Thursday, September 6, 2012

"linear tonics": "She's Gone" and "Jane Says" revisited

I want to introduce the notion of a "linear tonic": a melody that states the tonic chord in the place of any "vertical" harmonic statements of the tonic. I'm sure there is a precedent for this in analysis, but I have never encountered it. Any unharmonized melody is related to this--solo renditions of The Star-Spangled Banner are perhaps the most common example in this country. Bad performances aside, there's never any doubt what the tonic is, provided the singer is competent and has steady pitch. We've heard the tune thousands of times, perhaps, and often with instrumental accompaniment that gives us all the cues we need to hear and know the key. Gregorian chant is another related example.

But what happens when all of the tonal elements are taken apart and put back together in a somewhat incomplete way? More specifically, what happens when the composer/songwriter takes the harmonic tonic (I chord) out of the picture completely, and instead projects the tonic linearly in the melody? And even more radically, what happens when this "linear tonic" occurs simultaneously with other non-tonic harmonies? That is exactly what happens in the examples cited below.

Perhaps it was my recent Daryl Hall sighting that got me thinking about this again. But it occurred to me that these two tunes have more in common than I originally thought. It's true that both lack a root position I chord (in the case of "Jane Says," no tonic chord at all), but they also share a striking structural similarity: the verse of "She's Gone" and most of "Jane Says" consist of what can be interpreted as a IV-V vamp, overlaid with a melody that is clearly based around the "unheard" tonic I. I'll start with the simpler tune:


I've discussed this in a previous post; my basic assertion is that the tune is in D major, the harmony consists of a IV-V vamp, and the tonic is projected linearly over the top of it. I honestly can't imagine another way to hear/see/think it.

My recent revelation was that the verse of "She's Gone" is very similar, with the added oddity of the B pedal
in the bass:


Hall & Oates "She's Gone," verse, IV-V over B

I recently had a conversation with a friend whose thoughts and opinions on music I value very highly, and he said "Well, I always heard some sort of flat VII to I thing here." No. NO NO NO. And this is why: listen to and look at the tune! It's so clearly E major! It's more sophisticated than the Jane's Addiction example but it's the same thing at work: a linear tonic over a IV-V vamp. The chorus makes it even more amazing:

HOLY CRAP WHAT IS THAT AMAZING CHORD AT THE END OF THE CHORUS?! An Amaj9/B?! Again, no. NO NO NO. It's actually the closest thing we get to a tonic chord (besides the passing I6). It's as if the tonic E triad gets stuck after being hinted at up to this point, and it gets suspended over the vague A/B sound, which carries into the next verse. An A major sound, for sure, but far more accurate to hear the layers involved. And it's so crafty in terms of structure: an E triad sounding at the same time as that A/B sound, which almost functions as a "tonic by proxy." And not a coincidence that the lyrics are "What went wrong?" at this moment. It might be a simplistic interpretation on my part, but I appreciate that this lyrical uncertainty (is there ever an easy answer to that one?) is set with a totally non-functional, gorgeous, ambiguous chord.

So linear tonics. I think it's the best way to hear some things. Here's one more:

Fleetwood Mac, "Dreams": A minor, mostly a VI-VII vamp


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