Friday, May 23, 2014

No Doubt's Too Late

Return Of Saturn, the 2000 follow-up album to No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom. It had less of that upbeat ska and reggae, and was for me, musically a better end-to-end album than Tragic Kingdom.

One song that immediately won me over was Too Late. Seems to have the same musical footprints of Don't Speak, or maybe it's that C minor key signature. Whatever the case, they're good songwriters.

I don't think I'll be able to articulate the many extents to which Too Late is such a great song, so here are just the chords:

Intro / Post-chorus
Gsus4 , G | Ab-5 , Ab

Fm7 , Bb-5 | Ebmaj7 , Cm7 | Gsus4 , G | Ab-5 , Ab

Ab , Cm | Bb , F9/A | Fm7 | G7aug5

Fm7 , Ddim | C | Ab | C
Fm7 , Ddim | C | Ab | Db

Cm | G7 | Eb | F7
Ab | G | G

By the way, Don't Speak's chords are:

Cm | Gm | Fm | Bb
Gm | Cm | Fm | Bb
Cm | Gm | Fm | Bb
Eb | Bb | C | C

Fm | Db | Eb | C
Bbm | C | Fm | Db , C

Db | Ab | B | F#
A | A | Ab

Belinda Carlisle's Leave A Light On and transposition

Belinda Carlisle will occasionally play on the radio (yes, I listen to the "oldies" station). Quite captivated by the song Leave A Light On.

There's so much to talk about in this song.

It isn't your typical pop/rock song, although it sounds like a pretty straightforward upbeat tune.

Instead of getting 4 bars in a line, you get an additional bar. Probably gives your fans enough time to compose themselves before singing the next line. Still... Wow.

The song has 2 key signatures, D and C. The transition between the 2 keys isn't too complicated, consider D's 4th chord is C's 5 chord. Double wow.

For me, the critical factor to this song is the E minor chord. The chord fits well into the D major key signature, providing a useful transition to G major and A major. It also belongs to the C major key signature, as the third chord minor, and also for the fact that it is only different from C major chord by a note.

I think the solo is a bit anti-climatic, but it's George Harrison, so that's ok. The pre-solo bridge too is a bit disorienting for the first few chords. Still, this is an excellent upbeat song

D | A | Em | Bm , A | x2

Verse + Pre-chorus
C | G | Dm | Am , G | x2
C | G | Bb | F
C | Em | A (could be Asus4) | A

Chorus + Post-chorus
D | D | Bm , F#m | Bm , F#m | G | A | x2
G | A | D | G | Gm
D | A | Em | Em

A, G, A, Em, Bm, G, G

So tuck your t-shirt into your pants, put on your shoulder-padded blazers, spray that thick hair, and enjoy.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Summer's Over: Rialto's songwriting clinic

This post is about Summer's Over by Rialto, one of my favourite bands.

Both their alums, Rialto and Night On Earth, are musical textbooks for any aspiring songwriter in the guitar-driven pop/rock genre. I'm not a lyrics guy, so am more into the chords and instrumentation.

Rialto has impeccable songwriting skills and musical craftsmanship. They keep their music simple, well arranged, and string their chords pretty tightly. The manner in which the chords are arranged depicts a feel of falling, because the counterline connecting the chords seem to be going lower and lower, i.e. "falling".


G | Bm/F# | G7/F | C
G | Bm/F# | G7/F | C | Cm

G , Em | Bm | Dm , E7 | Am
C , B7 | Em , D | C , Am | Em , D

The verse's chord sequence is quite typical of pop/rock songs. In the key of G, you begin with G chord. While keeping B (ti) and D (re) notes in the chord, the G (so) transits to F# (fa#) to become Bm, then to F (fa) to become G7, and sets up the final transition to the next chord C, in which all notes B+D+F jump "upwards" to C+E+G. In the second line of the verse, C major chord becomes C minor.

When it comes to pop/rock songwriting, counterlines determine how coherent or dynamic your song is. They are the invisible connections between chords. In the case of Summer's Over, the verse counterline is "falling": G-F#-F-E-Eb.

Well, sounds like Julian Lennon's Saltwater, huh?

The first line of the chorus is invokes a slightly different feeling, as the counterline moves up. Well, choruses have to be climatic, hence the difference in the first line in a song that mostly comprises "falling" counterlines. Here are the permutations, but you get the picture.
1. D-E-F#, A-B-C (climbing up, jump, climbing up)
2. D-E-F#, F-G#-A (climbing up, step down, climbing up)

For the chorus' second line, it goes back to "falling", to return the song to its equilibrium: G-F#-E-D-C, C-B-A (going down and down).

Another indicator on how "tightly" you like your chords to be bound together is the management of the variation between 2 consecutive chords.

In the verse's first three chords, there is only one variation and it moves one key at a time, i.e. G+B+D, F#+B+D, F+B+D. Most songwriters who experiment on the guitar or keyboard will be quite familiar with this, i.e. retaining more than 50% of a chord, while moving the rest of the notes in the chord to another key, either upwards or downwards, by a key or 2.

For instance, Sixpence None the Richer's Kiss Me's verse follows this convention, in Eb major key: Chords - Eb, Ebmaj7, Eb7, Ebmaj7; Counterline - Eb, D, Db, D. Nothing else in the three chords changes, except for those mentioned notes.

Well, Rialto still rocks. Maybe I'll cover Monday Morning 5:19 and Hard Candy next time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Take a chance on him?

