I just…Wow. The first time I really sat down and listened to this number, I was completely taken aback. Yeah, I had heard this song before. Radios, shopping malls, restaurants, TV shows, 80s movies, commercials, yadda yadda. But when it came on in my car the other day my ears perked up.
So first off, the intro after the fiddley bit is in a different key than the rest of the song.
|F C |F7 Bb |Bbm F |C | F: I V I IV iv I V
- We have a really nice harmonization of a chromatic line cliche. Which basically means that a note descends (or ascends, in some cases) by half step. In this case, F→E→Eb→D→Db→C. I think it’s a rather nice touch to bury it in the voices, as opposed to making it a bass line/melody line.
- For other examples of this, see:
- (Even in the same key!) Life On Mars intro
- Bob Dylan – A Ballad of a Thin Man (in Bm for total dread)
- Four Tops – Walk Away Renee
- Leonard Cohen – True Love Leaves No Traces (Also in F)
- Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You
- Blue Swede – Hooked on a Feeling
- Even My Own Composition…Also in F lol
- I mean it’s really everywhere, truly. It’s certainly a cliche, but I think it’s a good one.
Anyway, I’ll save all that talk for another time, as there’s a lot you can do with a chromatic descending line, but I’m here to talk about DEXY’S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS. Man, you ever think about what it must be like being a one hit wonder band? Yeesh
The next part after that is firmly in C with a I – iii – IV – I→V (last bar having two chords in it) and that’s all fine. Then you think
“Hey, alright, this song is done building up and a verse is gonna happen. Cool”
And it doesn’t. Seemingly, the verse never comes. It just kind of…Bleeds into the song. Which gets me thinking:
Is it possible to write a song without a verse?
Because, to me, everything that happens before the chorus really feels like a pre-chorus. I mean, those “verses” really only serve to give the chorus its impact…Which is what a pre-chorus does almost exclusively. Can you have pre-choruses that last this long? Certainly bridges can. And DMR definitely make a case that yes, yes you can. I don’t know. Maybe it’s impossible to not write a verse by technical terms. But this is the least verse-y verse I’ve ever damn heard.
And then we get to the chorus. and holy HELL it’s in D! The G from before acting as the IV in D
|D |F#m |Em |G A | D: I iii ii IV V
And it’s the PERFECT release! Good GOD who would think to do that? You know, I don’t think I’d be as convinced of the chorus if it was in C. Sure, the beat would still pop, the bass would still groove, and that melody would still grab me, but it just wouldn’t have that OOMPH. That freight train of an impact that makes this song what it is.
EDIT: User Jongtr pointed out to me that the second chord is actually an A major. And also some other interesting things:
“I agree about that key change to D: clever, kind of concealed. It makes the previous C-G change work as a double plagal, the old rock bVII-IV-I. In fact, you even get the F before the C, so the D is just continuing the root movement. Ought to be a common trick, but I don’t think I’ve seen it before.
And yes, the 2nd chord in the chorus is A, not F#m. ;-). So now there’s a whole string of roots in 4ths (down): F-C-G-D-A. Very neat! (I’ve seen that 5-chord sequence before, but only in the one key, of the final chord.) And then from the A to Em, yet another 4th…”
Thanks for the insight!
Then we get another pre-chorus (sticking with that), then a chorus, and then that kick-ass bridge that slows the track way down and slowly speeds up. A rather neat trick not often heard in a pop song. In fact…I can’t think of any other pop songs that do the same thing. Or anything close. If you guys know of any, post them here in the comments!
So there it is. Come On Eileen. That song you’ve heard too many damn times. At least it’s not Piano Man, eh? Hopefully you have a newfound respect for it. Or maybe you always did.