb/Db CØ7 "road to the sky..."
(c) conclusion (2) Cb | Db4-3 "I promise you..."
0:43-1:05 (A) Instrumental Solo (8)
(a) statement (2) Cb | Gb
(a) restatement (2) Cb | Gb
(b) departure (2) Fb2 Cb/Eb | Gb/Db CØ7
(c) conclusion (2) Cb | Db4-3
1:05-1:19 (A') Instrumental Coda (4)
(a) statement (2) Cb | Gb
(a) restatement (2) Cb | Gb
Each section is fundamentally the same, despite surface-level differences, rendering the structure a Simple (or Strophic) design.
The coda, though related, is clearly supplemental to the form because its abbreviated. You could argue that the intro is also supplemental (introductions are by definition supplemental), yielding an A x2 with intro and coda; however, since the intro is a full iteration of the module, I would count it as the first A section, making it an A x3 with coda. Either interpretation works, but I find the latter more accurate.
That being said, it's not quite as straightforward as it might appear because Grande plays with the phrase rhythms during the solo. While the underlying harmonies retain the same two-measure hypermetric phrasing as the rest of the song, the melodic instrumental phrasing of the solo (starting in bar 17) through the coda is offset by one measure. This creates a greater sense of finality at the song's end by giving the impression of concluding on a hypermetrically strong beat, even though it's actually a weak beat. This is brilliant songwriting!
Even more fascinating are the chords. Each departure phrase halves the harmonic rhythm, fitting two chords per bar (one chord every two beats, for a total of four chords in two measures), where the other phrases employ just one chord per bar (one chord every four beats, for a total of two chords in two measures). The fourth of those four departure phrase chords is the most unusual and interesting: It's a C half-diminished seventh (C-Eb-Gb-Bb). Half-diminished sevenths are rare in popular music. The Beatles used them in only two of their 211-song official catalog: 'Because' and 'You Never Give Me Your Money' (curiously, one Lennon song and one McCartney song, both from 1969's Abbey Road). No doubt there are other pop songs that employ this rare and intriguing harmony, but I can't think of any off the top of my head.
Anyway, Ariana uses the half-diminished seventh somewhat differently than did John and Paul. (I don't know enough about Grande to know if she's a composer as well as a singer, but for the sake of this blog I will assume she is.) All three songwriters use the chord as a pre-dominant, but where The Beatles always employ it as a ii chord, Grande's use of the same harmony is not so evident.
This ambiguity stems from the fact that it's almost several other chords, but not quite.
Interpretation One: vi/#4
At its simplest, it could be interpreted as a conventional vi chord, but with a #4 (or b5) in the bass. This would render the progression (technically a retrogression) as bVII-IV-I-vi (in Gb: Fb-Cb-Gb-eb), which appears totally reasonable to the eye, though I can't think of any other song to use that particular pattern in a single phrase. (The Beatles used it in 'Dig A Pony', but as incongruent constituents bridging two consecutive phrases.) The problem is I just don't hear it that way. In other words, yes, this interpretation looks good, but I don't think it accurately captures what I'm hearing.
Interpretation Two: augmented sixth
What I'm hearing, that the above interpretation neglects, is how the C and Bb function like an augmented sixth chord. Enharmonically reinterpreting the C as Dbb gives it properly spelled augmented sixth function, as it resolves by half step down to Cb (shown in blue in the example below), just as the Bb resolves up to the same pitch class (shown in red).
Okay, so now it does reflect what I'm hearing. But this "fix" creates a few new complications:
Interpretation Three: CTØ7
Common tone diminished chords are standard - they're a staple of romantic and barbershop styles. So could this mystery chord in 'Intro' be one?
I have two problems with that notion. First of all, common tone diminished chords are usually common tone fully diminished seventh chords, where this would be a common tone half-diminished seventh - something I've never encountered before in any style or context. And second, common tone diminished chords are "supposed" to keep the root as the common tone, where in this case the third and the fifth are common tones while the root is not.
So, technically, yes, this is a common tone diminished - it's just not what music theorists normally mean when they use that term.
The bottom line is: I have no idea how to interpret this chord. And that ambiguity makes for absolutely fascinating and engaging analysis and consideration.
In the face of all this ambiguity, it's difficult - maybe even impossible - to make any clear verdicts. Yet I can draw one conclusion with utmost certainty: I'll be listening to a lot more Ariana Grande!
Trevor de Clercq, Assistant Professor in the Recording Industry faculty at Middle Tennessee State University, authored an article titled "Measuring a Measure: Absolute Time as a Factor in Determining Bar Lengths and Meter in Pop/Rock Music" in 2016. This blog is a summary and critique of that article.
