Once more with feeling
January 15, 2012 7:36 PM   Subscribe

Which song has the longest chain of truck driver's gear change modulations?

We came up with two four-modulation chains when this inexplicably came up at the office:

Summer Soft by Stevie Wonder:
modulation 1: 2:36
modulation 2: 2:54
modulation 3: 3:12
modulation 4: 3:31

Love on Top by Beyoncé:
modulation 1: 1:44
modulation 2: 2:04
modulation 3: 2:24
modulation 4: 2:45

How far has this madness gone?
posted by danb to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Ella Fitzgerald - Old MacDonald - has about 6 effortless ones, I think.
posted by carter at 7:51 PM on January 15, 2012

Nice one! I count five:
modulation 1: 0:22
modulation 2: 0:38
modulation 3: 0:56
modulation 4: 1:19
modulation 5: 1:39

(Same arrangement for the stereo version that follows in that video.)
posted by danb at 8:07 PM on January 15, 2012

Ah, right - I was counting keys. So it's five modulations.
posted by carter at 8:19 PM on January 15, 2012

I feel like these don't happen nearly as often as they used to. I seem to remember the band Chicago / Peter Cetera using them mercilessly, but I can't recall any particular song that had that many. Usually only 1 or 2, but I could be wrong.
posted by bitterkitten at 9:51 PM on January 15, 2012

Stevie Wonder's "Golden Lady" has five, too (sorry, no internal links - about 2/3 of the way down the page).
posted by cromagnon at 11:59 PM on January 15, 2012

Bach's Endlessly rising canon.
posted by zippy at 2:59 AM on January 16, 2012

Another performance of the endlessly rising canon with a follow-the-bouncing-ball score
posted by zippy at 3:02 AM on January 16, 2012

Johnny Cash practically invented this trick with "I Walk The Line."
posted by spitbull at 4:24 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Not counting classical music, that is . . . .)

The great Texas songwriter Butch Hancock claims he started writing songs by learning to shift gears on his tractor so that he could get I/IV/V progressions out of the machine while plowing fields.
posted by spitbull at 4:26 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Johnny Cash practically invented this trick with "I Walk The Line."

Oh yes - and Five Feet High and Rising.
posted by carter at 4:46 AM on January 16, 2012

How many modulations are there in "Memories"?
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:12 AM on January 16, 2012

Eternal's "I Wanna Be the Only One" does this, it changes keys about four times, I think.
posted by LN at 6:53 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not where I can check currently but could someone do a count on Michael Jackson's "Man In The Mirror"?
posted by sourwookie at 8:02 AM on January 16, 2012

Also Cash's "22 Minutes To Go"
posted by sourwookie at 8:07 AM on January 16, 2012

Thanks everyone! I listened to all of your examples:

"Golden Lady": Good one! I probably should have read that page first, eh? :-)

Bach canon: While this is certainly a chain of modulations, I don't think it's in the spirit of this discussion; the modulations are too carefully prepared. The defining feature of the gear change modulation is that the sudden yank into a new key, preparation be damned.

"I Walk the Line": Likewise, I think this safely qualifies as "normal" modulation -- it uses common chords to pivot from one key to another instead of leaping around indiscriminately.

"Five Feet High and Rising": This one works, but I only count three -- A to C, C to D, D to E.

"Memories": Not sure which song you're referring to here -- do you mean "Memory" from Cats? I suspect you do, but I don't want to listen to it if I don't have to :-)

"I Wanna Be the Only One": I only count three changes here -- F# to G, G to Ab, Ab to A.

"Man in the Mirror": I seem to remember a big chain here too, but the studio version actually only has the one modulation ("Make that...change!"). Maybe there's a live version out there that's a better example?

"25 Minutes to Go": I only count two here -- E to G, G to A.

Suggested via a friend on Twitter: "These Eyes" by the Guess Who.

I suppose that gives us a tie between Ella's "Old MacDonald" and Stevie's "Golden Lady" so far, with five modulations apiece.
posted by danb at 9:07 AM on January 16, 2012

(Sorry, I forgot to finish that thought on "These Eyes." it only makes it through three -- C to D, D to E, E to F# -- so it doesn't crack the leaderboard.)
posted by danb at 9:21 AM on January 16, 2012

I'm not sure I'm musical enough to tell for sure, but I think this happens a lot in older country songs. The Gambler sticks out in my memory as having a particularly obnoxious key change somewhere in the middle, but I'm not sure the song chains them in the manner you suggest. But I bet mining old country songs would be a good place to look for what you seek.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:23 AM on January 16, 2012

Billy Ocean's "Get Out of My Dreams" has several, each one more hilarious than the last:

3:05 - E -> F#
3:13 - F# -> G for the sax solo!
3:21 - G -> A while the cartoon saxophonist wails!
3:29 - uses the A as a pivot chord to get back to E for the pre-chorus. sneaky!
3:45 - oooohhhhh wait for it... E -> F!!!

So there's 4 gear changes, but my favorite part is the pivot modulation they stick in the middle to make room for ANOTHER gear change at the end. Truly 80s musical excess at its finest.
posted by speicus at 11:43 AM on February 8, 2012

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