Music education always & always looking forward.

A Muddier Move: Common Tone Modulation in Todd Rundgren's "Hello, It's Me"

Eschewing the gear shift, Rundgren goes for a more subtle key change here.

We have more modulation here, but Todd Rundgren makes it a little more complicated than the direct gear shift modulation.  Rundgren, a master producer as well as a singer-songwriter, uses more pivot note modulation, where a single sustained note can introduce an entirely different key.  While the "gear shift" (as mentioned yesterday in The Carpenters' "Close to You") up a half step is common in popular music modulation, changing keys using common tones creates more harmonic interest.  And interestingly enough, "Hello It's Me" does this not only once but twice.  

Again, according to my mother, this song is a 1970s classic.  

“Hello It's Me” - Todd Rundgren

Intro: Through a varied career, Todd Rundgren has performed with various bands as well as having a solo career and produced albums for Grand Funk Railroad, Meat Loaf, the New York Dolls, and XTC. He is primarily known for his singer-songwriter period throughout the 1970s, when he released the album Something/Anything? on which “Hello, It's Me” appears. Written by Rundgren, the initial version of the song was released as a single by Nazz, his former band, in 1968. The re-recorded version was released in 1973 and reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Rundgren still records and has released an album at least once every four years since 1970.

Analysis: Aside from the modulation of the song, determining the key of the song as well as the formal structural pattern is difficult. The song begins and has been published in what can be considered C major but making extensive use of 7th chords. The song begins on a Dmin7, moving to a Cmaj7 chord. It almost seems as though the song could be written in D Dorian instead, however, in the fourth measure of the first verse, a Bb major chord appears, changing the nature of the key to something more akin to D minor (although written in presumed C major). At 1:42 out of 3:35 in the song, the key changes for the first time, moving up a half step to a presumed C# major, following an instrumental and vocal break. The final chord of the break is structured so that the note in the female voice sounds as though it is resolving to the new key, creating a Pivot Note Modulation. The chorus, followed by an instrumental section as well as the vocal break section, is presented again in the new key. Again, following the vocal break, the key shifts up again a half step (to a presumed D major), this time at 2:42 instead, exactly a minute after the first key change. The song remains in this new key until the end.

Considerations for Teaching: This song contains no inappropriate subject matter or language. The lyrics cover the topic of relationship issues and longing for an old partner, however, the lyric at the end of the chorus “and spend the night if you think I could” may be considered objectionable.

Key Change in Prayer Form: Direct Modulation in Stevie Wonder's "Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away"

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