The article opens with three different transcriptions of The Beatles' 1966 'Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)'.
To be clear, they are all correct, even thought they all employ different time signatures. Had The Beatles written down their songs as sheet music, we could use whatever meter that sheet music used as the definitive interpretations. However, with no such "official score" available, de Clercq ponders, "Is one of these time signatures more appropriate than the others?"
And to answer that question, he posits "that absolute time plays a significant role in determining our perception of meter". He further suggests that "about two seconds" is the best ballpark absolute duration per measure. In other words, if you have to chose between multiple valid options for an ambiguous meter, your default interpretation should be that which is closest to two seconds, which he considers the Goldilocks zone: not too short, not too long, but just right.
Applying that principle to 'Norwegian Wood', the best choice would be 6/8, which, at 60 bpm, yields precisely two seconds per measure.
Having objectively summarized de Clercq's main point (the "two second rule"), I'll now subjectively critique the essay. To do so, I will distinguish between the content of the article and the presentation of that content.
The content - mainly that two seconds per measure should be the default duration when transcribing rock music - I find valid and compelling. I will certainly adopt this "two second rule" whenever I'm analyzing pop music in the future.
That being said, I find the same problem I often encounter in academic essays in the presentation - mainly that it's too long and too complicated. I'm a firm proponent of the "less is more" writing philosophy - that authors should write only enough to effectively articulate their meaning because writing any more than that is superfluous! But the academic approach to writing, as witnessed in this essay, seems to be "why write three pages when you could write forty pages saying the same thing?" This is overly-formal, meaning it's formal to the point of inhibiting understanding. And as professional educators, aren't academics supposed to facilitate learning, rather than impede it?
I'm guessing that de Clercq would counter my criticism by saying he wants to be as thorough as possible, and that's why he included 19 pages of examples. And of course he needs to be thorough, and he certainly needs to demonstrate that thoroughness. Yet he could've written an economical four page article (instead of fourteen) with a substantial appendix that would both exhibit his meticulous research and analysis while also "tightening up" the essay by omitting the nonessential material.
Though I regard the content of this article highly, I find the presentation problematic. In short, the content, while valuable, is not substantial enough to justify the verbose presentation. And so I return, once again, to "less is more": A more concise delivery would only make this essay better.
The other day I received an email from a man named Brian Hebert. He recently published a book titled Blue Notes and Sad Chords: Color Coded Harmony in The Beatles 27 Number 1 Hits, and offered to mail me a complementary copy. I eagerly accepted Brian's offer, but countered by saying he could save shipping costs by just giving it to me in person. Since he lives in Massachusetts, and I'm speaking throughout the Bay State this month, why don't we meet in person to chat and exchange books? So we set up a meeting on Wednesday, July 18 at Stone's Public House in Ashland, MA. A splendid time was guaranteed for all!
Indeed, the conversation was so engaging that an hour and half passed in what felt like ten minutes! Brian told me all about his experiences writing the book, and how he made various decisions. I happily chimed in with my own stories - good and bad - of whole process. We also conversed about several of the notoriously difficult chords to identify: the intro of 'A Hard Day's Night', the B chord (is it major? minor? is there a seventh?) in 'I Want To Hold Your Hand'. At one point during the meal, I asked Brian if he'd be interested in a blog interview to help promote the book. He heartily agreed, and I hope to publish that shortly.
After generously picking up the check, Brian left the restaurant with my BEATLESTUDY, volume 1: Harmonic Analysis of Beatles Music in hand; I departed with Blue Notes. And I've been carefully reading it for the last several days. Below is my summary and review.
The book is divided into three parts. The first section is introductory, establishing the basic premises for the book. “Hundreds of books in all sizes and shapes have been written about the Beatles,” Hebert writes. “Many are biographical … some books are primarily collections of photographs. Still other books help readers peer behind the curtains … A small number of books actually describe the music in detail [my emphasis]" [page 4].
An author after my own heart!
He continues: “Typically written by musical experts, most of these books require the reader to possess a detailed understanding of music theory and a very specialized vocabulary, and as such are generally inaccessible to the average fan. … One goal of this book is to bridge that gap, and provide lovers of Beatles music with a unique and enjoyable way to understand some of the key musical elements that made the four lads from Liverpool so successful, without needing to be a musician or possess any specialized knowledge of music theory. … One of the key ideas this book hopefully gets across is that these musical concepts can be conveyed and understood intuitively, using relatively simple, color-rich graphics, which do not at all require an in-depth understanding of music theory” (pages 4, 6).
Hebert makes it clear this is not an academic textbook, though it is analytic in nature: “This book is not intended as a scholarly work. You won't find footnotes or a list of references, and Wikipedia has been used as a main source for many facts” (page 12).
