Why that particular chord?
August 29, 2007 5:32 PM   Subscribe

What books or websites do you recommend that look at popular music (I really mean 70s and 80s) from a music theory perspective. For example,

although I liked learning (from CRAP FROM THE PAST) that Tony Carey produced so much music that he had two record contracts -- one under his own name and the other under the Planet P name, I am not talking about that kind of thing.

I am more interested in an examination of chord progressions used in rock music, or what chord brian wilson used in that song to get such an unexpected sound.

I realize this is a bit vague, but I wanted a wide range of responses.
posted by wittgenstein to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Lipstick Traces is pretty darn good. In fact a lot of what Marcus writes would probably be of interest. He's more of a cultural theorist than a musicologist but he's certainly worth a look.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:42 PM on August 29, 2007

Actually, upon re-reading your question, maybe Mystery Train is more focused on the period you're interested in.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:51 PM on August 29, 2007

I don't know of any books about the intersection of music theory, musicology, and the creative process and this is something I've spent a bit of time on. Perhaps it hasn't been written yet, but I'd be curious to know as well.
posted by rhizome at 5:53 PM on August 29, 2007

You might look at Inside Classic Rock Tracks by Rikky Rooksby. It looks at 100 songs from 1960 (Everly Brothers) to 2000 (Radiohead).

For instance, it has this to say about the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby": "The verse is in E major, with a progression of E A B, then opening up emotionally in the F# B G#m C#m; the chorus is a tone higher in F# and uses a I-II-IV sequence.... The verse key represents his own worry, while the new key at the chorus expresses the love of the girl..."

It may not be as in-depth as you're looking for -- it's mostly pretty breezy -- but check it out.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 6:04 PM on August 29, 2007

You might try the book Understanding Rock (a collection of essays, some of which have details about harmony and other aspects of music theory). That might point you towards some authors you like. Otherwise, you'll probably have to do a little digging through some of the popular music journals, like:
-Popular Music
-Popular Musicology Online

More here and here. I'm unaware of any journals/books/etc. dedicated to the music theory aspect of popular music, but it frequently comes up in some of these sources I've listed. Good luck.
posted by imposster at 6:09 PM on August 29, 2007

Actually, Understanding Rock has an article about the Beach Boys (as well as Paul Simon's chromaticism and tonal ambiguity in the Grateful Dead).
posted by imposster at 6:16 PM on August 29, 2007

A while back, a link made the rounds to a site that did some hard-core analysis of the entire Queen catalog, which was interesting even to someone who doesn't generally care about such things. It seems like the maintainer is in process of moving the information to a new domain though, and things seem pretty incomplete at the moment. You might be able to piece things together between the two and some Wayback Machine rummaging.
posted by Su at 6:41 PM on August 29, 2007

Earlier than you asked for, but if you want to read something like this about the Beatles catalogue, you probably don't need to go further than here.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:27 PM on August 29, 2007

Just wanted to mention The Birth of Bebop by Scott Deveaux. Not the kind of music you're looking for but it's a great read and it does combine theory/analysis with biography and social history.
posted by bluebird at 2:56 AM on August 30, 2007

Best answer: There is a series of books using the title 33 1/3rd. They look at some of the better known albums from a number of different views including chord progression, historic setting, relation to the musician's other music, etc.
posted by Gungho at 6:25 AM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's the 60s, but Alan Pollack has an awesome website with analyses of every Beatles song.
posted by dfan at 9:37 AM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

which I see ludwig_van already mentioned, Well, consider that a second.
posted by dfan at 9:38 AM on August 30, 2007

I just saw this question again almost a year later and feel compelled to mention for future travelers that the 33 1/3 books are almost certainly not what you want. They're all written by different people and have different approaches, but they're generally about music criticism and social/historical context, not music theory.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:37 AM on June 27, 2008

« Older Camera and lighting kit suggestions, please.   |   Where to get my birthday ink? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.