Going into a new key for your Chorus (every time; not just for the last Chorus) is considered by many many songwriters to be… well, cheating.
Why? Because simply by changing key you potentially create a ‘fake’ version of the exciting lift that, in most cases, should come from the transition into the Chorus itself, without the ‘artificial stimulation’ of a new key. It can come off as giving false life to a weak Chorus.
Now, changing key into a Chorus is probably not something you want to get in the habit of doing, for the reasons stated above. But, like pretty much everything else you can possibly do when writing a song, in the right place, at the right time… it can work, and work well.
You want examples? I knew it! (videos below) I’ll start with Wild Cherry’s annoyingly catchy ‘Play That Funky Music White Boy’ (Parissi); it’s a classic example of the cheap trick that works. It stays on E7 for the entire Verse and Pre-Chorus then, completely out of the blue, jumps up to a G7 for the Chorus (with the same riff and groove).
It’s brutal but effective (as is the over-the-top lyric). For the leadup to the end of the Chorus it again jumps up a minor 3rd, to Bb7, followed by another out-of-the-blue jump, back to E7 for the riff that ends the Chorus and brings us back to the Verse.
So… the whole song contains only three chords. Each one bears no harmonic relation to any of the others. The jarring nature of the chords actually, I believe, contributes strongly to the garish efficiency of this particular song.
On a considerably subtler note, check out The Eagles’ ’New Kid In Town’ (Henley, Frey, Souther).
Harmonically the Verses couldn’t be much simpler – E, A, and B chords. The last bar has a big ‘key change’ moment: G#7sus4 to G#7. The Chorus then enters very naturally on C#minor (which itself is in the key of E…). It then goes back and forth between C#minor and F# (which is not in the key of Emajor).
So, between the big ‘key change’ G#s , and the F# chords, it feels like we’re in a different key (though I’m not exactly sure which one. Ideas?). Then the song moves to A and B chords, which end the Chorus by taking us back to the key of E – the Verse key. An understated (other than the big V chord) way of putting the Chorus in a different key.
Far more sophisticated still is The Beatles’ ‘Penny Lane’ (Lennon/McCartney). The Verse:
|| B | E F# | B | Bminor7 | Abminor7(b5) | Gmajor7 | F#7sus4 F#7 | E ||
The Verse ends on E, which we’ve already heard, but now it’s being used as a V chord taking us a whole step down for the Chorus, to the key of A:
|| A | A/C# | D | D | A | A/C# | D | B/F# B/D# F# ||
In the Chorus’s 8th bar, they take us back, ever so smoothly, to the Verse key.
This is an example where the key change is ‘baked in’ so elegantly, so integrated with the melody and words, that it’s hardly even noticed (it’s felt, though). And it’s impossible to imagine the song without it.
This has been our brief ‘writing the Chorus in a different key from the Verse’ tour – from the ridiculous (but fun) to the sublime. Use this tool with care… it can bite back.
Any other examples?
(Another post on modulations here.)
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