The second section features color-coded “song map” textural analyses of The Beatles' 27 #1 hits (as included on the album 1), or in his own words, “the song maps show which Beatles are singing on the different parts of a song, and whether they are singing alone or together, in unison or in harmony” (page 3). In other words, the colors represent who is singing what. “If we assign a primary color to each singing Beatle voice (John red, Paul blue, and George yellow) and color code the parts of a song, we can see where they were singing alone, using a primary color, or together in unison or harmony, using secondary colors” (page 8).
'She Loves You' is a particularly vibrant example:
Because the combinations of voices in this song are so varied (see the song map legend at the top right of the graphic), the song map's coloration is equally varied.
The third and final section, for which the book is titled, analyzes harmony through a new color scheme, “using the analogy of an artist's palette of paints” (page 3). In this case, color represents not texture but harmony: red for I, green for ii, light gray for bIII, purple for iii, orange for IV, yellow for V, dark gray for bVI, light blue for vi, dark blue for bVII, and beige for vii. In general, brighter colors correspond to happier-sounding chords, where darker colors correspond to sadder-sounding chords.
Here, for example, is the palette for 'Can't Buy Me Love':
What this palette shows is that the verses employ the bright-sounding I (red), IV (orange), and V (yellow), while the refrains supplement with the dark-sounding iii (purple), and vi (blue).
I've always found 'Can't Buy' fascinating for precisely this reason: The verses sound much happier than the refrains (what I would call choruses, but that's semantics and I won't get into it here). Furthermore, the lyrics reinforce this shift. In the darker-sounding refrains, the lyrics are negative, with Paul describing what cannot be done (“Can't buy me love...”). But in the brighter-sounding verses, the lyrics are more positive, describing what can be done (“I'll buy you a diamond ring...”, “I'll give you all I've got...”).
Also, observant readers might notice a little blue dot in the above graphic, just to the right of the “V”. This indicates the use of a “blue note”, in which the pitch of a tone is lowered (ie, in a C major chord, the note E would be “normal”, while the note E-flat would be a “blue” note) for expressive reasons. “They can give a low-down, swampy, or lonesome feeling,” writes Hebert [page 17]. In the verses of 'Can't Buy', for instance, Paul frequently sings blue notes: “I'll buy you a dia-mond ring..”, “I'll get you a-ny-thing...”, “I'll give you all I got...”, “I may not have a lot...”, “Say you don't need no diamond rings...”, “Tell me that you want the kind of things...”. The Beatles (and a great many other pop musicians) use blue notes frequently.
Where my own work (especially in the last year or two) has turned more analytic and technical, Hebert's Blue Notes and Sad Chords provides an accessible path for the obsessive but non-musician fan who wants to better understand the intricacies and sophistication of The Beatles' extraordinary music. And in addition to the colorful analytics, Hebert balances things out by including lots of non-technical nostalgic info, like calling out other artist’s songs in the charts before and after a Beatles hit, a back story for each number, personal memories and thoughts about the Beatles and the 1960s, and a condensed Beatles timeline. While I'm not a first-generation fan, I imagine the book could be a very pleasurable trip down memory (Penny?) lane for anybody that lived through the Sixties. As the book's back cover states: “Whether you're a long-time baby boomer Beatle fan, a younger newcomer, or somewhere in between, this book will give you an entirely new appreciation for the most amazing band ever.”
Blue Notes and Sad Chords is available for purchase on Amazon.com.
The other day I blogged about my intent to "post summaries and reviews of articles and books by authors who have written about those 'purely musical achievements'." This will be the first such post.
Mark Spicer is professor of music at Hunter College in New York, NY. He published an article in Music Theory Online last year in which he cites three examples of how pop musicians “toyed with tonality” by citing “three tonal scenarios”. This blog will summarize Spicer's main points and examples. I will close by relating his ideas to the catalog I know best: The Beatles.
The first scenario Spicer considers are fragile tonics, which he defines as “the tonic chord is present but its hierarchical status is weakened”. Among other examples, Spicer cites Hall and Oates' 'She's Gone' (1973).
The song is in E major, however the tonic chord is conspicuously absent from the verses, and appears only fleetingly (as a first-inversion passing chord on a week beat) in the choruses.
This weakened tonic often corresponds to the lyrics, as is the case in Hall and Oates' 'She's Gone' (1973), in which the fragile tonic reflects the singer's fragile emotional state following a break-up:
My face ain't looking any younger
Now I can see love's taken her toll on me.
She's gone. I 'd better learn how to face it.
She's gone. I'd pay the devil to replace her.
She's gone. What went wrong?
