recently I have discovered two old songs which surprised me again because of their beauty. These are:
“Bohemian Rhapsody” (1975) by Queen and “A Day in the Life” (1967) by The Beatles. There is eight years difference between the songs but they are still as popular as they were in their published years. Bohemian Rhapsody has 38.053.518 and A Day in the life 3.359.537 clicks on youtube. Both bands influenced the culture massively. The Beatles were the first ever pop band in the UK. They have made pop music suitable for everybody. Queen is famous for their great anthems such as “We Will Rock You” and “We are the Champions”, but also for their weird arrangements and instrumentations such as overdubbing vocals and instruments and using unusual style of singing in their songs like opera style.
Usually, a pop song starts with the tonic chord. However, this is not a usual song. This is shown at the beginning because it starts with the submediant chord (Gm), which is the related minor of Bb. The beginning is sung in a cappella and it descents in falling 5th from G - C - F and that finally to Bb. This creates a perfect cadence which finishes off the close harmony introduction. The next bar Starts on Gm. Gm is the related minor of Bb. In this song, phrases start very often with the related minor. You could argue that that beginning does not start with the tonic because the submediant introduces a perfect cadence which ends with the tonic.
|The falling fifths.|
Bohemian Rhapsody goes through several key changes. These changes mostly take place within a chord progression. The song changes from Eb Major to A Major. Queen could have decided to change the key because the song goes into a completely different section. It goes from the Ballade section into the Opera section. This happens within a chromatic chord progression. It starts progressing from the dominant to the tonic this means that it ends in a perfect cadence. In the the first part of the progression, the chords are all minor but then, suddenly, the next chord drops by a semitone and becomes a major; Db. This changes the tonality of the song and indicates to what the second section is going to sound like. The new section starts in the key of a A major and also starts with the tonic. A is an unusual key to change to because it is not related to the key of Eb.
|The chromatic chord progression which progresses to the key of A Major.|
In comparison to that, A day in the Life is a little bit more predictable. There is one chord progression which occurs on different spots in the song:
G - Bm - Em - C - G
I - III - VI - IV - I
This chord progression, progresses from the dominant through the related minor (Em) into a Plagal cadence. This adds and ending to a phrase. This progression is often used in this song to escort the lyrics; Lennon sings a story. This progression starts at a beginning of a sentence and ends at the end. Hence the reason the sentence and the music sounds finished at the end of the chord progression. Sometimes the sentences end on a Tierce de Picardie which gives the phrase a disturbed and melancholic feeling. This suits the style of the story.
In Bohemian Rhapsody, the rhythms are very complex. There are very difficult rhythms for the guitar player. The guitarists must be highly trained because he must be able to play figures like:
|Difficult Hemi-Demi-Semi quavers|
In this section he needs to play Hemi-Demi-Semi quavers. Also he has to play quintuplets, which are five notes played in the beat of one. These rhythms are used to give the song a different style and texture. The hard-rock section requires these kind of rhythms because it needs to fit the style.
Triplets are often used in this song, especially towards the end of the hard-rock section. At that section the guitar plays triplets in a ascending scale. hen triplets are used in a ascending scale, they often lead to something big; violins may play triplet scales before a grant tutti. In Bohemian Rhapsody, the triplets are playing towards a hymn style finale in which every part of the band joins in.
|Triplets which lead up to a hymn like section.|
A Day in the Life also uses complex rhythms which are also hard to sing. First of all the player must notice that semi quavers must be played swung. This gives the song a style of swing. There is one part in the song which is really hard to sing; it is a semiquaver figure which goes on for two bars. The intervals between the notes are semitone steps, which make especially hard for a singer to pitch these notes. However, this figure is a good way of fading something out because it seems as if it is endless. and actually, it fades in with the orchestra which imitates the vocals. This has a quite mysterious and strange feeling to it.
|Semi-quaver figure. The orchestra underneath imitates the vocals.|
The drums in A Day in the Life, mostly play random drum fills. However, when the song goes into the section McCartney sings, the drums have a regular drum pattern. This makes that section of the song feel more in order and straight.
|Regular drum pattern of McCartney's section.|
|Random drum pattern in Lennon's section.|
In Bohemian Rhapsody, most of the harmonies are sung by Mercury only. Queen managed to do that by recording his voice and manipulating it in pitch. Bohemian Rhapsody is harmonized in dominant seventh, thirds, fifths and octaves. The beginning of the song is sung a cappella and in close harmony. Close harmonies are arranged notes of a chord within a narrow range. This is mostly the tonic - mediant - dominant. However, sometimes it is also harmonized with the subtonic. This harmonization gives the part a barbershop sound.
|A capella opening in close harmonies|
Mercury had to sing in falsetto to reach a very high Bb.
In comparison to Bohemian Rhapsody, A Day in the Life does not have any vocal harmonies. However, there are still some harmonies which harmonize with the vocals. These are mainly dominants or mediants. The piano plays dissonant notes with the orchestra. The orchestra plays an ascending semitone scale in semiquavers. The piano, however, stays on Es in quavers for the whole scale. This creates an atonal and dissonant sound. The Beatles wanted to create a atonal sound because this is the lead into the completely different section, sung by McCartney.
|The Piano plays Es in semiquavers whilst the orchestra plays a chromatic scale|
The tonality to McCartney’s section is completely different. Whilst Lennon’s sections uses loads of related minors, McCartney’s section does not a have a single minor chord. This might by because McCartney’s part of the song tells a different story then to the one Lennon sings about.
In A Day in the Life, the guitar plays a octave lower than the middle C. This gives the song more depth and texture.
|The clef which shows that the guitar needs to play an octave lower than the middle C|
Bohemian Rhapsody also changes tonality. This is due to the key changes and to the different sections. Whilst the ballad section is quite depressing and sad, the opera section is quite jumpy. This is partially due to the key, which is A major, but also to the kind of playing and the dynamics. The dynamics range from mezzo piano to fortissimo. These changes of dynamics dramatize the section which supports the lyrics in which the character is possessed by the devil.
Both songs are very contrasting but somehow similar due to the strangeness. Both of them have completely different section which could be classed as different songs; both of them use music technologies such as over dubbing to create greater sounds and both of them are aiming for the extra ordinated. I think that both songs have achieved the extra ordinate and they will never be forgotten.