Music education always & always looking forward.

That Leading Tone, Though: Ascending Minor Second in Young the Giant's "Simplify"


I don’t listen to podcasts. I don’t listen to satellite radio. My commute is measly four miles (for which I’m very grateful! I know what it’s like to drive on I-95 in South Florida!) and I don’t even get NPR in very well. My family cars are old.

So I listen to the radio. And I was quite late but that’s how I found Young the Giant.

Since about 2015, I’ve been suckered into this “new alternative” radio. At very least, listening to an “alternative” radio station meant that I might hear a song I’d loved 15 years ago, which was the last time I routinely listened to non-public radio. It means flipping the stations immediately if I hear Imagine Dragons or 30 Seconds to Mars, and also that my daughter can sing Panic! at the Disco* songs on command, but there are worse things in this world.

And as mentioned, the radio brought me Young the Giant. If you’re anything like me, you’re a sentimental Xennial**, in the early throes of “everything new is bad”. What’s funny is that you remember quite clearly that, in those romanticized 1990s we’re so sentimental for, all of the adults around us told us that all of our music was terrible. And now we’re turning around to the next generation and doing the exact same thing.

My advice is to cut off that line of thinking. As Tori Amos herself said in 1998, “There’s crap everywhere and there’s good stuff everywhere.” There was a ton of dreck that filled “alternative” radio when I was in high school — I mean, I remember Limp Bizkit, and I also think history has been far too kind to Sugar Ray — but there’s stuff out there now that will stand the test of time. Haters, feel free to move to the side, but Young the Giant fills that role for me. I’m totally enamored of Sameer Gadhia and his massive voice that sounds like it could belt out the biggest of 80s ballads.

Also this video is. So. Good. Oh my goodness.

Young the Giant, “Simplify” [official video]

Introduction: Young the Giant is an American rock band comprised of college dropouts, immigrants, and first generation Americans. The band first charted in 2011 with their eponymous debut on the label Fueled by Ramen. Propelled by a huge media push from iTunes, American Idol, MTV, and high praise from Morrissey, the band’s first two singles went platinum and charted on the Billboard Hot 100. “Simplify” was an alternative radio mainstay this past year, reaching no. 21 on the Billboard Alternative charts, and anchoring the album Mirror Master, released in October of 2018.

Analysis: Heard in the chorus is that gleaming leading tone. The ascending minor second, serving here also as a leading tone, and could possibly be interpreted as a suspension?! maybe?!, is heard for the first time at :51, at the end of the second line of the chorus, and again at 1:10 at the end of the chorus (in the video recording linked above). The same interval is heard in each repetition of the chorus (at 1:49, 2:08, 3:10).

Considerations for Teaching: This song (and video) contains no objectionable lyrics or content. It may even make a suitable song for a modern band performance group.

* Do you want to know what the kids are into these days? They’re all into Panic! at the Disco. They are by far the favorite band of my students as of right now, particularly my chorus kids.

** I prefer the term Xennial by a longshot over “Generation Catalano”, because as badly as I don’t ever want to listen to 30 Seconds to Mars, I also abhor the thought of defining my generation by Jared Leto.

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