The second tonal scenario are emergent tonics, in which “the tonic chord is initially absent yet deliberately saved for a triumphant arrival later”. Spicer cites Prince's 'Little Red Corvette' (1982) as an example.
The tonic D-flat major chord, absent from the verses, emerges in the choruses, "where it serves as a metaphor for the release of the sexual tension built up in the preceding verse."
Third are absent tonics, in which "the promised tonic chord never actually materializes.” Obviously this third category is the most difficult to discern for the reason that tonic is never heard - the song's harmony must convincingly imply tonic without actually giving it. From a compositional standpoint, this is tough to do (or at least it's difficult to do well); and from an analytic standpoint, it's heavily dependent on interpretation (how convincingly is tonic implied?). Spicer provides the example of 'Jane Says' (1988) by Jane's Addiction.
The entire song consists of just two vacillating G and A chords, yet the song is clearly in D (judging from the sung melody). The tonic D major chord, then, is entirely absent - never heard, not even once, throughout the nearly-five-minute song.
So there are Spicer's three categories of fragile, emergent, and absent tonics. How do The Beatles fit into these categories?
Well, the short answer is: They don't! The Beatles tend to be very clear about their tonics, and it's extremely rare to find a section of any given song (much less an entire song) with a fragile, emergent, or absent tonic.
John Lennon's 'Glass Onion' (1968) is the sole exception. Lennon said about it: “I was just having a laugh, because there had been so much gobbledegook written about Sgt. Pepper. People were saying, 'Play it backwards while standing on your head, and you'll get a secret message.' … I threw the line in – 'The Walrus was Paul' – just to confuse everybody a bit more" (Dowlding, page 225; Sheff, page 208). So the lyrics aren't supposed to make sense! And indeed, the harmony (appropriately) doesn't make sense, either. In BEATLESTUDY, I analyzed it three different ways: in C major, in A minor, and in F major. None of those three fit perfectly, but between the three I think I covered it pretty well.
The only cadences in 'Glass Onion' are the g-C-F progressions (ii-V-I in F major) heard from 0:15-0:19, 0:44-0:49, and 1:34-1:38; and the F-G-a progressions (bVI-bVII-i in A minor) heard from 0:27-0:31, 0:57-1:01, and 1:16-1:20. But if I had to pick "the best tonal interpretation", I'd probably chose C major, even though there are no cadences to confirm that tonality. In fact, every time a potential cadence builds (every time we hear a strong predominant followed by a strong dominant), that expectation is thwarted by meandering harmony. So I think the best interpretation of 'Glass Onion' is with the absent tonic of C major.
I've been on a Led Zeppelin kick lately, listening over and over to their albums and reading everything I can about the band. In one book, I read the following in the preface:
“In the wake of the on-the-road-tales-of-debauchery-style Led Zeppelin books that were reaching the market, I felt the balance needed redressing. I saw it as a golden opportunity to celebrate the purely musical achievements [my emphasis] of the group.”
I'm normally a stickler for the citation of sources – the lack thereof is one of my biggest annoyances. In this case, however, I'm going to keep the author anonymous because I want to challenge the content, not the writer.
This preface - especially the words “purely musical achievements” - resonate strongly with me. In fact in my initial Led Zeppelin blog, I wrote almost identical words:
“Much like The Beatles literature, the problem with the extant Zeppelin literature is that so little of it focuses on the music. Many books seem more concerned about lurid descriptions of orgies, or Jimmy Page's obsession with the occult and Aleister Crowley, or 'hidden meanings' in their lyrics and album artwork than they are about the actual music. [Yet] it is, after all, the music – not their salacious love lives or hotel-trashing – that makes Led Zeppelin compelling and worthy of study and criticism a half century later.”
And so I was ecstatic to find another author who valued the music most.
Unfortunately, I disappointed. Because this author proceeded to write 216 additional pages without once ever addressing the music. In fact, on the subsequent page of the preface, he contradicts his earlier claim:
“So if you want to know what Led Zeppelin recorded, and where and when they did so, the details of their session appearances and pre-Zep work, their concert itineraries, a guide to rare Zep collectibles, the instruments they used, extensive discographies and chronologies, a summary of their solo careers and that aforementioned ten album track by track analysis, well it's all here.”
He first says he wants "to celebrate the purely musical achievements of the group", but then lists all the different types of information he includes in the book, none of which are the actual music. And it's pretty clear what's happening here: It's not that the author is lying or deliberately deceiving his readers, it's that in this case he is using a generally-accepted but literally inaccurate definition of what constitutes music.
