Hey people! I proudly present the first introductory post to Robert Fontana’s ‘The Key To Music‘, a study and research project on the musical formulas that have made up the industry’s pop trends throughout these past decades.
My pet project involves the analysis of any possible correlations involved with key signatures of all the Billboard Hot 100 #1’s from 1955-present (since the Rock era started). Basically, I’ve been recording the keys (including any full transpositions – not secondary tonicizations) of this comprehensive list of songs. My analysis will include results of most popular & least popular key signatures of all #1 songs as well as per decade, reasons why certain keys may have been chosen during particular time frames, the possibility that certain keys appeal more to audiences, and other musically-geeky probing.
The Key to Music
Ever wonder why we like the music we like? Why do we listen to the same classic songs over and over? Hipsters would say it’s because the system forces a select group of artists and songs down our throats. Mad scientist songwriters would argue for the plethora of pop music formulas. Sociologists might link it to patterns of what we were all exposed to while we were children. Freud probably would have said, “Sometimes a song is just a song.”
At first, I sided with the songwriters. It’s true. At their disposal are hundreds of proven tricks just waiting for the right moment to be pulled out of the tackle box (because hooks are found in tackle boxes). There are cliche chord progressions, common ways to modulate, arrangements and song structures that have stood the test of time, cookie-cutter drum beats, and certain harmonies that are always crowd-pleasers. Apply a mix of these tricks with a modern twist to some music, get a smashingly beautiful artist to sing it, promote the hell out of it, and voila: a hit song.
Somehow, I still wasn’t convinced. What interests me is if our love affair with songs could be something much simpler. When I first uttered it to myself, I thought the play on words was cute and didn’t think much about it. But then, I started to seriously consider it: what if the key of music was the key to music?
The Oxford Dictionary of Music describes a key as “…adherence…to the note-material of one of the major or minor scales – not necessarily a rigid adherence (since other notes may incidentally appear), but a general adherence, with a recognition of the Tonic (or key-note) of the scale in question as a principal and governing factor in its effect…”
I was intrigued to see if there were any correlations with a song’s key and its success during certain time periods. Are we susceptible to some innate preference for certain fundamental frequencies? What are the most popular keys of the most popular songs? Which keys are the least popular? Why were certain keys chosen and more successful during certain musical eras?
It’s tough because who’s to say which songs are the best? For the record, there is no truly accurate way to gauge a song’s popularity. The best we’ve come up with is Billboard, which calculates airplay and sales to deliver their weekly pole positions. So, I started with that. It has now become the sole focus of a project I’ve spent months working on. I’ve been analyzing every Billboard Hot 100 #1 song from 1955 (the birth of the Rock Era) to the present. For each song, I record its key and any full modulations that occur into a spreadsheet.
When I’m finished, I look forward to sharing my conclusions. Feel free to comment with any predictions. Stay tuned to GigBloggy for the results.
Thanks Rob! Can’t wait to read about your findings.