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What makes "Ride Captain Ride" so different?
March 9, 2014 11:39 AM   Subscribe

The song "Ride Captain Ride" has been in heavy rotation around my house lately. There's something about this song that seems . . . different. I can't quite put my finger on it because I'm not a musician myself. I am not fluent in the language of chords and notes and that sort of thing. That said, I can't help but notice that this seems to stand apart from traditional North American pop/rock music. What distinguishes this song, if anything? You need not explain this to me Like I'm Five (as they put it on another webiste) but please be aware that I don't have a music-theory background. Many thanks in advance.
posted by jason's_planet to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't hear anything particularly unusual in the song. There's guitar, there's a keyboard, there's a vaguely psychedelic sound, a fairly simple background rhythm.

No unusual chord progressions, time signatures, instruments, etc.

FWIW, Blood Sweat & Tears performed a cover version that sounds more interesting to me.
posted by dfriedman at 11:54 AM on March 9


I've always been entranced by this song....I think part of it is the almost mystical keyboard twittering at the beginning. It's hard to explain it, but the intro sounds somewhat ethereal and makes me mentally drift away onto the ship voyage that is described in the lyrics.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:02 PM on March 9


My best observations, taken with a grain of salt since I have not heard the song before. I *do* hear what you're saying about the song being different:

- It's got a 3 or 4 different chords, which is normal, but more recent pop music has been using less (LFMAO's recent-ish party anthem had only 1)
- When a chord is being played, the musicians improvise and noodle within it, moving up and down steps, experimenting with pitch bends, which sounds like there are even MORE chords going on
- There is no pitch correction (auto-tune) on the vocals: and like the musicians, he bends his pitch up and down instead of just holding a single note.
- The chords seem to be both major and minor, which I could be wrong about, but if true, prevents your ear from settling into a feeling of familiarity, and instead keeps taking you by surprise
- Lyrically, the song uses a story structure, which compels the listener to "come along on the adventure," especially with the verb/imperative command to ride. It feels like you're part of an epic.
- It's an analog recording (which adds some warbling)
- At 1:10, an odd sounding instrument comes in with a wailing sound that persists, and it certainly feels odd, especially since it's not playing the main melody.
- It gives way to some kind of brass in the chorus, a yelly-chorus of background vocalists, and all in all, creates a huge messiness within a very catchy groove.

So, er, not sure if that helps, but we at least picked the song apart a little.
posted by Milkman Dan at 12:28 PM on March 9 [3 favorites]


Here are a couple google books that discuss the song's chord progression
posted by canoehead at 12:44 PM on March 9


Essentially it's in a pentatonic (blues) scale rather than a major pop scale.

Just looked at the guitar tabs. There are also a ton of modified blues chords, including the Sus7 D in the root note of the verses and a ton of passing 7ths thoroughout.

So, simply, they are throwing complicated steps in between a basic 1-4-5 chord structure (something the Beatles did a lot that I bet these guys were borrowing from). The lines "on your way" for instance contain a bluesy chromatic chord (a B) and then hold the c which is a whole step down from D, a trick that mostly blues songs and (at the time) garage rock songs did a lot. Another song in a pentatonic scale rather than a major scale is Smells like Teen Spirit. This band makes it sound more fun and psychedelic than edgy, but that may be the thing you're hearing that is different.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:15 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


It's a little bluesy and funky, and it does a good job of building tension up to the "Ride Captain Ride" release. To me, the tension comes from the limited range of the melody, the fact that they rarely "resolve" the melody (make it sound like it's reached the end of a sentence), and the fact that the chords take smaller "steps" than more standard rock does, which just makes the trip seem longer and increases the listener's desire to "get there."
posted by ceiba at 1:37 PM on March 9


There are lots of notes that are subtly out of tune (but musical) as the musicians get to where they are going in the chords. It's a great tune, and the element you're wondering about is probably what you get when really good musicians play a simple tune for a long time and come up with lots of little ways to make it interesting for themselves.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:30 PM on March 9


It’s a great sounding recording as well, apparently done by Richard Podolor and Bill Cooper who also did the Three Dog Night records (also great sounding) and own American Recording Studios in L.A.
posted by bongo_x at 3:42 PM on March 9


The arrangement and production are not what you'd hear on the radio these days, with the drums and organ up front with the vocals like that. The only other thing that seems notable is the almost total absence of a downbeat; the bass line is very syncopated, but not very busy.
posted by thelonius at 5:01 PM on March 9


Thanks for your kind answers!
posted by jason's_planet at 5:50 PM on April 8


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