Music education always & always looking forward.

Minor Mode Jazz: Aeolian Mode & Jazz Samples in Gotye (feat. Kimbra)'s "Somebody That I Used to Know"

Very possible that this natural minor smash is more well-known that the song it samples from.


Okay, so maybe this song isn't exactly a party anthem. But there was at least a year or two where it was inescapable, and likely played at some parties, somewhere, as things were winding down. It actually might serve as a good closing time song, conveying bitterness, regret, and conflicting feelings. Either way, it's a famous song (and its massive fame still sort of surprises me, as it still sounds to me very much a product of its alterna-electro-genre-niche of the early 2010s) and it's both in Aeolian mode & makes use of an obscure jazz sample.


Intro: Gotye, a Belgian-Australian singer-songwriter, made a massive splash in 2011 with his unusual, xylophone riff-laden, he said/she said song "Somebody That I Used to Know". The tune was at first a smash hit in Australia and later released in the UK & US, where it went on to even more success. The song was Billboard's number one Hot 100 single of 2012 and the next year won two Grammys (for Best Pop Duo/Group Video and Record of the Year). Its huge success also helped both Gotye and Kimbra, whose contrasting vocals were essential to the song's success, to earn ARIA awards in Australia that year. The song reached #1 in 25 countries aside from the US & Australia and holds the current spot of the #4 single of all-time in Australia. This makes Gotye, at least to non-Australian audiences, the most successful one-hit wonder in recent memory.

Analysis: The song is in D minor, with the first two chords drawn from a sample of Brazilian jazz guitarist Luiz Bonfa's 1967 recording "Seville". The very first second of "Seville" is looped throughout "Somebody"'s intro & its verses. The chord progression oscillates from Dm to C (or i-VII) up until we first hear the chorus (which begins at 1:33 in this video recording), where it moves to Dm, C, Bb (or i-VII-VI progression). Here, the C & Bb chords would serve as IV & V chords were we in F major (relative major to D minor), but seeing as there is no F chord present, this simple progression keeps the song firmly in D minor (Aeolian) territory.

Considerations for Teaching: Seeing that the song is so well known, students will probably already be familiar with it. The lyrics are in no way inappropriate, and although there is nothing obscene contained within the video, both Gotye & Kimbra are clearly nude and sporadically covered in paint throughout. 

Additionally, here is a recording of Luiz Bonfa's original "Seville". For my money, this would make an amazing example for a general music or music tech class, demonstrating that you can base an entire (massively successful) song off of a one-second sample. 

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