Nearly a sonic masterclass in writing a pop song, with back and forth minor to major changes to boot.
Not only is this song one of my favorites, full stop, I've heard it used in an academic classroom before. I took a composition seminar in my senior year of college, and while we mostly studied the Samuel Adler book on transposition & writing for instruments and listened to a lot of Stravinsky, my professor also played this song in class. He was trying to demonstrate the effectiveness of the intro to this song changing from mono to stereo in the recording. More so than that, the song changes from minor to major key, making it a spectacular listening example.
“The Way” - Fastball
Intro: In essence a one-hit-wonder band, Fastball topped the Billboard Hot Modern Rock tracks chart with this song for seven weeks in a row in 1998, also topping the Canadian singles chart and making an appearance on the UK singles chart. The song was also nominated for two Grammys, a feat that has not been repeated by the band from Austin, who still records and tours.
Analysis: This song follows a classic minor-to-major structure, in that the verses appear in a minor mode, with the chorus sounding in a major key. The harmonic movement goes between relative minor and major. The song begins in F# minor (relative to A major). The final chord of the verses, after the vocals finish, is an E major chord, serving as a transition chord (V of A major), leading into the modulation during the chorus, where the song spends a good deal of time in A major. Each chorus ends on a C#7 chord (reinforced by the vocals singing “todaaaaaaaay”), which is the dominant seventh of F# minor, and the song resolves back into F# minor in the next verse.
This transition back and forth between minor and major may reflect the subject matter of the song, which is based on the story of a retired Texas couple who traveled together, despite each of them suffering from serious neurological issues, and ended up dead in Arkansas. Fastball's bassist Tony Scalzo, who penned the song, describes it as a “romanticized take on what happened” to the couple. The change from minor to major represents the assumed anxiety of the couple's children, searching for them, and the adventures the couple had, as described in the song's lyrics.
Considerations for Teaching: This song contains no offensive material or profanity. While the subject matter is unusual for a pop song (a hallmark of 1990s alternative music), it should not cause any issues when it is taught in a class. Additionally, the song begins with an interesting recording feature, as the song is recorded first in mono, during the first expression of the first verse, and upon arriving at the second expression of the first verse, the recording changes to stereo, giving the listener a feeling of the bottom falling out. It should be considered an effective listening sample for students.