Friday, May 8, 2015

Song #529 of 9999 - Sealed With a Kiss by Brian Hyland

Song #529 of 9999

Title: Sealed With a Kiss

Artist: Brian Hyland
Year: 1962
Sealed With a Kiss

By 1962, the days of teen idol bubblegum pop stars like Brian Hyland were numbered. The tsunami that was the Beatles was brewing in the Atlantic Ocean and by 1964, this rather dark and dull age of pop would be washed away forever. 

But that doesn't mean there aren't a few gems to uncover amongst the wreckage. "Sealed With a Kiss" didn't reach the platinum status of Hyland's 1960 novelty hit "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," but it hit #3 on the charts in both America and the UK while simultaneously featuring some sweet harmonica playing from the spectacularly named Blackie Shackner.

I enjoyed uncovering the harmony at the root of this minor key hit. Although it's a pretty straight-forward progression, there is a particularly clever use of the subdominant (iv), especially coming out of the bridge. Let's have a look.

(Though we gotta say good-)
Bbm(iv)            Fm(i)   
bye      for the | summer        |
Bbm(iv)    Eb(VII)      Ab(III)        F(V/iv)
Darling I promise you | this      I'll send you all my | 
Bbm(iv)    Eb(VII)      C(V)     Fm(i)
love            every | day in a letter |
Bbm(iv)    Eb(VII)         Fm(i)
           Sealed with a | kiss.

As you can see, each line of the verse begins on the subdominant (iv), although they take different paths, with the two inner lines straying further from the tonic f minor (i). This isn't really all that unusual—the iv-VII-i is perhaps a folkier substitute for ii-V-i so often seen in jazz and classical music. But what I really like is the moment that occurs following the bridge.

     Bb(IV)         Fm(i)
I'll see you in the sunlight
     Bb(IV)         Fm(i)
I'll hear your voice everywhere
     Bb(IV)         Fm(i)
I'll run to tenderly hold you
     G(V/V)              C(V)                             Bbm(iv)
But darling you won't be there. I don't want to say good | bye

First, notice the borrowed Bb Major chord (IV), which comes from the parallel F Major. A simple yet elegant contrast to the original iv-i progression of the verse. On the final line of the bridge, we hear a secondary dominant (the dominant of the dominant) G Major which proceeds to the dominant C. At this point, we would expect a cadence on the tonic f minor (i). But, because of the way the verse is structured, we return not on the tonic but on the subdominant (Bbm--highlighted) in what theorists describe as a "deceptive cadence."

Maybe this is no big deal but I found it to be a nice moment in a cleverly crafted piece of pop. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Songs #527 & 528 - It's TWOsday, Part TWO! (aka Wednesday)

Song #527 of 9999                                         Song #528 of 9999

Title: Are You Lonesome Tonight?                
Title: Are You Lonesome Tonight?
Artist: Elvis Presley                                        Artist: Vaughn de Leath
Year: 1961                                                     Year: 1927
Album: N/A - single release only                   
Album: N/A - single release only


Yesterday, I offered an glimpse of how music was frequently repurposed in the early days of rock and roll and today I'm back with another fine example.

By 1961, Elvis Presley could have sung the phonebook and hit the top of the charts. But manager Colonel Tom Parker and Presley's record company were aiming to do more than just crank out hit after hit. They were cultivating an icon by carefully curating the songs Elvis would release to his adoring public. It tooks months of discussions before "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" was deemed worthy of Elvis's evolving style but just weeks for it to cement itself as Elvis's 15th consecutive #1 single.

I find the first 75 seconds of Elvis's melancholy rendition to be right on target. It's sad, contemplative, sensitive, maybe even moving. And then comes the spoken word and it reads almost as parody. Am I just too jaded? Did this really work fifty years ago? I guess it's worth noting that Elvis had just returned from Germany, having been honorably discharged from the army, and I suppose it makes sense that songs like these could temper the loneliness felt by military families separated by thousands of miles. Not something we think about much in the days of the internet. Anyway...

Interestingly, Vaughn de Leath uses some spoken word herself on her very successful 1927 release. This version reveals how much was excised from the original song, written by Lou Handman and Roy Turk in 1926. We have a typical Tin Pan Alley introduction preceding the refrain that becomes the basis of Presley's hit. This introduction returns (is it actually a verse?) prior to the second refrain (chorus?), where de Leath rolls out her own more matter-of-fact spoken word section. De Leath's version went to #4 on the charts, but I find the earlier Charles Hart version (also from 1927) with its out-of-tune orchestra more charming. Here it is for your (bonus) enjoyment:

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Songs #525 & 526 - It's TWOsday!

Song #525 of 9999                                          Song #526 of 9999

Title: Beyond the Sea                                      Title: La Mer
Artist: Bobby Darin                                         Artist: Charles Trenet
Year: 1960                                                       Year: 1946
Album: That's All                                            Album: N/A - single release only


Bobby Darin's 1960 hit "Beyond the Sea" has such a nostalgic sound you almost can't listen to it without imagining a cheesy movie montage of a couple getting to know each other by walking the dog, eating ice cream in the park, buying each other the same anniversary present, and sitting side by side on a bench in the moonlight. And no wonder! The song started out with a nostalgia head start, having been co-opted from Frenchman Charles Tenet's equally, if not more, popular 1946 hit "La Mer"! Did I know this already? I don't know—I can't remember. Did you? What I do know is your classier movie montage will opt for the (probably cheaper) French version.

They're both fine, if not overly sentimental. I like Trenet's version more for its breezy seaside phrasing and mostly understated arrangement. When Trenet does go overboard, it's because his passion de l'amour cannot be contained! Bobby Darin's version, with new lyrics by Jack Lawrence, seems calculated by comparison and Darin let's the band run wild while he presumably grabs a sandwich from the studio commissary. (All those drum breaks...ugh.) Still, it's a good example of how music was repurposed during this time period—Elvis had a hit that same year with "It's Now or Never," adapting the 1898 Neapolitan aria "O Sole Mio"—and just one of many many reasons why The Beatles would soon be taking over America.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Now What?

Back when I started this blog on October 31, 2011, I just posted random songs I wanted to share and/or talk about. The posts weren't all that long (the first one weighs in at just under 200 words—more recent posts are closer to 500) and some of them didn't even have anything to do with music theory! (The horror...)

Then on January 1, 2012, I decided to give the blog some shape by devoting a week to a specific year, beginning with 1960 and progressing to the present. The idea was that by December 31, 2012, I would have covered 1960-2012 (i.e. the present).

Well, I didn't reach 2012 until April of 2014 and then I promptly took a YEAR off from writing. But now, here I am in 2015 and I've worked my way through all those years, devoting a week to each. Along the way, I had to make some tough choices and many songs were left in the bag.

Now I'm trying to decide what to do next. Some people have suggested theme weeks and I think that's a great idea but requires a certain amount of planning. I'm worried I will stall the blog while trying to come up with good ideas. So I think I'm going to take a one-song-per-year pass through the decades again, catching some of the songs I missed, while simultaneously working on some "theme weeks" for the future. That will keep me going for another year, at least. It's possible I may even interrupt the flow of the timeline posts for a theme week. We shall see.

Someone asked me if I take requests. Sure! I'm game. The only caveat is if I really don't like the song, I may reject it. But send them my way and I'll see what I can do.

The blog should resume soon with a song from 1960.