X Factory: Maybe Tomorrow - Goldenhorse
Author: Stephen Small
I have been listening out for something akin to a breath of fresh air and found it in Maybe Tomorrow by Goldenhorse. This song represents pop perfection for me. Aah, 'He's so opinionated' I hear you cry. Well, if you take the time to listen to this song I think you might agree. So, let's crank up the roller door of the old factory and grab the gas-axe.
Goldenhorse have captured the essence of a radio pop hit in so many ways with Maybe Tomorrow. To start with; it is just shy of three minutes long. Daring. Why? Because there is no sodding about - 'Don't bore us, get to the chorus' - and they don't! Short intro and straight into an eight bar verse, then straight into the chorus - again eight bars with a tag of two bars to effect a cadence back into the intro, before going verse/chorus again.
An exquisite two-note (basically) guitar solo follows, and then into chorus with a brief tag and out. It is soooo tempting to write loooong intros (to set up the vibe, man) and long outros with a huge fade. Unfortunately this really serves only to delay the inevitable - the song must eventually begin and end. So, get on with it!
With regard to key and chord, simplicity reigns here, but with some very tasty and subtle changes. The basic guts of the intro and verse contains what appears to a type of open drone with a two-note shape moving inside it. This results in E, F#m7, E (maj7), E sus2 (omit 3). The second line of the verse features substitutes E, A G#m (with an E) and finally A to prepare the B chord starting the chorus. These chords all fall within the key of E Major, lending a bright, open sound.
E F#m7 E (maj7) Esus2
E A G#m A
The chorus changes things. Here we find B, A E-D, F#m in the first line. The D natural introduces E mixolydian, which is quite startling after the Major vibe of the verse. The second line goes thus: B, B/A (B7 in the 3rd inversion) E-B, C dim - A, E/B (E in the 2nd inversion), and B, making a perfect cadence to E in the repeat of the intro.
B A E-D F#m
B B/A E-B Cdim-A E/B B
The diminished chord offers up all sorts of possibilities, because it could go any of four different ways, and this creates a brief moment of indecision. The dim. chord is not common in pop music - perhaps because songwriters find it a bit too 'dramatic'. Well, here is an example of the ideal use of it, a linking chord that passes quickly and serves as a substitute for F#m or B7 in this context. The B/A in the second line is a substitute for the A in the same place of the first line, allowing the melody to repeat and sound similar yet different. (Hmmm, that's not very airy-fairy now is it?) What I mean is the A in the bass sounds familiar because in the same place in the first line we heard an 'A' sonority in the chord. Although the 'B' sonority is new it is masked by the repeating vocal with the 'A' in the bass. The outcome is a slightly different colour or shade for the melody.
As is familiar now, the melody is the overriding musical statement and on closer inspection shows a great economy of writing - the mark of many a great melody. There is sufficient repetition to enable us to sing along, whilst providing enough variation to prevent boredom. The verse has a rising figure of the following scale degrees: 3, 5, 8 with a tail of 7, 6, occurring three times in succession from a different starting note.
1. g# b e
2. a c# f#
3. b d# g#
The chorus melody has a twice repeating three note cell - g#, f#, e as the most distinctive feature. Also it shows two descending minor 6ths in b - d#, a - c# over the 7th and 8th bars. This suggests a country feel with the distinct similarity to yodeling, which frequently uses major and minor 6th.
A nice touch of variation in the accompaniment is the chopped (skanked) guitar chords in the first line of the second verse, which build a rhythmic tension immediately ameliorated when the big strum starts up again.
But the most intriguing thing for me is the lyrics - there is one verse and chorus that repeat. There is no development of the text - unusual in a pop song nowadays. The variation comes not from changing words in the verses, but from subtle shifts in the arrangement, the interplay of the string section and the guitar textures.
This is a startlingly refreshing piece of pop writing. The x-factor is the daring use of repetition in structure, melody and lyrics, and the subtle variations of instrumentation and arrangement to alleviate the boredom lesser songwriters would force on us! Go the two-note guitar solo!
Stephen Small is Co-ordinator of Popular Music at the University of Auckland's School of Creative and Performing Arts. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org