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Key changes in Beatles songs
17 December 2011
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mzp007
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And I Love Her ” has a nice key change for the third verse, starting with George's beautiful classical guitar solo…

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Joe said
I was playing Penny Lane to Ted the other day (got to start ’em young) and Ellie said: “Ooh, truck-driver’s gear change!” And it has got one, though The Beatles didn’t often rely on those sorts of cliches (was it even a cliche in 1967?).

I don’t know if there’s a thread about key changes in Beatles songs, but they didn’t often feature them. The only other ones I can think of are Sgt Pepper (Reprise) and the guitar solo in And I Love Her . Are there any others?  

Also, later in the thread, BBer “GniknuS” wrote:

Technically, the verses of Penny Lane are in B and the chorus is in A, and Paul just keeps the last chorus in B, so I’m not sure if that would qualify as a truck drivers key change, but certainly the other choruses are, even though they are brilliantly done.

That “truck-driver’s key change” Joe mentions was referred to by a classical music teacher I took in college as “modulatory rape” (he didn’t take too kindly to it).  Country music tends to do it a lot.

While I agree that Penny Lane has a key change at the end, it’s an ingenious one because as GniknuS points out, it’s not really a change, it’s a reversion to the logic of the main verses being in B. The real key change is when every chorus dips down to A from B.  Thus Paul is achieving the powerful sense of a key change at the end, but only by making the chorus (the second, repeated time) follow the key logic of the main verses and go back to the B it would have gone back to had he had another set of verses to sing.

I hope that’s clear as mud.

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The key change at the chorus of Penny Lane has always impressed me as it’s so subtle and you just couldn’t imagine the song flowing anywhere else. Generally key changes in songs move up a tone (or semi-tone) to accentuate/further emphasise choruses etc, but here the same effect is achieved by the dropping of a whole tone….incredible.
Can’t be sure about this, but I like to think that the best Beatle tunes appeared initially in the composer’s head allowing both the fluctuations of key and chordal progressions to go wherever the melody took them…a-hard-days-night-ringo-13

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Or to put what I said the other way: Every time Paul goes into the chorus, it sounds like the song is going up or “advancing” when actually it’s going down a whole step in key, from B down to A. Then when the chorus segues back to the main part, it sounds like a step down, but it’s actually going up from A back to B.  Only at the end does he achieve the effect of the actual elevation from A to B sounding as clear as a bell like an “upward and onward” movement.

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The path he takes to get to the E chord, which is the dominant for A, is damn impressive. I think it goes Abm7 – Gmaj7- to the F#, and then naturally down to the E. Dave Mason’s Trumpet arppegio perfecty accentuates this progression. It sounds so muddy, but then clears out so well. 

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My all time favourite is the way You Never Give Me Your Money links from the “aah aah” section in the middle (after the “nowhere to go” part). Presuming the song is in Aminor at the start, it’s C-D7-Eb7-G7..C-A7-Eb-C7-F#-Eb7-A-F#-G-G#-A—–then on to the “one sweet dream” part; pure genius. I know the song is a collaboration of smaller songs linked together but, to me, it just sounds like one wonderfully constructed masterpiece.

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1 May 2018
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I don’t get why people think key changes are cliché.  They’re a device for giving a song a breath of fresh air.  I tend to think a lot of kids don’t like them because they’re so capo dependent, and can’t play a barre chord.
Key changes were certainly EVERYWHERE in 60’s music. 
“These Eyes”, by the Guess Who is a song where the chorus modulates 4 times, I think, then finds its way to back to the original key. 
When Dusty Springfield changes keys in “You Don’t Have to Say You Love”, it raises the intensity and emotion. 
Tons of other examples.  Duets that change keys allow the male & female singers to each sing within their best range. Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn doing “You’re the reason God Made Oklahoma” comes to mind. 
Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife” modulates with nearly every verse – wouldn’t be nearly as effective, staying at the low key.  If you think “Mack” is cliché, you seriously need to re-think your definition of good music.

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1 May 2018
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Direwolf said
I don’t get why people think key changes are cliché. 

