With You I’m Born Again featured in the soundtrack to the 1979 film Fast Break. The words were written by Carol Connors and the music by the American songwriter and composer of stage and film musicals, David Shire. It is most famously performed as a duet by Billy Preston (who played regularly with the Beatles) and Syreeta Wright (former wife of Stevie Wonder).
I decided to dig into this track because I’ve always thought it to be a fabulous song with a melodic and harmonic richness which seems to have all but disappeared from popular music.
So what makes this such a classic hit? First a reminder, in this case from a live performance on Top of the Pops:
So what makes this song stand out from the norm?
Well, first it’s in 3/4 (waltz) time. This means it’s guaranteed to get featured on dance shows like Strictly Come Dancing, because hardly anyone uses 3/4 any more.
Secondly, it’s in a minor key (D minor as recorded by Billy Preston and Syreeta). This is really unusual for modern pop and rock music but not so unusual in R&B and hip-hop. It gives the song a mournful feel.
Thirdly, it uses some rather exotic extended chords to introduce lots of dissonance. While this is not at all unusual in jazz and more sophisticated forms of R&B, it’s certainly much less common in popular music than it once was. Have a look through the chords (try Ultimate Guitar) and you’ll see what I mean. The end of the middle eight (“in need of one”) is particularly hard to fathom out because there are so many notes appearing at once in the vocals and orchestration! I’m inclined to Ebmaj7 (Eb+Bb+G+D), Dm7 (D+F+A+C) and Cm7 (C+Eb+G+Bb) but who knows?
The other feature of this song which I absolutely love is the use of suspensions. That’s when a note is held over to the following chord, where it creates a dissonance until it is resolved to the normal chord note. Here’s an example:
“Woman don’t you know with you (A7sus4) I’m born (A7) again (D7sus4 D7)”
Even if you’re not an instrumentalist, you’ll like the effect.
There’s much more to like: the way the two singers harmonise, the soulful singing, perfect lyrics and great piano playing from Billy Preston. And even if you find the end result a bit saccharine, you have to admit this is about as professional as it gets!