By now the world has learned of the death of the great composer, songwriter, and pianist Burt Bacharach. He studied with, among others, Darius Milhaud, and elevated the pop song in so many different ways.

Since we haven’t done a Theory Thursday in a while, I thought it would be cool to talk about what makes Bacharach’s work so…well, cool.

In a lot of pop music – and in a lot of non-pop music – there are certain structural and tonal expectations. Two of the most common ones are:
1. Phrases (complete musical ideas ending with some kind of closure) are four measures in length
2. The most important relationship when defining a key is the dominant-tonic relationship (V-I).

Let’s listen to the song “Always Something There To Remind Me,” one of my favorite Bacharach tunes (co-written with the legendary Hal David). First up, the demo version from Miss Dionne Warwick:

Pretty cool, huh? Now let’s listen to the version I first heard in the 1980s, the synth-pop cover by the band Naked Eyes:

What jumps at you is the phrase structure. Instead of nice four-bar phrases, Bacharach gives us a verse with a phrase structure of five-five-three.

Example 1: The opening phrase, five measures long.

The asymmetry, coupled with the ending ii half-diminished chord (not a chord normally associated with the end of a phrase, though Robert Schumann uses one to great effect at the end of a phrase in “Widmung,” the opening song of the op. 25 collection), adds musical interest. Things are off-kilter. A romance is no more, but there’s always something there to remind you. Bacharach thwarts the first of the two expectations listed above.

The other expectation is thwarted as well; there’s not a V-I until you get to almost the end of the chorus, with “I was born to love you, but I will never be free.” Listen again. There’s not a root-position dominant The piece is clearly in a key (Naked Eyes uses D, so I shall use that as my reference point), but the V-I – the defining tonal relationship – is only barely present. You can go almost the entire form of the tune before you hit a V-I.

One last little bit: Naked Eyes’ version takes the descending chromatic line from the soprano in the original down to the bass. This doesn’t actually change anything harmonically, but it does add the dimension of possible reference to the lament bass, or a descending chromatic bass line used as the basis for a lament or sad song. (Purcell’s “When I am laid in Earth” from Dido and Aeneas is the go-to model.) Some websites list the second chord as A/C#, but as I hear it there’s not enough there to think in terms of it being a dominant, and even if you could hear it that way, it’s an inversion with strong chromatic linear motion, which goes a long way toward undercutting the idea of it being a V.

Example 2. The opening phrase as performed by Naked Eyes.

Bacharach was a titan for so many reasons, but for me it’s because he thwarted expectations, and in doing so created tiny masterpieces. May his memory be a blessing, and may he rest well.


I’ll say it again: Go see Lincoln.

Here’s an interesting read on the film, from Sarah Binder of George Washington University. I enjoyed the scenes in the House, and I do love how…how raucous debate was. This was good stuff – not the smoke and mirrors of contemporary political debate or empty suits repeating talking points, but really smart people having an intense discussion about important issues, keenly aware of their place in history.


My prediction? Giants in a fairly close one.

I probably just guaranteed a Pats blowout.

Also: Halftime show will be pointless. Why isn’t a top-shelf college band or drum corps involved? And where are my stewed prunes? You kids get off my lawn.


I saw a commercial which disturbed me greatly.

Media criticism is not usually my area, but let’s just look at a couple of things here.

First of all, what kind of person completely overhauls an entire room of a shared house without lots of discussion with his/her significant other? We’re not talking simply moving furniture here.

Second, reinforce stereotypes much? The “Mom Cave” is all done up in pink and throw pillows and frilly. Look at that art! Women like art! No man likes art unless it’s dogs playing poker or Playboy centerfolds tacked to the wall! And is that a chaise lounge? No properly feminine woman would be caught in a *gasp* La-Z-Boy! It even says “Boy” right in the name! And while she’s online at that point, there’s a BOOK on the ottoman! In a room where the TV should be! How many different male/female stereotypes can we pile into one commercial?

Third, and possibly the most insidious…when the man had the room, it was the “Man Cave.” (Not a term I care for, but it seems to be the standard now.) Now that the woman has it, notice that it’s not the “Woman Cave.” Even though I see no markers of children, because the commercial shows a married/heterosexually-partnered woman of or just past childbearing age the default position is that this is a mother. The character herself confirms what we are culturally led to believe and refers to it as….the “Mom Cave.”

Not the “Woman Cave” – the “Mom Cave.”

The segregated space for the male is defined solely in terms of biological gender. The segregated space for the female is defined solely in terms of acceptable societal role. A man is a man no matter what, and thus worthy of a “cave,” but a woman is only allowed to have her own space if she first fulfills her duty and gives birth to a child.

Anyone else bothered by that?

Here’s some personal information. My wife and I have no kids. There are many reasons for this, but rest assured that this is our choice. Do not tell me that my wife, who is every bit my equal in terms of basic human-ness (as is every human being), is somehow not worthy of her own space because she has not given birth.

Yes, this is just a silly commercial, designed to sell us stuff we don’t need. But knowing how this works will help us as a species shed those ideas which only serve to separate us.


So I happened to watch one of those “celebrity gossip” shows for about two minutes the other day, and I have a question:

When did the definition of “celebrity” expand to include “someone on a reality TV show?”

Also, it looks like they’re including people who appear on some network called The C…W? Did I spell that right?