A certain type of key change became clichéd in dreadful pop music as a lazy way to change direction/build intensity toward the end of a song without changing the melody. So, sing the chorus, put everything a step up, sing the chorus again — paul-mccartney a-hard-days-night-ringo-13

I tend to think a lot of kids don’t like them because they’re so capo dependent, and can’t play a barre chord.
  

a-hard-days-night-paul-11
No one liked capos more than Mr Harrison. ahdn_george_06(except maybe Mr Lennon around the Rubber Soul period — they all went capo-crazy in late ’65)

(I haven’t used my capo in ages. ahdn_paul_01)

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Take the song Movie Star by Harpo – after every verse/chorus, the key goes up. That’s 4 key changes, all up. It’s neither original, unique or clever. 

I’m fine with the barre chord problem, but I’m not fine with how often I hear that exact technique. 

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I think that’s partly the attraction of clever songs like Penny Lane is that it tricks your expectations, and it’s the utter lack of expectation that grates when it’s not used creatively, as much a get-out at the end of a song as modulating every verse.

I love the fact that I Am The Walrus does not modulate but fools you into thinking that by reusing the intro as a middle-eight, but like the verses, doesn’t simply copy it.

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2 May 2018
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Been racking my brain thinking of how many times the Beatles used a key change and, realising that it wasn’t very often, brings me to only one conclusion; quite simply, their melodies were generally just so damn good that no accentuating was ever needed as they had already grabbed your full attention.

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Direwolf said
I don’t get why people think key changes are cliché.  They’re a device for giving a song a breath of fresh air.  I tend to think a lot of kids don’t like them because they’re so capo dependent, and can’t play a barre chord.
Key changes were certainly EVERYWHERE in 60’s music. 
“These Eyes”, by the Guess Who is a song where the chorus modulates 4 times, I think, then finds its way to back to the original key. 
When Dusty Springfield changes keys in “You Don’t Have to Say You Love”, it raises the intensity and emotion. 
Tons of other examples.  Duets that change keys allow the male & female singers to each sing within their best range. Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn doing “You’re the reason God Made Oklahoma” comes to mind. 
Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife” modulates with nearly every verse – wouldn’t be nearly as effective, staying at the low key.  If you think “Mack” is cliché, you seriously need to re-think your definition of good music.  

I agree @Direwolf.

I am also a bit of a Steely Dan/Donald Fagen nut and wonder at how effortlessly their music modulates in and out of keys using the most incredible chords (still haven’t worked half of them out yet!!) to link it all together. Cliche doesn’t come into it…..

Oh yes, “Mack the knife”… Without the modulation(s), it just wouldn’t be a fraction of the gem of a track it is. In fact, it is the perfect song for practising your overall grasp of guitar chords….WITHOUT A CAPO….paul-mccartney-thumb_gif Go on, throw in a few ninths or thirteenths for good measure….john-lennon-salute_gif

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Beatlebug said

A certain type of key change became clichéd in dreadful pop music as a lazy way to change direction/build intensity toward the end of a song without changing the melody. So, sing the chorus, put everything a step up, sing the chorus again — paul-mccartney a-hard-days-night-ringo-13

Pop songs aren’t supposed to have too many melodic departures: you usually get your intro/ turnarounds, your verses, choruses & bridge.  That’s usually it.  Complexity and commercialism don’t usually go well together, and introducing an “E” chord progression, certainly in 1964-66, to a pop song was pretty much illegal.  SO.. you use the old C to Ab to Db… or to A to D.  You can actually google and find what chords to use to get from here to there…. but it’s just another tool in the toolbox… like the break it down with just drums & voices chorus, or the bridge that starts out small, and gets huge, into the overwraught, balls to the walls chorus. Shouldn’t overuse it, or any of the other tools of the trade.

If you don’t like formulaic stuff, that’s your call, but good pop is a craftsmanship that can be appreciated, and “lazy” doesn’t get you to the top of the pops… and there are far too many stupendously fantabulous classic pop chunes with key changes to call “dreadful”.  

Certain genres don’t care for key changes, and often practitioners of said genres typically tend to view them as corny, but different methods for different styles.

I was generally anti-capo for the longest time, and have yet to use one on electric, but, that time I had to play acoustic to a song in Db, I finally broke down and used one.  The sad part was that I had the intro to the next song, and forgot to remove said capo (ouch).  Capos do allow you to play in odd keys with the available open strings of  G’s & C’s , etc. 

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Vera Chuckandave said

I am also a bit of a Steely Dan/Donald Fagen nut and wonder at how effortlessly their music modulates in and out of keys using the most incredible chords (still haven’t worked half of them out yet!!) to link it all together. Cliche doesn’t come into it…..

