Nirvana: ENOUGH already!

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My favorite example is probably Lithium--the first half of the chord progression is fairly common (D F#m Bm G), but the second half of the progression seems to modulate with every chord change (Bb C A C). Someone with more theory expertise can explain exactly what's going on, but that kind of progression is more common in, say, show tunes than rock music. It's surprisingly jaunty when you play it on the piano.

This is a good example. Bb works as bVI, which is a common chromatic substitutition for vi (Bm), borrowed from the parallel minor key; plenty of examples of this in Romantic music, e.g. Schubert's "Du bist die Ruh", m. 57. Interesting that it comes soon after the diatonic vi. ("Blackbird" puts them right after each other, btw.) C could suggest mixture from the Mixolydian mode (or maybe borrowing a dominant-functioning chord from the parallel minor key) but it's interesting that they use it before and after the diatonic A chord (V), which, of course, contains a C#, so the chromaticism is clear. Chris McDonald's "Exploring Modal Subversions in Alternative Music" (Popular Music, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Oct 2000), pp. 355-363) is pretty good on this broader subject. I could pass on a copy if anyone's interested in it and can't get their hands on one.

Locked in silent monologue, in silent scream (Sund4r), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 02:43 (six months ago) link

I think the glammiest, poppiest end of hair metal was already basically dead by 1990-91. It was probably bands like GNR and Metallica as much as anyone who drove the stake into its poodle-coiffed, coke-engorged heart. After that, even hair metal had to be a bit harder or smarter. Skid Row came across as darker and edgier than the glam bands of a few years earlier. This was also the era of progressive and technical hair metal like Queensryche, Tesla, Extreme, Winger, etc. Sure they had long hair, but these guys were serious musicians, man. It was kind of a late-mannerist phase, at least in retrospect. When Nirvana came along, it wasn't thirst for "authenticity" so much as for the hooks and hummable melodies that had slowly drained out of the increasingly grown-up pop metal scene.

― o. nate, Tuesday, January 8, 2019 9:32 PM (six days ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

Also 'alternative metal' stuff like Living Colour, Faith No More, and King's X was getting played on the rock stations I listened to at 10-11 in 89-90. Even at that age, I could tell that 'hair metal' had run its course by 1990; it wasn't even necessarily that shocking that the next thing in rock might become something more like the 'alternative' music MuchMusic was playing on CityLimits. I wouldn't have suspected how big it would be, though. It was still spine-tingling to hear "Teen Spirit" for the first time.

Locked in silent monologue, in silent scream (Sund4r), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 02:56 (six months ago) link

I know it's slowed down a full step on the record, but isn't the chord progression of Lithium (as played live / on a guitar)

Em Ab Db A C D B D

flappy bird, Tuesday, 15 January 2019 03:41 (six months ago) link

that's the same progression a step higher

zwei dunkel jungen (crüt), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 03:46 (six months ago) link

except it should be E Abm Dbm

zwei dunkel jungen (crüt), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 03:47 (six months ago) link

Yeah, the intervals are the same.

Le Baton Rose (Turrican), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 03:49 (six months ago) link

i guess it's all power chords so in terms of what you play major/minor doesn't matter

zwei dunkel jungen (crüt), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 03:49 (six months ago) link

E-G#m would be v different from Em-G#. I'd be surprised if it were the latter but tbh I was taking voodoo chilli's word. Will go double check right now.xp And power chords would be different too.

Locked in silent monologue, in silent scream (Sund4r), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 03:51 (six months ago) link

Tbh, there's probably Nirvana bootlegs where various songs are played in different keys to the album versions. Not on purpose, but because the bands of the bands attitude to tuning.

Le Baton Rose (Turrican), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 03:54 (six months ago) link

Like, I'm quite sure I've seen footage where the guitar has gone out of tune, and Kurt is trying to tune to Krist, who is probably out of tune himself from thrashing his bass too hard and jumping around, or the other way around. The Nirvana live experience was never a polished affair.

Le Baton Rose (Turrican), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 03:57 (six months ago) link

The way Kurt would fret his power chords would accidentally generate a sus4 sometimes, e.g. the intro to 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'

Le Baton Rose (Turrican), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 03:59 (six months ago) link

oh wait I mixed up where the Bb was

flappy bird, Tuesday, 15 January 2019 04:00 (six months ago) link

If the chord progression starts on E, which is a "sharp" key rather than a "flat" one, and it's all power chords, then I'd write it: E5 G#5 C#5 A5 C5 D5 B5 D5, and in that progression only the C5 really sticks out to me.

