I've heard Jimmy Ruffin's 1966 classic hit 'What Becomes of the Brokenhearted' dozens of times, but until recently I had never listened terribly closely.
The first thing that stands out to me, and the reason I started analyzing in the first place, are the key changes: The verses are all in Bb major, while the first two choruses are in C major. Each modulation is executed via a pivot chord. Despite the differences in tonality, however, the chords progressions are identical (I64|iii6|vi|IV6|I64) for the first five bars of each section.
These tonalities are clear, even though the bass line undermines almost all of the chords by almost never playing the root - most of the time it plays the third or fifth, the instability of which reflects the theme of unrequited love found in the lyrics. I have been unable to verify who the bass player is on this record, but I'm guessing it's James Jamerson, who used this lack-of-root trick frequently (see The Four Tops' 'Reach Out' for a another particularly good example).
The form is also particularly interesting:
0:00-0:27 Intro (based on Verse 2) Bb major
0:27-0:46 (A) Verse 1 Bb major
0:46-1:08 (B) Chorus 1 C major
1:08-1:25 (A') Verse 2 Bb major
1:25-1:45 (A) Verse 3 Bb major
1:45-2:04 (B) Chorus 2 C major
2:04-2:24 (A') Verse 4 Bb major
2:24-2:57 (A/B?) Verse 5/Chorus 3? Bb major
There are two distinct but clearly related verses. Verses 1 and 3 are labeled (A); verses 2 and 4 are labeled (A'). They differ only in their last three measures.
The reason for this discrepancy is tonal: the (A) verses segue to the C major chorus, while the (A') verses stay in Bb.
Interspersed with these verses is the chorus (B), resulting in a rather unusual ABA'ABA'(A/B) form, with an ambiguous final section that is either the fifth verse or third chorus, depending on interpretation.
The ambiguity stems from a conflict between the tonality and the lyrics. The tonality of this final section is Bb major, implying it's a verse; but the lyrics are the same as those heard in the two previous choruses, implying it's a chorus. (And since, as pointed out above, the chord progressions are the same for both the verse and chorus, that provides no clarity as this final section merely repeats the first four measures while fading out.) Many songs feature a tonal conflict in which two or more keys are juxtaposed in a battle for supremacy. Though there are instances where two or more keys exist in equilibrium, with neither/none more rhetorically important than the other(s) (The Beatles' 'Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!' might be the best such example), but most often one key reigns supreme - and it's usually the key of the chorus, as opposed to the key of the verse or bridge, because the chorus is usually the focal point of the song. But every once in while there's a song where the chorus surrenders its tonal supremacy by capitulating in its final iteration to the verse's key (The Beatles' 'Penny Lane', for instance). And that's what happens in 'Brokenhearted', which was released one year prior to 'Penny Lane'. Without this ambiguous final section, I'd be inclined to proclaim the choruses' C major as the primary tonic, with the verses' Bb major as a secondary. But since this final section employs the chorus lyrics with the verse tonality, I am forced to switch that opinion: Bb is actually the primary tonic, with C major riding shotgun.
Aaron Krerowicz, pop music scholar
An informal but highly analytic study of popular music.