Oh yes, “Mack the knife”… Without the modulation(s), it just wouldn’t be a fraction of the gem of a track it is. In fact, it is the perfect song for practising your overall grasp of guitar chords….WITHOUT A CAPO….paul-mccartney-thumb_gif Go on, throw in a few ninths or thirteenths for good measure….john-lennon-salute_gif  

Just saw Steely Dan (sans the departed Walter B-RIP), last November and experiencing their genious was nearly a come-to-Jesus moment… feeling tears of joy.

I’ve been more of a keyboard player lately, and am actually working on “Mack” (along with “Beyond the Sea”).  Throw in the walking bass line left hand, and it’s  a great exercise, running through all those odd keys, as I work my way up from Ab to Db in half steps. 

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The Beach Boys ’ When I Grow Up To Be A Man has phenomenal key changes. They go great with the lyrics, going through a progression of life 

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Direwolf said

Just saw Steely Dan (sans the departed Walter B-RIP), last November and experiencing their genious was nearly a come-to-Jesus moment… feeling tears of joy.
I’ve been more of a keyboard player lately, and am actually working on “Mack” (along with “Beyond the Sea”).  Throw in the walking bass line left hand, and it’s  a great exercise, running through all those odd keys, as I work my way up from Ab to Db in half steps.   

I have been to that wonderful place too. Saw them during the “two against nature” tour in 2000 and just couldn’t believe that i was hearing all of my favourites performed so impeccably. Never saw them again as I didn’t need to; one of my “once in a lifetime” moments had just occurred.

I only consider myself to be a bit of a “rhythm keyboardist” (if you know what i mean) but with my top two influences being the Beatles and the Dan, haven’t faired too badly….ahdn_john_08_gif

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sir walter raleigh said
The Beach Boys ’ When I Grow Up To Be A Man has phenomenal key changes. They go great with the lyrics, going through a progression of life   

Brian Wilson; another genius whose wonderful melodies effortlessly and naturally modulated to whatever key was the right one. 

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26 October 2018
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Hope I’m not duplicating an observation.

The Beatles used key changes of one kind or another in about 70% of their songs.  Some were obvious, and others were blended into the song more subtley, and the listener may not even notice. Many of the subtle key changes were employed in the “middle eight” bars, and were triggered by something called a “pivot chord” that set up the key change. An example is seen early on in “I Want To Hold Your Hand “.  The song is in Key of G, and rolls along nicely until the part that says “And when I touch you I feel happy”…. Immediately on  this segment, you will hear a Dm7 (pivot chord), and will switch the middle 8 to the Key of C.   

Dm7             G                      C       Am

And   when I touch you I feel happy inside

F                 G                      C

Its such a feeling that my      love

Now the song has to get back to the original key of G, so it cleverly does so by using C  -> D thrice

C        D          C       D             C        D

I can’t hide      I can’t hide        I can’t hiiiiiiiide

 

Clever, huh?

The song essentially shifted from one tonal center to the other, then back again. 
Most listeners (even musicians)  may not even feel it happened.

  

You will see the technique used in other songs.

From Me To You  

    Starting at (I got arms that long to hold you)  Verse in in Key of C, Middle 8 is in Key of F  Pivot Chord is Gm7

If I Needed Someone

    Verse is in Key of A, Middle 8 is in Key of Bm  switched uncerimoneously by starting with an Em -> F#7  -> Bm,
    then resolving back to the Key of A by playing an E at the end of the middle 8 to get back.

You Like Me Too Much

     Song clevery shifts from Key of G to A then back again throughout

                Bm                            E

     And it’s nice when you believe me

     Asus A    Am

     If     you  leave me

Help!

     Chorus is in different key that verses

You’re Going To Lose That Girl

     Middle 8 in Key of G, resolves back to E

 

This is not an exhaustive list.

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Awesome ,@John Dobba! I’m not the one to vouch for the accuracy the information you provided, but we have plenty of people that will really enjoy seeing what you just wrote. You are most welcome to post more.

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Vera Chuckandave said

Brian Wilson; another genius whose wonderful melodies effortlessly and naturally modulated to whatever key was the right one.   

I think this is what separates good songwriters from great ones, melodically at least. Good songwriters can come up with a nice melody to fit a chord progression, whereas great songwriters have the melody first, and find the chords simply by seeing where it goes. Examples that sound like they were written this way would be Yesterday , Penny Lane , God Only Knows, Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right etc

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