4 for IV, Part IV: Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” and the IV Chord That Isn’t There

On its surface, Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” seems like an odd choice to include in an analytic series devoted to the IV chord, not to mention to devote an entire entry towards. The song does have a couple IV chords (two, though the section in which they appear returns later in the song), but it is not really an integral part of the song’s harmony. However, much of the song implies this chord (and, specifically, a plagal progression) without actually articulating it, which presents a use for this chord on a level not discussed yet.   In this inevitable, eponymous conclusion to my “4 for IV” series (Parts I, II, and III can be found at the provided links), I examine Van Morrison’s subconscious use of the plagal progression in “Into the Mystic”.   Here’s the studio recording of the song, followed by the functional harmonic (key of Eb Major) and formal analyses of the music:   A: Eb* (I) |     |     |     | Bb (V) |     | Eb (I) |     | *liberal mix of Ebsus   B: Gm (iii) | Ab (IV) | Eb (I) |     | Gm (iii) | Ab (IV) | Bb (V) |     |   more »

Sleepy Kitty1

4 for IV, Part III: IV Chords in Sleepy Kitty’s “Projection Room”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the music of Sleepy Kitty, no need to feel ashamed. They have gone on national tours, but they are mostly a cult favorite in the Midwest. This is particularly true in their adopted hometown of St. Louis, where they have received glowing accolades from the beloved institution that is The Riverfront Times. The band consists of only singer/guitarist/keyboardist Paige Brubeck and drummer Evan Suit (formerly of Harvey Danger), and they have been a strikingly ambitious band, having engaged in various multimedia projects, including providing the music for a staged adaptation of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Still, their music remains very much under the radar – I only discovered them through a random comment on an article from The AV Club.   To date, they have released two albums: 2011’s Infinity City and 2014’s Projection Room. The latter of these is a fantastic record – I ranked it as my #1 album from last year, and it has continued to grow on me. Their sound is very eclectic within the rock/pop genre. Some songs are reminiscent of the 90’s/early 00’s angst of Hole and The Distillers (“Godard Antagonist Infection”), others have more »


4 for IV, Part II: IV Chords & Tonal Ambiguity/Modulation

In Part I of this series, I examined the secondary plagal progression, which is a unique way in which rock/pop composers have extended the established sound of a IV-I plagal progression. Another common technique that demonstrates the evolution of the IV chord is the incorporation of tonal instability through its presence in a harmonic progression. Generally, rock/pop music is not lacking for a tonal/modal center. However, some songs use the comforting and predictable sound of a plagal progression to introduce either tonal ambiguity or a full-fledged modulation.   Green Day, “Warning”   Despite its lack of overdriven electric guitars, “Warning” is very much a prototypical Green Day song because it only uses three different chords the whole way through. Yet these three chords (one of which is a secondary plagal chord) present an unexpected analytical challenge that lends a subtle sense of ambiguity to the song’s tonality.   Except for the song’s bridge and start of its third verse (which both simply vamp an A chord), the entire song uses the following progression. For those not familiar with my notation, vertical lines indicate barlines, diagonal slashes between chords indicate multiple chords in the same measure, and lead-sheet symbols and Roman more »


4 for IV, Part I: Secondary Plagal Progressions

Before beginning my analysis for this project, I didn’t really know much about The Go-Go’s. I knew they were an all female band from the 80’s that had some cheesy hits, but that was about the extent of it.   Knowledge and perspective can be funny things. I’m not ready to anoint them as successors to The Beatles or anything, but knowing what I do now, I certainly have a much greater respect for their musicianship.   As the introduction to this series discussed, the IV chord has a crucial role in rock/pop music harmonic progressions, particularly in relation to how the harmony is used in concert music. Songwriters have grown to love the chord so much that they have pioneered ways of using it that have given its function fresh vitality and have helped to further distinguish this genre from others.   Understanding Secondary Plagal Function   Perhaps the most common of these unique applications of the IV chord (and, specifically, its plagal function) is the use of secondary plagal progressions. A plagal progression results from a chord built on the fourth degree of the scale resolving directly to the tonic chord, with the root of the former being more »


4 for IV: Introduction

Rock musicians just can’t resist a plagal progression, and I think I know why.   Perhaps it’s part of their nonconformist nature. Classical/concert and rock/pop music share more in common than most people from either side would be willing to admit, and whether it is done consciously or subconsciously, rock music contains several of concert music’s established traditions regarding melody, rhythm, and other musical elements. There are obvious differences, particularly regarding timbre and orchestration, but one of the more subtle points of departure between the genres is their approach to the chord built on the fourth scale degree of the given key (consisting of scale degrees 4, 6, and 1), which will be referred to hence forth as a IV chord (traditionally, diatonic triads are referred to by Roman Numerals, using upper case for major chords and lower case for minor).   In classical music, the IV chord is, outside of the tonic (I) chord, the most versatile diatonic harmony, but it is most frequently used as a predominant chord. A predominant chord, as its name would imply, introduces dominant (built on scale degree 5; a V chord) harmony. However, the IV chord is used less commonly as a predominant more »