Strictly speaking, music has two fundamental parameters: pitch and rhythm. So if something has no pitch and no rhythm, then it literally cannot be music. Therefore, if an analysis or commentary about music fails to address pitch and/or rhythm (as is the case throughout the book quoted above) then its subject literally cannot be music. This is why toenails can never be music – they have no aurally discernible pitch or rhythm – but the sound of clipping toenails is (or at least could be). It's also why James Whistler's famous painting Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl is (appropriately) misnamed: Of course Whistler knows that he's painting and not actually composing a musical symphony - his title is metaphorical and artistic, rather than literal.
To be clear, there's nothing inherently wrong with writing a book where the subject is history or biography or discography or chronology or collectibles or concert itineraries or instrumentation or orgies or anything else tangentially related to actual music. Indeed, a great many readers (often including myself) enjoy consuming this style of writing. But I focus on the literal music of popular music - how recording artists of the past several decades employ pitch and rhythm in compelling, sophisticated, and ever-evolving ways. And academia is the best place to do so.
To that end, I have decided on revamping my Led Zeppelin blog into a Pop Music blog. I will analyze not only Zeppelin's music, but other pop recording artists' music, as well. I will also post summaries and reviews of articles and books by authors who have written about those “purely musical achievements”.
Macro Structure: Compound ternary (ABA)
0:00-0:32 Intro (15)
0:32-0:56 (A) Verse A 1 (12)
0:56-1:44 (A') Verse A 2 + Refrain (24)
1:44-1:54 Unison 2-bar riff x2 (4)
1:54-2:04 Harmonized 2-bar riff x2 (4)
2:04-2:18 (B) Verse B 1 + 2-Bar Refrain (6)
2:18-2:37 (B') Verse B 2 + 4-Bar Refrain (8)
2:37-2:47 Unison 2-bar riff x2 (4)
2:47-2:57 Harmonized 2-bar riff x2 (4)
2:57-3:11 (B) Verse B 3 + 2-Bar Refrain (6)
3:11-3:30 (B') Verse B 4 + 4-Bar Refrain (8)
3:30-3:40 Unison 2-bar riff x2 (4)
3:40-3:52 Harmonized 2-bar riff x2 (4)
3:52-4:19 (A'') Refrain (8)
There's the raw analysis. I'll post commentary on that analysis soon.
The Led Zeppelin song that displays the most different influences has to be 'How Many More Times', the concluding track of their 1969 self-titled debut album. Jimmy Page never denied those influences, admitting the song "was made up of little pieces I developed when I was with the Yardbirds. ... After the Yardbirds fell apart and it came time to create Zeppelin, I had all those ideas as a textbook to work from" (Tolinski, page 82, 50). Robert Plant never hid it, either, saying, "it's got all those Sixties bits and pieces" (Wall, page 50). This blog will observe each "little piece" to illustrate how 'How Many More Times' came together.
The most obvious influence is Howlin' Wolf's 'How Many More Years' (1951), which shares a nearly-identical title and modest lyrical similarities.
Howlin' Wolf: 'How Many More Years' (0:26-0:51)
How many more years have I got to let you dog me around?
How many more years have I got to let you dog me around?
I'd as soon rather be dead, sleeping six feet in the ground
Led Zeppelin: 'How Many More Times' (0:40-1:18, 7:11-7:47)
How many more times, treat me the way you wanna do
How many more times, treat me the way you wanna do
When I give you all my love, please, please be true
How many more times, barrel house all night long
How many more times, barrel house all night long
Well I've got to get to you, baby, oh, please come home
Another lyrical influence is Albert King's 'The Hunter':
Albert King: 'The Hunter' (0:14-0:56)
They call me the hunter, that's my name
A pretty woman like you, is my only game
I bought me a love gun, just the other day
And I aim to aim it your way
Ain't no use to hide, ain't no use to run
'Cause I've got you in the sights of my love gun
Led Zeppelin: 'How Many More Times' (6:17-7:05)
Well, they call me the hunter, that's my name
Call me the hunter, that's how I got my fame
Ain't no need to hide, ain't no need to run
'Cause I've got you in the sights of my gun
Zeppelin biographer Stephen Davis claims it also borrows riffs from King's song (Davis, page 59), but I don't hear any. Author Keith Shadwick also claims the "sledgehammer walking riff" was "borrowed from Albert King's 'The Hunter'" (Shadwick, page 59). But since neither Davis nor Shadwick provides any evidence to support or validate the claim, I'm confident dismissing it as nonsense.
Less obvious, but still significant, Plant also borrowed from 'Kisses Sweeter Than Wine' (1957) by Jimmie Frederick Rodgers (not to be confused with country singer Jimmie Charles Rodgers).
