Friday, January 10, 2014

Song #467 of 9999 - My Sharona by The Knack

Song #467 of 9999

Title: My Sharona
Artist: The Knack
Year: 1979
Album: Get the Knack

Sometimes what you leave out of the harmonic gene code of a song (I just made that up—you're welcome) is what makes it special. Ask yourself the same question I asked myself tonight. Is "My Sharona" in a major or a minor key? Go ahead, grab your guitar or your piano or your harpsichord—whatever you have lying around. Play it a few times, let yourself rock out a little. Figure it out yet? I know. You won't. It's a trap!

Everyone knows the main riff of the tune, penned by lead guitarist Berton Averre, who took it to singer Doug Fieger for lyrics and melody. But the riff gives us only partial information about the key, which is that it is in G. The triads that conclude the riff (C and Bb) aren't much help because the first belongs to G Major and the second to G Minor.

The next place to look for clues is the melody. Guitarists frequently leave out the thirds of chords and we often find them in the vocal melody. So what is Fieger singing? One note—F! Fieger sits on the flat-7th above the tonic for almost the entire verse. His vocal dropoffs at the ends of each line (on one and run, for example) are of indeterminate pitch—I could not match them with any note of the chromatic scale even though I found them easy to replicate with my voice. One could suggest that the F-natural suggests G Minor, but in a song that is blues-based (as this one is...loosely), a minor 7th on a major tonic would not be out of place at all. Back to the drawing board.

The chords that precede the chorus—G Bb C Eb—also suggest G Minor to an extent but they are built on scale degrees related to a blues scale which works fine over a major key and the Bb and Eb really sound more like borrowed chords than diatonic chords. Maybe the long instrumental section (that no-one probably even remembers) will shed some light on the mystery! Well, it is in a major key, but the key is C, not G. Rats.

In the end there is only one conclusion to be drawn and that is the song is in the key of G, period. No major, no minor—just G. If someone forced me to choose, I would say it's in G Major and my proof would be the use of C Major as the subdominant chord. It's the only bit of real evidentiary support of one over the other. But it's more fun to conclude that The Knack—yes, The Knack—confounded and conquered tonality through their deliberately nebulous selection of notes and chords!