Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Good idea: using musical examples ("All I Want For Christmas")

I spend a fair amount of blog space pointing out bad music journalism—specifically, journalism that fails to use musical examples to back up their argument. While Christmas isn’t yet the distant past, I thought I would share an article that effectively uses musical examples about a Christmas song. The article from Slate by Adam Ragusea attempts to explain why Mariah Carey and Walter Afanaseiff’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” has become a holiday classic, while so many other new holiday songs in the last 40 years have drifted into obscurity. While I’m not sure I totally buy Ragusea’s argument that “All I Want For Christmas is You” sounds Christmassy only because it uses chromatic-rich chords similar to Christmas standards in the 1920-1950s (for instance, there are other songs that use these chords that don’t evoke Christmas, so there must be something else going on, too; also, plenty of songs today feature more than 3 or 4 chords suggested here), I salute his use of theory and specific musical examples to prove his point and attempting to make the writing accessible to non-specialists. Here’s an example:
The song also includes what I consider the most Christmassy chord of all—a minor subdominant, or “iv,” chord with an added 6, under the words “underneath the Christmas tree,” among other places. (You might also analyze it as a half-diminished “ii” 7th chord, but either interpretation seems accurate.) The same chord is found, in a different key and inversion, in Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”—on the line “children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow,” specifically under the word listen, among other spots.
While many people don't know what a "iv chord" means, he does link it up sonically with an aural cue most people can recognize. Enjoy the rest of the article and have a happy new year!

Vocab: chords, minor, subdominant, half-diminished

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