Jimmie F. Rodgers: 'Kisses Sweeter Than Wine' (0:01-0:25, 1:20-1:42)
Well, when I was a young man never been kissed
I got to thinkin' it over how much I had missed
So I got me a girl and I kissed her and then, and then
Oh, lordy, well I kissed her again
Because she had kisses sweeter than wine
Well our children they numbered just about four
And they all had a sweetheart a-knockin' on the door
They all got married and they wouldn't hesitate
I was, whoops oh lord, the grandfather of eight
Because she had kisses sweeter than wine
Led Zeppelin: 'How Many More Times' (4:08-4:48)
I was a young man, I couldn't resist
Started thinkin' it over, just what I had missed
Got me a girl and I kissed her and then and then
Whoops, oh lord, well I did it again
Now I've got ten children of my own
I got another child on the way that makes eleven
Once again, there appears to be some confusion whether or not Rodgers' influence was also musical. Another Zep biographer, Mick Wall, claims, "there was even a lick of two appropriated from Jimmy [sic] Rodgers' 'Kisses Sweeter Than Wine'" (Wall, page 55). But here again, I do not hear any significant musical similarities, and since Wall provides no evidence to support his statement, I cannot agree with the conclusion.
So if neither King or Rodgers served as musical inspiration for 'How Many More Years', then who did?
Five years before Zeppelin released 'How Many More Times', The T-Bones released the same song. Wall claims Zep's version has "more than a passing nod to a mid-Sixties version of the same tune by Gary Farr and the T-Bones (Wall, page 55), but to my ears "a passing nod" is generous.
Rather, the most significant thing to notice here is that The T-Bones changed the original title of 'How Many More Years' to 'How Many More Times' - an alteration that Zeppelin would retain.
Much more significant are things Zeppelin does differently from The T-Bones. The cover opens with a repeated two-measure riff absent from The T-Bones' recording...
... but present in a 1965 Yardbirds cover of Howlin' Wolf's 'Smokestack Lightning'.
Though The Yardbirds never released a studio recording of 'Smokestack Lightning', at least three live recordings have been released:
Of those three, only the last employs the riff to be recycled on 'How Many More Years'.
Eric Clapton joined The Yardbirds in October 1963, and quit in March 1965. Presumably that means the first two recordings - the ones WITHOUT the 'How Many More Years' riff - feature him on guitar.
Jeff Beck joined in March 1965, and quit in the fall of 1966. Presumably that third recording - the one WITH the riff - features him on guitar. So Beck might have written it, or perhaps he, in turn, borrowed it from someone else. Either way, the 'How Many More Years' riff was NOT invented by Jimmy Page.
More confusion is found regarding Page's solo on 'How Many More Times'. Wall claims Page's solo is "a slowed-to-a-crawl take on Jeff Beck's solo from the Yardbirds' 'Shapes of Things' (Wall, page 55), and Davis insists "the guitar solo is from 'Shapes of Things' (Davis, page 59). But is that true? And if so, how?
Here's Beck's solo from 'Shapes' (starting at 1:34):
And here's the beginning of Page's solo from 'More Times' (starting at 2:11):
To my ears, the only similarity is the I-bVII harmonic ostinato (|G|F| in 'Shapes'; |E| |D| | in 'More Times'). I hear no significant similarities between the actual solos.
There is one more musical similarity: The bolero rhythm.
French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) is most famous for his 1928 composition 'Bolero', which features this rhythmic ostinato throughout:
After departing The Yardbirds in 1966, Jeff Beck launched a solo career. His 1968 debut solo album, Truth, includes the track 'Beck's Bolero', which incorporates a similar rhythmic ostinato.
One year later, Jimmy Page (who produced and performed on 'Beck's Bolero') and John Paul Jones (who also performed on 'Beck's Bolero') would incorporate an identical rhythmic ostinato into 'How Many More Years'.
Davis, Stephen. 1995. Hammer of the Gods: Led Zeppelin Unauthorized. Pan Books, an imprint of Macmillan General Books; London, England.
Shadwick, Keith. 2005. Led Zeppelin: The Story of a Band and their Music 1968-1980. Backbeat Books; London, England.
Tolinski, Brad. 2012. Light & Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page. Crown Publishers; New York, NY.
Wall, Mick. 2008. When Giants Walked the Eart: A Biography of Led Zeppelin. St. Martin's Griffin; New York, NY.
I've been researching and analyzing Led Zeppelin for the past few months, reading every book I can get my hands on and regularly listening to all of their albums.
One book I encountered was Experiencing Led Zeppelin: A Listener's Companion by Gregg Akkerman. What intrigued me was that Gregg has a background as a musician - he earned a Doctor of Arts in Music Theory & Composition from the University of Norther Colorado (coincidentally, the same degree program I'll start this fall at Ball State University). Most Zeppelin authors I've read are music journalists - not necessarily musicians themselves, much less music theorists. And it shows. But Gregg's extensive musical education, knowledge, and experience as a practicing musician yield an entertaining and enlightening read.
