Thursday, September 12, 2013

Song #351 of 9999 - Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder

Song #351 of 9999

Title: Sir Duke
Artist: Stevie Wonder
Year: 1976
Songs in the Key of Life

Simply put, Stevie Wonder's tribute to Duke Ellington is one of the most delicious slices of pop you'll ever taste. It is unquestionably my favorite Stevie Wonder song and features one of the coolest bass lines you'll ever hear (or suffer learning if you're a player). I mean, the lyrics are pure cheese but I didn't even know what they were until a minute ago when I looked them up. This song is not about the words; it's about the groove and the party that starts up inside you when you hear it.

Because I am a music theory blogger, I had to take a closer look (even though I mostly wanted to bop around the room) and there's some really cool chromatic stuff going on in the chord progression. Consider the verse (B-G#m-G-F#). What starts out as typical motion away from the tonic (I-vi) continues down chromatically to the dominant (bVI-V). The second time around, he proceeds even further to a bV (F) before embarking on the more obviously chromatic pre-chorus with all those dominant 9ths (E9-Eb9-D9-C#9-D9-Eb9-E9). 

This all sets up the rhythmically looser singalong chorus which even has one chromatic surprise in store. It occurs between the second and third chords, set up cleverly by the tritone descent to a minor seventh chord built on the bV (B-Fm7-E). All of which leads to what I will call THE RIFF. It's probably too long to be called a "riff" and frankly, I don't care what you call it, but it may be my favorite riff of all time. I listen to that bass player laying it down with the horns and...well, I should probably go practice.

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