Music education always & always looking forward.

We Leaving This Key or What?: Direct Modulation in Hall & Oates's "She's Gone"

Delayed gratification key changes are good for you.

I will tell you that although I considered myself somewhat of a music buff (or at least I aspired to be) most of my life, I never liked Hall & Oates throughout my adolescence or all throughout college.  I watched a lot (a lot) of music countdown/pop culture talking head shows where folks would heap praise on this duo, but I just never got it.  And then I teetered on the edge of my late 20s, and all of a sudden, at one of my favorite hometown watering holes, I heard "I Can't Go for That" at about 1am and it all just clicked.  

Anyway.  That's my story.  Don't give up on a band or music that you want to enjoy but just can't get into, because you never know when it will finally click.  (This happened for me too, with Tom Waits.)  

The short story of Hall & Oates, however, is that they are two of the best pop songwriters to ever live, and that this song is one that fools you, thinking that it's about to change keys, and then it doesn't.  At least, not for three verses, choruses, and a first instrumental break worth of music.  There's probably something to be said about the uncertainty you feel when you lose someone you love, but I'll leave that to the pop musicologists.  

“She's Gone” - Hall & Oates

Intro: One of the most successful musical duos of 20th century pop, Hall & Oates started recording in the 1970s, achieving great success during that decade and also scoring five #1 hits in the 1980s. “She's Gone” was originally recorded and released on the group's 1974 album Abandoned Luncheonette and as a single in 1974, when it reached #60 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Re-released in 1976 after a change in record labels and the success of their single “Sara Smile”, “She's Gone” subsequently reached #6 on the Hot 100 list. Hall & Oates were inducted into the American Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003 and inducted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.

Analysis: Established songwriters even in the early 70s, Daryl Hall and John Oates sought to combine rock sensibilities with R&B style and found great success. “She's Gone” begins in E major, and creates a sense of tension by starting on the IV & V chords rather than on the tonic. This continues throughout the first verse, and the tonic is clearly established once the chorus begins (although this does not happen until 1:51 into the song) with a IV-I-ii-V chord progression. Despite the tease of a saxophone solo with a rising tessitura, E major remains until after the solo into the third verse, again starting on IV-V chords, and the original key remains into the third repetition of the chorus. During the second instrumental break, the chords move up chromatically, from B (V in the original key), to C, then to C#, then to D, which will serve as the dominant (V) chord of the new key that appears during the final chorus repetition - G major. This could also be seen as a flattened submediant key change, having cycled through chromatic chord changes in moving from E major to G major. Because there are no borrowed chords in the chromatic cycle, this serves as an example of direct modulation. 

Considerations for Teaching: This song contains no offensive subject material or language. The topic of the song is a break-up, with the narrator feeling palpable regret over the departure of his female companion. The modulation increases the intensity of the lyrics, leading John Oates to sing higher, increasing the emotional resonance of the tune. For these reasons, it is an excellent modulation example to use in the classroom.

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