I managed to find Gregg on Facebook, and we started an email dialog. I asked him if he'd be interested in an interview for my blog, to which he accepted. Our conversation is below.
Led Zeppelin is often called "the greatest rock band in history". Why, in your opinion?
I don’t think they are the greatest in history because other bands lasted longer and prevailed through several changes in popular music. I do think they were the greatest rock band of their time period for several reasons. Besides the fact that they looked great on stage and fully embraced the concept of “rock stars,” they were simply man-for-man better musicians and songwriters than other bands of the time. Singers like David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes are roughly as good as Plant, but none of them ever came up with melodies and lyrics as strong as “Kashmir,” “In the Light,” “Ten Years Gone,” etc. Page is not only a great guitarist but an absolute brilliant producer. He’s the main reason every Zeppelin album still sounds good today. Jones is the perfect triple threat as a bassist, keyboardist, and arranger. And Bonham has proven to be gold standard for all rock drummers since the first Zeppelin album. Throw in the tough-guy management style of Peter Grant and there’s the recipe for an absolutely great band.
How do you respond to those who take the opposite approach and claim Zeppelin is a charlatan - that they're all marketing with no substance?
I would recall the facts of the time period the band got up and rolling. They didn’t do much of what we call promotion other than print ads and playing great shows. They almost never appeared on TV either performing or being interviewed. They didn’t sail inflatable pigs over England. They didn’t qualify as a super group because Plant and Bonham had almost no popularity before Zeppelin. They didn’t even release singles to to increase radio airplay in their home country. They are certainly guilty of not crediting the source of several blues numbers from their early days but most the groups of the time did the same thing. It was wrong, but hardly unusual. They just got too famous and wealthy for it to be ignored.
Along similar lines, many people have cited "Stairway to Heaven" as the greatest single rock song of all time. Do you agree?
“Greatest” is always problematic, but “Stairway” is certainly a great song. It was the culmination of Page’s unique songwriting style striving to combine soft and hard, light and dark. He had touched on those attributes with things like “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You,” but it all came together on “Stairway.” Again, I say look at other groups of the time and there was simply no one else putting out songs like that: a long form of multiple sections that drives wonderfully towards the conclusion, great musicianship on all parts, interesting lyrics, a stunning guitar solo, inspired singing, and no reliance on an actual chorus.
What's your personal background and education?
Eight years of piano lessons as a kid, years of banging it out in garage bands, 15 years of actually making a living as a keyboardist in San Diego, 12 years as a college educator (doctorate of Music Theory and Composition from University of Northern Colorado), written a couple books, and now back to performing again.
How did you come to Led Zeppelin?
As a kid in the 1970s I was always intrigued by the LP records my older brothers had laying around and Zeppelin, along with Pink Floyd, Yes, Rush, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer all stood out. I can still remember when In Through the Outdoor was released and you didn’t know which photo was on the album cover until you bought it and removed the brown paper wrapper. That was a big moment for a Zep fan back then.
And how did you end up writing a book about them?
I got connected with the acquisitions editor at the Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group and they were looking for someone to supervise a new series of books called the Listerner’s Companion designed to explain to non-musicians how and why the music of various composers or bands has stood the test of time. So besides recruiting authors and overseeing their writing, I wrote Experiencing Led Zeppelin as a book of my own in the series. It was a dream come true that all those hours listening to Zeppelin as a kid had laid the foundation for me to write about their music as an adult.
So much has been said and written about Led Zeppelin already. Is it even possible to say anything new?
It certainly seems so. We’re now at the 50th anniversary of their first album and the fascination with the band is still palpable. It’s amazing, considering their complete studio output was only 9 albums.
What's your favorite Zeppelin album and song? Why?
The first album just never gets old to me. It’s exceptionally rare for a band to have a first album so fully formed. Page had such a clear concept of what he was going for that once he found the right personnel, it just launched. Bands like Van Halen, Kiss, and Aerosmith kicked around a long time trying to get traction, but Zeppelin just exploded from the few months between their first-ever rehearsal to the release of the debut album. In addition, Physical Graffiti is an excellent album because of the variety of material, and I still give Presence the nod for being a no-nonsense rocker. As for single songs, I don’t have an absolute favorite but I’ve probably listened to “Since I’ve Been Loving You” more than any other. It’s got everything in it that I love about the band.
You've also written a book titled The Last Balladeer: The Johnny Hartman Story. Tell me about that book.
