Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Nontonic Endings

The following songs have a clear tonal center and end on a pitch or harmony different from that tonal center. There are different types of such endings; some provide cadential closure and others conclude with an abrupt stop. (There are additional types of nontonic endings that I will not address here, including those emphasizing material unrelated to most of the song, such as the ending to the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night.") Some readers may disagree with my conclusions regarding tonic pitch in examples. I welcome such input in the comments.

Major: IV

Christopher Cross - "Sailing" (1980)

Despite the frequency of D in the bass, I hear A as tonic here. The pitch material is limited to an A major diatonic collection with the exception of the instrumental bridge from 2:43-3:08. It is not a surprise when the song concludes on a D (IV) chord (E is added to the triad), as each previous chorus ends this way (1:47, 2:37). Still, the resolution feels less complete than it would had a I chord been placed at the end. (This is, of course, not a bad thing and makes perfect sense given the lyrical content.)

Starship - "We Built This City" (1985)

F is the tonic pitch here, though as in Cross' "Sailing," each chorus ends on IV (Bb here). This emphasis prepares the listener for the use of Bb as a pedal during the outro beginning at 4:24. Also like "Sailing," chromaticism is used sparingly. Here it is mainly reserved for the third and fourth line of the verse, where the harmony is Eb/F | C/F | F | (as in 0:37-0:42).

Green Day - "When I Come Around" (1994)

I'll go with F# as tonic here, with the chord progression I-V-vi-IV cycling through most of the song. 0:54-1:02 and 1:53-2:02 present a repeated II-IV pattern (yes, that's major II) concluding with a B major chord that supports a C# in the lead vocal (IVadd9). Following several repetitions of the titular line from 2:31-2:48, the song ends on IV at the conclusion of the I-V-vi-IV pattern.

Faith Hill - "Breathe" (1999)

Here the beginning of the verse contains the chords Am, G/B and Cadd9. The initial absence of F(#) allows either G or C to be heard as tonic, though for me, the vocal's emphasis on G suggests the former interpretation. This ambiguity is removed at 0:46, as a D major (G: V) harmony is introduced. Another D (V) chord at 1:14 leads directly into the chorus, which begins with a repeated G: I-ii7-IV(add9)-V(sus4). The song ends with the opening lines of text repeated against the same harmonic pattern concluding on C major (IV), with B and D added.

Michelle Branch - "All You Wanted" (2001)

Though an F in the bass begins the introduction as well as every verse and chorus, Ab is clearly tonic here. The verse employs Ab and Eb pedals above the bass pattern F-Eb-Db-Ab (scale degrees 6-5-4-1), and the chorus uses the (slightly) more tightly structured harmonic sequence Ab: vi7-IV(add9)-I-V. A V chord, initially appearing in first inversion at 0:30, serves to connect various sections. (The use of V6 at 2:20 is rather memorable, as scale degree 7 is briefly present in both bass and Branch's lead vocal.) The song ends with the repetition of an earlier line of text (from 1:32-1:42) and a IV chord (Db major, with Eb added).

Minor: VI

Kesha - "Tik Tok" (2009)

I hear D as tonic throughout, with the bassline Bb-C-D first harmonized in thirds (with the melodic line D-E-F) during the verse, and later supporting complete triads in the chorus. This progression, Bb major-C major-D minor, can be represented by d: VI-VII-i. G minor (iv) appears occasionally in the verse (as in 0:31-0:33), chorus (as in 1:03-1:05) and bridge (as in 2:14-2:15) as well. The song ends abruptly with a single Bb in the bass following the final chorus, as if beginning another refrain.

Miley Cyrus - "Wrecking Ball" (2013)

As in "Tik Tok," I hear D as tonic throughout, though the chorus (as in 0:40-1:02) may be heard as promoting F or Bb as tonic. The music from 2:38-2:42 (toward the end of the bridge) presents d: V4-3 (A major) and contributes to the case for hearing D as tonic. Each chorus ends on Bb major (d: VI) with Cyrus' vocal on the note Bb. This same configuration ends the song, completing the last of several repetitions of the chorus' final lyric (beginning at 3:23).

Minor: VII

Adele - "Set Fire to the Rain" (2011)

D is immediately established as tonic with the progression d: i-III-VII-iv in the introduction and verse. The chorus is also centered on D and presents d: i-VII-iv-i-VII. The song ends with d: VI-VII, a motion first introduced at 2:22-2:26. Against the C major chord at 3:53-3:58, the vocal falls from G to F as if anticipating a tonic (D minor) triad that does not arrive.

John Legend - "All of Me" (2013)

Though the beginning of the chorus (as in 1:00-1:31) is centered on Ab [Ab: I-vi-ii6-V(9-8,4-3)], I hear F as tonic overall. The verse (as in 0:16-0:31) and the end of the chorus (as in 1:31-1:46) contain f: i-VI-III-VII (the introduction contains the same harmonic pattern with i and VII missing chordal thirds). The song ends with a repetition of the last portion of the chorus (4:18-4:35), closing on an Eb major (VII) chord.

Kelly Clarkson - "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" (2011)

The tonic here is A, and with the exception of the bridge (2:15-2:37), the harmony consists of a repeated a: i-VI-III-VII6. Clarkson's vocals exit at 3:31 and the song ends with a final repetition of this harmonic pattern, closing on G/B (VII6). Worth mentioning is the Bb major chord (bII) during 2:19-2:23 and its subsequent direct return to the tonic (A minor).


Weezer - "Buddy Holly" (1994)

I hear Ab as tonic here, though F minor begins each verse. The chorus (as in 0:28-0:43) presents Ab: I-IV-V-I-IV-V-vi-IV-V-I-IV-V-I. After three repetitions of the final line of the chorus (2:26-2:36), the harmony makes a quick move to F minor (vi) to end the song.

Bonnie Raitt - "I Can't Make You Love Me" (1991)

Despite the frequency of Eb major and G minor chords, I hear Bb as tonic here. Simplified (chordal sevenths and ninths, most often the notes Bb and F, are frequently added), the chords in the verse (as in 0:32-1:11) are Bb: IV-vi-IV-I6-vi-ii[-V(6-5,4-3)]. The chorus (as in 1:13-2:15) presents Bb: IV-I-IV-I(6)-IV-vi-IV-V6-vi-IV-V6-vi-ii-V-IV-I-IV-vi-IV-I6(-vi)-ii. The first chorus leads seamlessly into the second verse beginning at 2:16; the second chorus leads to an extended outro beginning at 4:00. At 5:13, the song seems to have reached an end on Eb major (IV), but moves unexpectedly to Ab major (bVII) at 5:21.

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