Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Song #294 of 9999 - Downtown by Petula Clark

Song #294 of 9999 

Title: Downtown
Artist: Petula Clark
Year: 1965
Album: Downtown

I haven't talked about music theory in one of these posts for a while so I figured I'd give it a go tonight. First, I love these female Brit singers from the 1960s. Petula Clark, Lulu, Dusty Springfield—this is the British Invasion so easily set aside or forgotten while the spotlight favors The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, The Kinks and so on. But here were these women solo artists quietly hitting the top of the charts in both the US and UK while in competition with the likes of The Supremes, The Ronettes, and The Shirelles. They all have an interesting dramatic flair about them even if they're just singing about, you know, getting out of the apartment and taking a stroll to the city center.

Oh yeah, the music theory lesson. This tune has a very interesting way of creating drama through the use of pedal tones. You'll notice when the song opens there are three chords (Emaj-Amaj-Bmaj), but the bass line stays the same until Clark reaches the hook ("Downtown!"). The effect is one that kind of keeps the song bottled up a little bit. The bass behaves normally during the bridge ("just listen to the music..."), providing the root during the two-chord progression (Emaj-C#m). A short-lived pedal point returns during "The lights are much brighter there..." with the chords Amaj & Bmaj syncopating over an A bass and then Emaj and F#maj doing the same over an F#. The fancy little rhythmic play sets up the chorus perfectly, but what happens next is the most harmonically astounding moment of the piece. The chorus should begin with a resounding tonic chord (Emaj) and it does, but the chord is inverted, with a B in the bass! This B remains as a pedal tone throughout the chorus and the result is not only a bit of a surprise initially but it creates a grand moment of tension that culminates with a return to the verse. It's the kind of clever harmonic choice that just makes the songwriter in me so jealous.

Oh, and by the way, that's Jimmy Page on rhythm guitar. Just sayin'.