Sunday, January 12, 2014

Song #468 of 9999 - I Can't Tell You Why by The Eagles

Song #468 of 9999

Title: I Can't Tell You Why
Artist: The Eagles
Year: 1979
Album: The Long Run

There are so many good songs from 1979 I may need to return to it for another go-round. Thus, it may seem odd that I'm ending not with The Wall or even Off the Wall, but I've been listening to this Eagles song for a few days and I think I should give it its due.

I feel like The Eagles get a bad rap these days. They were enormously popular but perhaps they didn't make anything of real lasting significance. I suppose they're kind of in the same category as The Doobie Brothers and Little River Band in that regard—breezy pop that really hit the spot on AM radio in the 70s but seems rather forgettable in today's rearview mirror.

Maybe "I Can't Tell You Why" falls into that category too. But I like it. And I can tell you why. (Couldn't resist.) First, it's sung by bassist and composer Timothy B. Schmit in a voice that seems impossible. For a band that relies so heavily on vocal harmony, the addition of Schmit following the Hotel California tour must have been tremendous, given his range and clarity. 

Second, I really like the simplicity of the song and I'm especially fond of the way it exploits the relative major key during its verses. The song is in B Minor, which is well-established in the opening bars. But when Schmit opens his mouth for the first time, his lyric is supported by a I - IV7 progression in D Major. The song really seems to open up at the moment and I like the effect. By the end of the pre-chorus, we're solidly back in B Minor, although with a dominant chord (F#) that teeters between major and minor.

Finally, I think the song is nicely appointed in terms of vocal counterpoint and instrumentation. The arrangement may seem rote but it's reassuring to hear so many things in their right place. Does it go on for a minute too long? Of course, but that's likely just the result of a specific clause in the contract between banal guitarist Joe Walsh and The Devil.

See you tomorrow in 1989.

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