Music education always & always looking forward.

A Gentle Gear Shift: Direct Modulation in The Carpenters' "(They Long to Be) Close to You"

Soft rock powerhouse group makes outstanding use of one of the hallmarks of the genre: the gear shift modulation.

Welcome to 70s week here on the blog.  To start off the week, I consulted with my mother, who is a self-proclaimed expert on the 1970s (and really, I cannot say that she's wrong -- she was in college in the 70s, and I wasn't even born in that decade, so she's the nearest expert that I have).  I gave her a selection of artists to choose from, and she told me without hesitation that The Carpenters were the epitome of the 1970s.

Of course, the 1970s probably produced a more diverse array of music than any other in the 20th century (unpopular opinion but I can back it up!), but we'll get to that later on this week.  Key changes were big in 1970s music, and the "gear shift" heard here is a great example of such.  The song was also written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, whose careers began to soar in the 70s.  Therefore, it seems that The Carpenters take us off to a good start to celebrate the decade.  

Additionally, the trajectory of The Carpenters' career is definitive 70s.  Karen Carpenter, of course, did not live to see most of the 80s in a very tragic way.  Her death is not romanticized in the same way that many musicians' deaths are, especially those who die as a result of drug addiction or violence, but for many people, it was a huge tragedy nonetheless.  Although the band is still not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (which is a grievous omission among many others), they were a huge influence on many younger artists of varied musical styles.  Considered lightweight and uncool in their time, The Carpenters' music has outlasted trends.  They were a massive influence on Sonic Youth, who recorded two songs in tribute to her, as well as a cover of The Carpenters' "Superstar".  Karen's music was immortalized in a 1994 tribute album that featured Sonic Youth as well as many other alternative rock superstars.

That's just my $.02 though.  Here's more about what you can teach with this song.

“(They Long to Be) Close to You” - The Carpenters

Intro: Written by Burt Bacharach and intended originally for Dionne Warwick, this song was recorded by The Carpenters. Their version hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 200 chart in 1970. Although the group would continue to make music into the 1980s before Karen Carpenter's sudden death due to complications from anorexia nervousa, this song is one of their best known. In 2000, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. The Carpenters remain one of the most popular artists of all time, touting over 12 top ten singles and having sold over 100 million albums and singles.

Analysis: With a sudden shift in the brass after the second repetition of the chorus (at 1:36 in this video recording), this song is an example of a direct modulation (often referred to as a "gear shift"), modulating with no transition and no common tones, moving up only a half step. Here, the transition occurs between the key of G and Ab major. Karen Carpenter follows the key change and sings the remainder of the song in Ab.

Considerations for Teaching: This song contains no offensive subject matter or language, and there are several other Carpenters songs that work as good examples of subtle gear shift key changes, including “Goodbye to Love.”

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