Sunday, April 12, 2015

Song #512 of 9999 - Locked Out of Heaven by Bruno Mars

Song #512 of 9999

Title: Locked Out of Heaven
Artist: Bruno Mars
Year: 2012
Album: Unorthodox Jukebox

One of the issues I face when writing this blog is whether I can successfully shed light on a popular song that is still a little too present in the minds of listeners. What I mean is, if you are a regular listener to pop radio (I'm not) and you've already heard "Locked Out of Heaven" over a hundred times (I haven't), then you probably aren't really very interested in dissecting it. You probably don't even want to hear it at all. Maybe ever again.

But it's so good! So I'm going to talk about it, at least for a few minutes. It's fun to see The Police influencing a new wave of pop singers. I don't know if Gotye ever actually acknowledged that "Somebody That I Used to Know" sounds like Sting and Co. but Bruno Mars went so far as to say the band influenced him to write the song. This is a refreshing admission in a time when Robin Thicke would rather go to court than give credit to Marvin Gaye. But I digress.

Anyway, it's Sunday and we're all tired and you don't want to hear this song anyway so I'll just talk about the one thing I think is just so cool about it. For 45 seconds, we have this riff-based pseudo-reggae funk and you just expect this to continue because that's what today's pop does, right? But then what the hell is going on at 0:49! That rising synth portamento! That I-III-IV progression! (the best) And then suddenly the backbeat gives way to four on the floor! We're suddenly in the 80s and analog synths rule the day! And now there's like this syncopated drumbeat on the toms! WHAAT!! And then he's back on terra firma at 1:23—couldn't get into heaven. It is as cool and creative a moment in pop as you will find in the last decade. How could anyone be sick of it. (And now what's this at 3:23? Half time in the drums?! Oh no he didn't!)

By the way, if I could stop being a fanboy for a minute, let me point out some great dissonance in the chorus. A friend of mine recently asked me for some advice about harmonizing melodies and I gave him some examples of how a lot of pop songwriters add major 7ths and 9ths to chords with their vocal melodies but not in the supporting chords. This separation keeps the songs from sounding like jazz but adds some nice colorful dissonance. Here's a great example:

Check out the bracketed notes: a major 7th over a Bb on the word like and a major 9th over the Gm on heaven. Unexpected and just one more interesting element in a great great song. 

See you tomorrow in 2013.

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