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markus heuger's



  Abstract 0293
  Tillekens, Ger (2001), "Words and chords. The semantic shifts of the Beatles' chords." In: Yrjö Heinonen, Markus Heuger, Sheila Whitely, Terhi Nurmesjärvi and Jouni Koskimäki (eds.), Beatlestudies 3. Proceedings of the Beatles 2000 conference. Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä (Department of Music, Research Reports 23), 2001, 97-111; and: Soundscapes, 1999-2000, 3 (Summer).
  Look again at the pictures of the early Beatles' concerts and note the enthusiasm of their audience. How could the songs of the Beatles have so much appeal for the young people attending their performances and listening to their records? Again and again this question has been raised in the debate on the Beatles' music and no adequate answer has been given yet. Researchers have pointed toward the lyrics of their songs, to the authenticity of their performances and to their surprising chord progressions. As each of these elements is not sufficient on its own, the answer may lie in the way they interact.
  Harmonically the Beatles' songs are very complex. They not only show the occasional trick chord of rock 'n' roll. In each song there are far too many of them, even to the point of endangering the songs musical comprehensibility. However, as my study "The Sound of the Beatles" (1998) shows, there is some kind of harmonic structure beneath these remarkable chord progressions. In the Beatles' songs each of the basic chords can be replaced at will by several other chords. Instead of the three basic chords, for instance, the Beatles will often prefer their relative minors, their parallel and relative Majors and sometimes also their parallel minors. Separated by minor third intervals, the tones of these stand-in chords show a diagonal relationship.
  This principle of diagonal substitution helps the listeners to understand the songs musically. Closer study of the early Beatles' songs reveals yet another point of support. In each song we find a tight relation between the clusters of these stand-in chords and the semantics of the lyrics. As the meaning of a song's words shift along two dimensions, the chords will shift with them. The first dimension (display) covers the public-private distinction, indicating the social surroundings in which the actor voices his emotions and opinions. The second dimension (realization) concerns the warrantability, and thereby the authenticity, of the actor. Thus the diagonal replacement of chords, offers a flexible way to shift emotional meanings in conversational contexts. Possibly this amalgam — closely connecting music, lyrics and the expression of authenticity — was the thing where young people at that time were so wildly about, as it presented an articulation of new ways of interpersonal communication.
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