Le Baton Rose (Turrican), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 04:08 (six months ago) link

Reviewed it. Guitar is def playing power chords. The vocal melody does put F#s over the D5, B over the G5, and D over the Bb5, making triadic analyses of those (as I, IV, and bVI) reasonable, as well as a Bb over the first C5, which could give it a 7th chord feel. The vocal melody sticks to diatonic major material over the first, diatonic part of the progression, but you get C natural and Bb over the second half ("today I found my friends").

xps (Wasn't going to comment on the sharp key thing but yeah)

Locked in silent monologue, in silent scream (Sund4r), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 04:13 (six months ago) link

Bb over the first C5, which could give it a 7th chord feel.

(As bVII7 is even more common of a dominant substitution in jazz harmony, this could support voodoo chilli's Tin Pan Alley comparison perhaps?)

Locked in silent monologue, in silent scream (Sund4r), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 04:15 (six months ago) link

Lol yeah, should be written as A#, but for whatever reason, when I’m playing the piano, my mind always thinks “Bb” when I play that triad. And I always think of the Gb/F# triad as F#.

harvey wall/barrier (voodoo chili), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 04:16 (six months ago) link

No, Bb is the correct notation for bVI in D! Reading Ab and Db in the key of D was hurting my head a little, though.

Locked in silent monologue, in silent scream (Sund4r), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 04:17 (six months ago) link

Reading Ab and Db in the key of D

*key of E

Locked in silent monologue, in silent scream (Sund4r), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 04:17 (six months ago) link

Good to know!

harvey wall/barrier (voodoo chili), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 04:19 (six months ago) link

Also I'm listening to Live Through This again, and I'm fairly confident that Kurt had close to fuck all to do with the songwriting on it, contrary to the rumours that were circling for years. The chord progressions don't really display many of his hallmarks, and Courtney's melodic sense is quite distinct from Kurt's. The closest it gets to Nirvana is the riff on 'She Walks on Me' and even then there's something not-quite-Kurt about it.

Le Baton Rose (Turrican), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 04:24 (six months ago) link

those rumors were largely fueled by sexism, there was never any "there" there.

fuck the NRA (Neanderthal), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 04:28 (six months ago) link

Guitar magazine was one of the many shitty publications that, while not endorsing the rumors, gave way too much credence to it as a possibility

fuck the NRA (Neanderthal), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 04:29 (six months ago) link

in that progression only the C5 [Bb5 in the recorded D] really sticks out to me.

I might agree if e.g. he were just singing pentatonic or blues material over all of it but the melody (which started out completely diatonic in D) goes B-C#-D-C natural -Bb-Cnatural-A when the chords go G5-Bb5-C5, which does suggest a change, or at least mixture of mode

Locked in silent monologue, in silent scream (Sund4r), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 04:30 (six months ago) link

Yeah, I was talking about it more in terms of just looking at that particular series of chords coldly as a sequence off paper/a screen, but yeah, of course any vocal melody is going to add colour, particularly as (like you say) a sung major/minor 3rd over a power chord is going to create a triad. It's the same with the bass, and there's an interesting bass part on 'Lithium' which adds further colour - it's not a "follow the root" bass part.

Le Baton Rose (Turrican), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 04:56 (six months ago) link

Guitar magazine was one of the many shitty publications that, while not endorsing the rumors, gave way too much credence to it as a possibility

― fuck the NRA (Neanderthal), Tuesday, January 15, 2019 4:29 AM (twenty-seven minutes ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

Wait, seriously? In what way? Through musical analysis or just being dicks in general?

Le Baton Rose (Turrican), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 05:00 (six months ago) link

It was in one of the opening sections of the mag, where they just dumped every bit of industry gossip into a two page spread. They talked about the "Live Through This" rumor, I guess there was a claim that a tape had been unearthed of Kurt playing a demo/guide track for one of the songs, and Guitar was running with it like this was the truth, and hypothesizing that a longer recording of him demoing the entire rest of the album might exist as well.