I played a lot of jazz and blues in my 20s and became fascinated with the recording of “Lush Life” from Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane. Then, in my 40s I was a college professor writing a journal article about Coltrane and wanted some quick biographical information on Hartman, only to find that there wasn’t much out there and most of it disagreed on basic facts like his age and birthplace. Writers are always on the lookout for that kind of daylight: an interesting subject that hasn’t already been heavily or accurately covered. I wrote up a sample chapter and got a publisher interested. The Last Balladeer: The Johnny Hartman Story came out in 2012 and was nominated for Jazz Book of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association which I’m proud of because those folks are hard to impress. Several of the artists I interviewed have passed away since then so I’m grateful for chance to communicate when we did.
I understand you now work as a professional pianist on cruise ships. Does your knowledge and understanding of Zeppelin and Hartman inform your playing at all?
I work on cruise ships 6 months a year playing about 4 hours a night, 6 nights a week and I play and sing music of every conceivable genre to keep a crowd engaged. I do get the occasional request for “Lush Life” and Zeppelin and I definitely think I’ve got added layers of insight because of my studying the music so deeply. It’s stuff the general audience has no clue about, but I know precisely what phrasing, chords and riffs are played here and there and that provides a private moment of self satisfaction.
What's next for you? Any more books (about Zeppelin or otherwise) in the works?
There’s always several concepts bouncing around my head. I do have an idea for a Zeppelin-related book but I’m having too much fun getting paid to cruise the Caribbean.
Form: deceptive AABA/compound simple (AA'Bx2)
0:00 (d) Tag B (1)
0:03 (c) Tag A (1)
0:06-0:25 (A) Verse 1
0:06 (a) “As I walk...” (2)
0:11 (a) “And a train...” (2)
0:16 (a') “There is no doubt...” (4*)
0:25-0:44 (A') Verse 2
0:25 (a) “Just a simple guy...” (2)
0:30 (a) “A ray of sunshine...” (2)
0:35 (a'') “There's nothing more...” (4*)
0:44-1:22 (B) Chorus 1
0:44 (b) “All I need...” (2)
0:49 (b) “All you gotta give...” (2)
0:55 (c) Tag A (1)
0:57 (b) “All I need...” (2)
1:04 (b) “All you gotta give...” (2)
1:08 (c) Tag A (1)
1:11 (d) Tag B (1)
1:13 (c) Tag A (1)
1:16 (d) Tag B (1)
1:19 (c) Tag A (1)
1:22-1:41 (A) Verse 3
1:22 (a) “I'm so glad...” (2)
1:27 (a) “Got me a fine woman...” (2)
1:32 (a') “One thing...” (4*)
1:41-2:00 (A') Verse 4
1:41 (a) “Standing...” (2)
1:46 (a) “People go...” (2)
1:51 (a'') “Total disgrace...” (4*)
2:00-2:37 (B) Chorus 2
2:00 (b) “All I need...” (2)
2:05 (b) “All you gotta give...” (2)
2:10 (c) Tag A (1)
2:13 (b) “All I need...” (2)
2:18 (b) “All you gotta give...” (2)
2:23 (c) Tag A (1)
2:26 (d) Tag B (1)
2:29 (c) Tag A (1)
2:32 (d) Tag B (1)
2:34 (c) Tag A (1)
2:37-4:06 (C) Coda
(e) [2-bar riff] x17 (repeat & fade)
I'm gonna try something new here, with a PDF transcription to accompany this structural analysis:
There's an objective analysis; now for my subjective opinions and critique.
While I really like this song – it's a total rocker – they could easily have done a lot more with it. I usually prefer economy, but in this case the song could have been twice as long and twice as good.
Led Zeppelin is wonderful at spinning out large-scale formal designs (with a duration of 7:24, the previous track on Led Zeppelin III, 'Since I've Been Loving You', is a good example), but with 'Tiles' they take take the easy way out. The raw material is strong, and it begs for a large-scale treatment. I could easily see it employing a series of tempo changes and modulations. The unison guitar/bass riffs in the verses cry out for exploratory development. And they could've used the (e) riff from the coda as a transition to a bridge in the middle, or they could use the tricky rhythms at the end of each verse to execute a metric modulation to 12/16 or 9/16 bridge (rather similar to what The Beatles did in 'I Me Mine'). There's so much that could be done with this song, but they didn't do much of anything with it. 'Tiles' has the potential to be an epic, like 'Loving You' or 'Stairway' or 'Kashmir', but that potential is never realized. And I'm just not sure why not...
They could have omitted one of the weaker songs from the album, like 'Friends' or 'Celebration Day' or 'That's the Way', to make room. Not only would that have made the song stronger, it would have made the album stronger, too.
Zep dropped the ball with this song. It's really good as is, but it could've been spectacular.
Aaron Krerowicz, pop music scholar
An informal but highly analytic study of popular music.