First, have a listen to this short song, written by the late, great Lou Reed and performed by Velvet Underground.
Although this song is 50 years old, I heard it for the first time just this week as part of the soundtrack for the BBC comedy show Alma’s Not Normal. It immediately caught my attention and I downloaded it to my Apple Music library. Why?
The first reason the song grabbed me was the lyric: “I’m sticking with you. ‘Cause I’m made out of glue.” It’s simple. It’s amusing. It’s child-like.
It’s not only the lyrics that make this feel like a kids’ song: the melody – at least at the start – is a bit like a nursery rhyme and the piano accompaniment is as basic as you can get. The timing is loose and the singing just a little off key. It was probably recorded in one take as a bit of fun. Put all this together and you get the complete opposite to modern pop productions, which are as slick as you can get, metronomic in the way the timing is quantised and all vocals pitch-tuned to perfection.
I’m sticking with you, by comparison, is truly authentic.
The musical structure
When I looked at the chords (you’ll find them here) I was surprised at just how unusual this song actually is.
First of all, it is in three parts, all completely different.
Part 1, which consists of three verses, is in F major and has a really simple chord progression: F C F, Bb C F (or I V I, IV V I in Roman numeral notation).
Then there’s an E chord. What??? That’s a highly unusual chord to put there. It allows the piece to modulate to the key of A minor.
Part 2, the bridge, goes Am E Am E C G B E (or i V i V III VII II V). Compared to the opening verses, this part has quite a sophisticated melody and harmonic structure. You’d expect it to return to the same form as Part 1, but no.
Part 3 is completely new and in a third key, A major. It consists of a repeated phrase of A D E (I IV V), with bass, drums and electric guitar joining in.
There’s another quirky aspect to this song. Part 1 is very obviously in 3/4 (waltz time), whereas Parts 2 and 3 have four beats in the bar. In contemporary music, you hardly ever hear 3/4 time and you’re very unlikely to experience a change of time signature mid-song.
The child-like I’m sticking with you, almost naive in its feel, turns out to be harmonically, structurally and rhythmically richer than the vast majority of songs which, on the surface, appear to be much more sophisticated.
There’s a lesson in there.