[“The Key To Music” is a research project lead by Robert Fontana on the musical formulas that have made up the industry’s pop trends throughout these past decades.
Part one on the 50’s: gigdoggy.wordpress.com/2009/04/06/the-key-to-music-part-1-the-key-to-50s-pop-rock-era]
Could they tell the difference…
Let’s say I secretly snuck into your home in the middle of the night, hijacked your iPod and used pitch-altering software to bump all your songs up a semitone while retaining the tempo and quality. You snap in your earbuds and hit play. Would you notice?
Perhaps the more interesting hypothetical would be what I’d say to the police if I got caught! But seriously, do you think you could tell the difference? This was a question I asked myself as I was ear-deep in my project of analyzing all the Billboard Hot 100 #1 songs of the Rock Era in a nerdy conquest to conclude if and why certain keys were more popular than others.
At first, I hypothesized that only the few people with perfect pitch would be able to consistently notice if a track was not in its original key. If most people couldn’t perceive this nuance, then I would have to rule out the possibility that humans prefer certain keys over others. After a bit of research, I came across some interesting articles that helped me shed some light on the innate musical abilities of our brains. For one such article, see www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080826080600.htm
Last week, I released some conclusions about the keys of the 50’s. This week, I bring you the 60’s. I had the pleasure of dancing under a “blue moon” with The Marcels, listening to the Dave Clark Five “over and over” again, getting schooled in the “game of love” by Wayne Fontana (no relation) & the Mindbenders, and allowing Ringo to pound out some paradiddles on my eardrums as the Beatles held my hand. Which keys would prevail? Which keys just didn’t have the pitch propellant to soar to the top?
Results from the 60’s (some compared with the 1955-59 “decade”):
264 total keys were identified out of the 202 songs
Little Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips Pt. 2” is in C minor, but included in this live #1 hit is the exit music after the song is thought to be complete, which is in A-flat Major – it counts! To top it off, Stevie interrupts the exit music for his encore via a harmonica solo back in C minor. Bassist Larry Moses is clearly heard on the recording frantically yelling “What key? What key?” If he only had my handy little spreadsheet!
Take a listen to Larry at around 2:23:
Last week, I anticipated C Major as being a contender for the most used key of the 60’s. It came in 2nd, with 33 songs or just under 12.5% of all keys (almost the same percentage as in the 50’s). Compared with the previous decade, the use of minor keys jumped 7% and there was a small increase in the percentage of songs that had a key change.
G Major possibly took the crown due to the increasing popularity of songs being written on the guitar and it being an easy key to play on the guitar (as well as the piano). Popular chords in a major key include the I, IV & V. In the key of G, these chords are G, C & D: three of the easiest chords to play with none of them being the more troublesome barre chords. Maybe it’s not the sole reason for its reign over the decade, but it’s something to consider.
Tune in next week with your bellbottoms on as I jingle more keys in your face and rollerskate you the results of the 70’s. As suggested, I’ll be including some graphs that’ll span the first 25 years of keys from 1955-1975.