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The 80s in One Key Change: Direct Modulation in Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now"

Peak 1980s cheesy gear shift modulation.

Welcome to an abbreviated set of Decades Days!  Like many increasingly genre-less radio stations out there, we'll be covering the 80s, 90s, and today!  (Today meaning the 2010s.)  

Let us begin with a song that could not sound more 80s, especially compared to the definitive work that most of the members of this band accomplished in the 1960s.  Yes, the same Grace Slick that deferred your question and told you to "Ask Alice when she's 10 feet tall..." on 1967's "White Rabbit", wants to "hold you forever, and ever and ever" on 1986's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now."  In the video for the latter, she acts out scenes parallel to the film Mannequin, which featured "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now."  Do Slick's cheeseball vocals on this song and the nearly universally maligned "We Built This City" from 1985 represent the death of the 60s at the hands of the 80s?

You decide for yourself.  

Note!  None of the sheet music I can locate indicates a key change, but it definitely happens, right at 2:56 in this video.  The truck drivers rejoice!

“Nothing's Gonna Stop Us” - Starship

Intro: Formed from remaining members of Jefferson Starship (who formed out of members of Jefferson Airplane), Starship officially came into being following the lawsuit of founding Jefferson Airplane member Paul Kantner. Grace Slick, one of the most notable voices of the 1960s, sang on this song as a duet with Mickey Thomas, and became at that time the oldest woman to sing on a #1 hit. It also marked the first of dozens of #1 songs written by Diane Warren. The song not only topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts and the UK Singles chart, but hit #1 in Canada and Ireland as well. The song was additionally nominated for an Academy Award, as it was the love theme for the 1986 film Mannequin.

Spoiler Alert: Big gear shift key change at 2:56!

Analysis: Starting in F major, the alternating male and female singing form of this song is a well-known popular music device (also found in “Don't You Want Me Baby” the the Human League). Thomas sings the verses, Slick sings the pre-chorus, and both sing on the chorus. The bridge is sung alternating between Thomas and Slick, followed by a brief harmonized vocal section. After the two sing their harmonies, a quarter-note triplet section helps to signify a change (heard at 2:56 in this official video music recording below), and the guitar solo comes in, officially identifying the key change. There are no common tones heard in this key change; this song is a very clear example of a "gear shift" key change. The change is solidified as Thomas and Slick sing the chorus two more times in the new key three more times fully as the song fades out on the fourth repetition of the chorus in the new key. 

Considerations for Teaching: A criticism often hurled at the group Starship (many rock critics have cited their signature song, “We Built This City”, as the worst in the popular music canon) is that their music sounded too much of a product of its time in the mid-1980s. “Nothing's Gonna Stop Us” sounds likewise dated, but it contains no offensive subject matter or lyrics, and thus is a perfectly fine listening example to use in the classroom.

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