Friday, November 06, 2009

Music I Like: Pachelbel's Canon (Sort of)

So, I've been ragging on Pachelbel's Canon all week. And in fact, I do hate Pachelbel's Canon. I'm lucky to now be in my mid-30's, and therefore beyond the age when my friends are having church weddings, so I'm not often forced to endure another performance of that dreadful piece of music.

But, truthfully, there are some really cool things about Pachelbel's Canon. Okay actually, there's only one cool thing about Pachelbel's Canon, and that's its chord progression. The cool thing is that it's a harmonization of a descending major scale. In other words, if you start on the right note, and sing a major scale downward for an octave (i.e., the D two octaves above middle C down to the D just above middle C), your pitches are harmonized by Pachelbel's Canon.

If you listen to the radio, it's just a matter of time before you hear a song that follows the same chord progression as Pachelbel's Canon. In fact, serendipitously, I heard one just last night as I was composing this post in my head! It's Don't Pull Your Love Out on Me, Baby, which was sung by Elvis (both on the radio last night and in the link). Other songs you may have heard that follow this chord progression (with slight variations) include "A Lighter Shade of Pale" and "When a Man Loves a Woman."

But my favorite song that follows this chord progression is one that you've undoubtedly heard but never realized that it was so similar to Pachelbel's Canon. In part this is because this piece descends a minor scale rather than a major scale. (Okay, maybe it's also because you never suspected that Pachelbel's Canon was so pervasive!)

The song I'm talking about is Hotel California.

If you transposed Pachelbel's Canon into a minor key, you could harmonize the verses in Hotel California with it. (The chorus is different.) Try singing the transposed-to-minor cello part along with the Eagles in this video:

I picked the above video because it's the Eagles performing Hotel California live, and I enjoyed watching them have such a great time playing. Listen to their somewhat improvisational introduction, and see when you can recognize that it's Hotel California. Admittedly, knowing the title of the video put me at an advantage, but I recognized it long before the audience caught on.


rachel said...

Ha! Cool comparison!

Elyssa said...

And here's Rob Paravonian's Rant about Pachelbel, in musical form. In case you haven't seen it.

Anonymous said...

I had not caught those PacoBell references. The Eagles one is tricky. Add to the list the song "Dream Time" in the 80s, "Graduation" in the 90s and (my personal favorite) "Hook" by Blues Traveler in the 00s. The last one is so obvious with John Popper actually imitating the fast rhythm in his voice, and on the harmonica.