Of course said 'demo' tape never really existed but Guitar was, as I said, a shitty magazine, so....

fuck the NRA (Neanderthal), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 05:08 (six months ago) link

it smacked of 'aww how cute, this pretty young woman thinks she wrote da whole widdle album all by herself" patronizing bullshit

fuck the NRA (Neanderthal), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 05:09 (six months ago) link

Christ. I mean, there is a recording of Kurt singing a backing vocal on a demo of 'Asking For It' alongside Courtney (I've heard it) but that's not the same thing as "Kurt wrote the song and demoed it" ... I would say Kurt's input on the writing of that song was zero - it sounds nothing like a Kurt song.

Le Baton Rose (Turrican), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 05:20 (six months ago) link

yeah, they were framing it like it was a solo demo, which even then wouldn't have proven anything other than "he thought it was a good song and played it"

fuck the NRA (Neanderthal), Tuesday, 15 January 2019 05:26 (six months ago) link

xpost I don't understand all this music jargon but this guy loves deconstructing songs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMUkMGNX0Uk

that's not my post, Tuesday, 15 January 2019 05:39 (six months ago) link

yeah the Live Through This bs doesn't even withstand the timeline, Courtney wrote Doll Parts & some others before they ever hooked up... agree that her melodic sensibility & her and Eric's guitar playing are pretty distinct from Kurt's. the riff & beginning of verse melody in "She Walks On Me" = "Tourettes"

flappy bird, Tuesday, 15 January 2019 06:20 (six months ago) link

It sounded more like Kurt singing along to a track in his kitchen

Mark G, Tuesday, 15 January 2019 07:38 (six months ago) link

I've got mega-cable where I'm living now, so I usually wrap up my Sunday nights with 120 Minutes on MTV Classic. They played an edit of the '92 VMA "Lithium" last night, and just...damn.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9cxMsGFgQ8

The whole thing is something that feels like a lot of rules were quickly created so it won't happen again.

a large tuna called “Justice” (C. Grisso/McCain), Tuesday, 29 January 2019 02:08 (five months ago) link

LOL @ how nervous Dana Carvey looks when he reads that Nirvana is the winner

i stan corrected (morrisp), Tuesday, 29 January 2019 02:17 (five months ago) link

Who's playing "Michael Jackson"? I don't remember any of this...

i stan corrected (morrisp), Tuesday, 29 January 2019 02:19 (five months ago) link

IIRC, it was a professional MJ impersonator they hired.

a large tuna called “Justice” (C. Grisso/McCain), Tuesday, 29 January 2019 02:21 (five months ago) link

tab soren, true professional, doesn't even flinch or get weird about it when 1993's Dumbest Man in Rock acts upon his impulse to immediately 'dip' the lady interviewer interviewing him

this is a guy who - on national television! - tossed his electric bass guitar 20 feet in the air only to have it draw blood when connecting with his face on the way back down

and she just laughs and it off and smiles cause she knows her hair was more perfect than his career will ever be, and she was right

good stuff, and fuck you dad for trying to tell me over dinner last week that 1963-1973 was the objectively "greatest" decade in popular music

del griffith, Tuesday, 29 January 2019 02:23 (five months ago) link

remember joseph goebbels

del griffith, Tuesday, 29 January 2019 02:37 (five months ago) link

that performance of Lithium is the peak of the band imo - at least the rock side

flappy bird, Tuesday, 29 January 2019 03:50 (five months ago) link

What does he sing after "I'm so r---"? "I can't take the salads out"??

Locked in silent monologue, in silent scream (Sund4r), Tuesday, 29 January 2019 06:21 (five months ago) link

Casting a vote for this live clip (never got to see them myself, sadly):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zagAeZ5eH94

Locked in silent monologue, in silent scream (Sund4r), Tuesday, 29 January 2019 06:26 (five months ago) link

xpost Sund4r: "I can't take a sedative"

alpine static, Tuesday, 29 January 2019 07:54 (five months ago) link

Boyz II Men and Wilson Phillips.

Sam Weller, Tuesday, 29 January 2019 08:42 (five months ago) link

Ah

Locked in silent monologue, in silent scream (Sund4r), Tuesday, 29 January 2019 15:05 (five months ago) link

god krist is so annoying

my tweet portal is whack (voodoo chili), Tuesday, 29 January 2019 15:32 (five months ago) link

he was the worst in that infamous nardwuar interview too

my tweet portal is whack (voodoo chili), Tuesday, 29 January 2019 15:32 (five months ago) link


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