(After a full week of One Day in Your Life posts, I’m taking a break today, but there will be a new one on Monday).
I have said it many times over the years, although I am not sure I’ve ever said it here: Some of the more thrilling moments in Top 40 history have involved key changes. Apparently, however, there are people who hate ’em. For example, “The Truck Driver’s Gear Change Hall of Shame,” which says at its FAQ page,
Contrary to what many people seem to think, the truck driver’s gear change is in no way inventive, interesting or acceptable: it is in fact an utterly appalling and unimaginative admission that you’ve run out of inspiration and the song should have ended one minute ago; but you’re under pressure to make something which can be stretched out to the length of a single.
An interesting perspective . . . even if such a blanket condemnation is, like most blanket condemnations, frequently wrong.
I like the phrase “truck driver’s gear change” as a metaphor. (I’d never heard it before this week.) It’s intended to reflect “the utterly predictable and laboured nature of the transition, evoking a tired and over-worked trucker ramming the gearstick into the new position.” And I agree that some of the key changes you’ll hear in pop music—like those frequently thrown in the likes of Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey , and every American Idol contestant who’s ever done a ballad—are done solely for the purposes of showing off. But I disagree that every record that employs the technique sucks by definition. Forthwith, five records selected from the Hall of Shame website that do not suck.
“Beautiful Sunday”/Daniel Boone. When you are enjoying a Sunday with your sweetie, why stop when you can crank it up a notch?
“Already Gone”/Eagles. Changing keys at full speed while heading to the fadeout is neither appalling nor unimaginative, it’s Top 40 perfection. If you’re the DJ, you’d better bring your best boss-jock attitude to talk out of it, or if you’re not up to that, punch an uptempo jingle and play something else that’s hot.
“Weekend in New England”/Barry Manilow. Yes, Manilow is a serial offender when it comes to key changes, and this is the one utterly conventional, American-Idolesque key change on my list here, but I don’t care.
“I’d Love to Lay You Down”/Conway Twitty. This is another of the remarkably skeevy country songs Twitty recorded at the turn of the 1980s, but the key change is a keeper, because instead of going up, Twitty goes down. Which, it occurs to me, is probably on his mind in more than the musical sense.
“Livin’ on a Prayer”/Bon Jovi. Jon Bon Jovi is a complete hack, but he scores awesomeness points here for the same reason “Already Gone” gets ’em. The missing beat at the point of the key change is, however, hackery run amok. I’m about half-convinced it was unintentional.
General comments about key changes, or specific examples of good ones and bad ones, are welcome in the comments below.
Recently at WNEW.com:
This Week in Rock History: What’s the Frequency?
Rock 101: The Brill Building
Founding Father: John Lennon
This Week in Rock History: Days on the Green
Rock 101: Saturday Night Live
Watch for a new Founding Fathers post at WNEW.com tomorrow.