Posts Tagged ‘harmony’

Another Cloudy Day

February 4, 2010

I couldn’t help it, I just had to run my Python word cloud script on the answers to one of the survey questions. No surprise that the word used most often to describe the Everly Brothers’ music is HARMONY.

I, IV, V and Beyond

January 27, 2010

Joe Burns’s analysis of one hundred rock and roll songs from 1955 to 1959 shows that forty-nine percent of the songs in his sample relied on the tonic, subdominant, and dominant chords (I, IV, V).[1] Burns’s study focuses on progressions and their frequency of occurrence. He includes all list of the songs in the study and the distinct progressions or each (for example, I-IV-V or I-ii-V-I). Using his data, I calculated that the average number of chords in the songs in this repertoire is 3.55; narrowing it to the years that coincide with the Everly Brothers (1957-1959) yields an average of 3.63. Richard J. Ripani analyzed twenty-five of the top R&B singles for 1950 to 1959. He calculated the average number of chords in use to be 4.68.[2] The average number of chords used in the Everly Brothers’ songs is 4.65, more closely matching that of rhythm and blues than rock and roll. (A comparable study of country or pop music hits of the same period does not appear to exist so no comparison is readily available.) Nine of their singles rely on the standard I-IV-V progression: “Maybe Tomorrow,” “Should We Tell Him,” “When Will I Be Loved,” “Problems,” “This Little Girl of Mine,” “Claudette,” “Be Bop A Lula,” “Leave My Woman Alone,” “I’m Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail.” The Everlys wrote the first three, “Problems” was written by the Bryants, and the rest were written by others. “(‘Til) I Kissed You” is a three-chord song, but it uses I, V7, and vi, the vi acting as a tonic substitute. The nine I-IV-V singles represent about thirty-five percent of their singles; using Burns’s data and calculating a comparable percentage for the years 1957-1959 shows that approximately forty-four percent of the rock and roll songs in his study relied on this set of chords (Table 7‑6).

Year # songs with I, IV, and V only # songs total percentage with I, IV, and V only
1955 6 9 67%
1956 11 19 58%
1957 11 20 55%
1958 11 25 44%
1959 10 27 37%
1955-1957 49 100 49%
1957-1959 32 72 44%

Early Rock and Roll Chord Analysis


[1] Joe Burns, “The Music Matters: An Analysis of Early Rock and Roll,” Soundscapes – Journal on Media Culture 6 (April, 2003).

[2] Richard J. Ripani, The New Blue Music: Changes in Rhythm & Blues, 1950-1999 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006).

Frustration!

October 15, 2009

The Everly Brothers recorded four sides for Columbia in 1955. Two of those were released: “The Sun Keeps Shining” (written by Don) and “Keep A-Lovin’ Me” (written by Don and Phil). In music historian parlance, we might say these represent some of their juvenalia. I know from their own comments and the remarks of others, the songs lean more heavily on their country music roots than later songs do. So I want to listen to them and try to describe how they adhere to “country” as it was understood in the late 1950s.

Therein lies the problem, though. These two songs are not on any of the reissue CDs or download services in the US. I found them in a $90 box set that includes a lot of what I already have. I also found them as downloadable files on amazon.co.uk, but not surprisingly I can’t buy them and download from here. All of this leaves me wondering why they are so hard to obtain in the US. Are the Everly Brothers themselves controlling this access and if so, why? And why are acceptable for UK audiences? And how am I going to get them???

I did find a set of unreleased recordings from the 50s and 60s that is reportedly demos and maybe some outtakes (user hyperbolium includes a good description of them under the reviews). Most of the cuts feature just Don and Phil and acoustic guitars. While I still want the other two songs, these recordings will certainly provide insight into how they perceived and conceived their own songs and how the songs transitioned from there to the finished product. The vocal harmonies will be much more exposed and less polished, allowing me another glance into this part of the creative process. It might be a stretch to suggest this, but recordings like this are somewhat akin to examining the sketchbooks of composers who work mainly in the written form.

I’m also sightly tempted by the $27 CD of outtakes but not enough to twitch for the moment. I’m sure they have value, but they will be so carefully selected that they may not demonstrate much more than close approximations of the releases. I would be interested in knowing what other popular music scholars have made of outtakes and alternate takes.

Everly Brothers Fan Survey

October 14, 2009

I have created a survey for Everly Brothers fans, hoping to capture some interesting viewpoints and data to use in my dissertation. I was restricted to 10 questions, but I think that will be enough. If any of my fellow musicologists are listening, let me know if the questions seem reasonable or what tweaks need to be made.

When It Pours, I Blog

July 9, 2009

It’s been raining, or at least cloudy, for what feels like months here in New England so most of us have resorted to rain metaphors.

I go for days, weeks, or months with nothing to blog (or rather, nothing coherent or interesting), then suddenly my cup runneth over, my drain clogs up, the bath water spills over, and I have lots of tidbits and longbits.

I just found a brother duo, the Thompson Brothers, who actively perform and place themselves within the tradition of brother duos. Their website contains some interesting information about gospel music, brother duets, and the connections between the Ulster Scots and the Appalachian region of the southern United States. I think maybe I’ll try to contact them.

Brian Eno on singing

January 29, 2009

Brian Eno wrote this essay on a capella group singing earlier this year. His points about the power of group singing are important, but I’m more interested in his views on harmonizing. He notes that songs with complex chord progressions are not conducive to spontaneous harmonization and that long vowels are where the opportunities are for the harmonies to express themselves. His also describes the experience of harmonizing:

It’s thrilling to get the rhythm of something tight and sing it well together. The second is tone. To hit the same vowel sound at a number of pitches seems unremarkable, but it’s beautiful when it happens.

His reaction is similar to the one I’ve had when singing with a group and everything comes together just right on a particular note or phrase. I think some listeners experience the thrill and beauty, too, and that that is what draws them to particular kinds of songs, especially ones by groups like the Everly Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, Loggins and Messina, etc.

Makem and Spain Brothers

September 24, 2008

The Makem & Spain Brothers

Makem and Spain Brothers on stage

Makem and Spain Brothers on stage

My friend in Indiana recently heard this group of harmonizing brothers at an Irish Fest. You can hear snippets of their songs on iTunes.