Here's what's happening recently, along with some political imaginings of clean Singapore, in the tune of ABBA's 'Take a Chance on Me'.

If you heard the vine, it's Roy this time
He talked PM Lee and the C.H.C.
If you heard the news, you know, it's going 'round
It's Drew and Napier, no? Gahmen take him down

If he could have known of the gahmen's tone
Gahmen's so kiasi, it's on 'Factually'
It's all about C.P.F. and he said a "lie"
If you smelled his lawyers' breath, and you're gonna die

Well it's PM Lee
(In his tighty whitiessss)
Well he's PM Lee

We can lim kopi, we can go Whitley
Or we're gonna sue yer
Don't talk about Ho Chings, or Temasek Holdings
And we won't sue yer

'Cause you know he's got so much that he wanna do
When he dreams of him fixing you, it's tragic
Roy shouldn't have put the picture there; when you're sued, it's never fair
But I think you know Lee will knock you cold

Sunday, May 4, 2014

On AWARE and Military Service

The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) Singapore commented on an article on the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) considering "recognising" NSmen in the form of "giving them a bigger stake in the country, such as in the areas of housing, healthcare and education".

AWARE said in a post on their Facebook page:
Every person deserves access to housing, education and healthcare, because these are basic requirements for human sustenance and social participation. AWARE disagrees strongly with any link between support for fundamental needs and an individual's status as an NSman, especially when the military may not be suitable for many people, regardless of their gender. AWARE has long maintained that military service should not be held up as the single gold standard of citizen belonging - an approach which this proposal threatens to intensify, creating different tiers of people with different social entitlements and worth.
As for the reactions, well, to sum up, the men weren't happy to learn of this.

First and foremost, we have yet to hear the details of this "recognition" that MINDEF is considering. So, it's good to wait and find out how much of a "stake" the government will be giving to those who serve.

Given National Service (and the majority of those who serve) is compulsory, I personally see this "recognition" as compensation in the context of 'choiceless-ness' as opposed to incentivisation in the context of 'choice'. This definition of compensation here sits in the context of a lack of choice, mainly (not entirely) for many Singaporean men. The action of one's commitment to National Service cannot mask the reality of compulsory conscription and the penalties that come should one choose not to serve.

Moving on another tangent, National Service discriminates. Not specifically referring to the disproportionate representation of Malay-Muslim Singaporeans in certain sectors within MINDEF, but the forms of discrimination are based on sex (not gender by the way) and physiology, among other things.

Having male sex organs will generally qualify (in a compulsory sense) you to be part of an organisation that leverages apparatuses of violence in the name of a flag. History is also used to further justify male participation in violence in the name of the nation. The absence of these sex organs exempts you from compulsory service, but you may choose to serve. In view of this, there are different contexts in which NS is done.

As for physiology, it is about finding the most desirable Singaporean body to perform various demanding tasks required across different segments of national defence.

That said, AWARE is right in saying that the military may not be suitable for many people, based on the above and other traits. There is discrimination based on things we mostly do not have control of - sex (I said "mostly"), physiology for instance.

I also agree with AWARE that "military service should not be held up as the single gold standard of citizen belonging". People of different bodies, persuasions, creeds, physical abilities, talents and opportunities, all deserve to claim a stake in defining citizenry. In addition, we have to put aside prejudices to create opportunities for different people to define citizenry - level the playing field a little.

One may argue that the many institutions that bring about the general stability and comfort most of us have enjoyed throughout the years could not have done so without National Service. But I believe that national defence is an interdependent unit as are all institutions supporting one another, rather than a super-set.

Now, let's look at housing, healthcare and education. These are the critical variables of social stratification in Singapore.

In giving a "bigger stake", it is implied NSmen will be given a slight advantage over non-NSmen when it comes to access to housing, healthcare and education. As an NSman, I'll gladly take this and say "thank you", since it directly benefits my family and its state-condoned family structure.

I believe the issue of contention is that the idea of compensation for compulsory (and discriminatory) conscription intersects that of what should be universally and equally accessible to all in Singapore.

Alternatively, it will be better if conscripts and NSmen are paid the same as regulars of the corresponding ranks. For reservist training, NSmen should be paid their rank pay, on top of their compensated salaries, regardless of where they work. This way, the compensation or incentive (however you see it) symbolically remains within the confines of the institution (NS), even though the monetary "advantages" have implications beyond it.

Again, this still does not address the issue of NS' position in Singaporean citizenry and defining it, simply because bigger compensation or incentives (however you see it, again) are still thrown in that direction. Since you can't put a price on the 2-2.5 years of lost youth, the state-imposed absence of husbands/fathers/brothers/sons, we'll probably not know what's the right amount and the right avenue through which it should be disseminated.

On every level, there's a lot of discrimination: The unquestionable sacred cow of the Singaporean male-ness being intricately tied to nationhood therefore justifying compulsory NS, tax "incentives" given to NSmen whose circumstances are in fact based on choiceless-ness, etc.

To stand up and say, "Shut up you women. Why don't you get conscripted first, then come and talk?" still does not address the issue of discrimination and the implications of (gender) discrimination on socio-economic stratification - since we're talking about housing, education and healthcare here.

Having women conscripted may solve some downstream grievances, but does that mean upstream problems are solved? NS then remains unquestioned.

I honestly have no idea how this can be best approached. I guess we have the capable leaders in the Cabinet (with disproportionate representation of men and women) to come up with the right solutions, huh? But you've got people in there who'll answer your questions with the same question "what do you think" hehe.