A Little More Love?

In recent posts, we've discussed how the introduction of foreign harmonies can represent a type of "musical drama," that gets worked out through the progression of a piece of music. I've also introduced enharmonic reinterpration, where ambiguity is introduced to a work through respelling or reinterpreting chromatic pitches.

Today I'd like to explore a fascinating example of both phenomena, from the popular/MOR genre; Olivia Newton-John's "A little more love." Written by John Farrar, this song was a worldwide hit in 1979.

Lyric Topics

The themes should be familiar:

  1. Stasis, boredom, discomfort, restlesness, doubt ("night is dragging her feet/I wait alone in the heat", and "where did my innocence go," etc), contrasting with:
  2. Surrender pattern ("I know you'll have your way / till you go home / no's a word I can't say"), and
  3. Surrender, resignation, questioning ("It gets me nowhere to tell you know / will a little more love help etc")

Here's a broad sketch of the lyrics, where I've color-coded these sections, and identified the different key areas being used to underpin each:

Observe how each section is treated with its own key area; the restlessness of the first section is treated with g minor, while the rest is in Ab major. The yellow highlights (on "ending" and "right") indicate moments where unexpected, "colorful" harmonies are used.

Multiple Meanings and Functions

The word "right?" (highlighted above) forms a pivotal moment in the song, and the question it asks receives two answers, reflected in the supporting harmonies.

The singer's D# pitch is harmonized wtih a B major chord in its first appearance (that is to say, before returning to the first, 'verse' section in g minor). This somewhat jarring chord returns aburptly to the original key area (g minor). On the second hearing, the vocalist sings the same pitch, but instead the note is reinterpreted enharmonically as E-flat, and in fact the original harmonization (B-D#-F#) now functions as a C-flat major triad (Cb-Eb-Gb).

In the second case, the harmonic movement stays in the key of Ab major, and we remainin that key for the remainder of the song.

Harmonic Ambiguity

I've tried to mark these interesting spots in the reduction below. I'm not trying to transcribe the melody line, but rather I've placed "guide notes" in the soprano voice to help illustrate some of the structural features in the work.

Note:

  • I've identified the bII (or "neapolitan") chord with a red box. This Ab harmony prefigures the emphasis on Ab that we find later in the piece.
  • In measure 7 I've identified a "common chord" modulation, a reinterpretation of the Eb triad. In g minor, it would be heard as a bVI chord, but here it serves as a pivot point between g minor and Ab major
  • Measures 21-23 show how the B major chord is reinterpreted. Observe and hear how the initial Eb is reinterpreted as a D# to support the underlying harmonic movement.
  • In the final measure of the reduction, see and hear how B major becomes part of a (borrowed) III-IV-V-I cadence in Ab major.

Summary

The use of enharmonic respellings/reinterpretations is not a new technique, and it has been a part of our Western musical vocabulary for centuries. Reinterpretation provides added interest to the harmonic and melodic direction of a musical story, and this ambiguity is useful for creating interest and tension. In this song, the two uses of the B major sonority intersect at a formal juncture: marking either a circular return to the beginning, or on the repeat, or a final return to the middle section.

We've also seen an example of how unity can be created in a composition, by introducing unexpected elements at the beginning of a piece--elements that foreshadow a later importance.

A further analysis of this piece would probably address the text-music relationship (if there is one), examine the use of the F diminished seventh chord on "ending," (which is itself probably a reinterpretation), and maybe even the interplay of horizontal movement and vertical sonority with the Dbm triad in mm. 13ff.

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