02.14.2010

“Spies,” Parachutes, Coldplay

Posted by AJ Harbison at 4:21 pm

I was listening to Coldplay‘s first CD, Parachutes, in my car this week. Released in 2000, it’s not up to the high bar set by the albums that followed, but it’s still a good listen and I enjoy hearing where my now-favorite band started out. I was struck by a particular chord in the song “Spies,” which is track 3; I have no idea what the song is talking about but I like it nonetheless.

I always appreciate it when songs evolve, when they end up somewhere different than where they started, particularly lyrically. As I’ve written about before (see the fifth paragraph in the linked post), I learned in my composition studies that it’s bad form to write something in a song that’s an exact repeat of what’s happened before, since you’ve already heard it and it tends to diminish any momentum that the song has. This is a particular danger for pop songs, because they tend to have a chorus that comes back and repeats itself. We need the repetition in order to create a coherent form to the piece (as I’ve also written about; last paragraph in that one), but the repetition should be balanced with contrast so you’re not hearing the exact same thing twice. In light of that, I appreciate songs and particularly choruses that evolve, so that (for example) the final chorus has words that are slightly changed, to reflect the progress on the journey that the song has taken us on; see, for examples, my songs “The Aisle”, where the last chorus is altered, or “Flame,” which doesn’t have a chorus but rather a single line that’s repeated after each verse, which is changed the last time around.

Coldplay’s song “Spies” goes through this change as well. The first two times, the chorus goes like this:

“And the spies came out of the water
But you’re feeling so bad ’cause you know
That the spies hide out in every corner
But you can’t touch them no
‘Cause they’re all spies
They’re all spies”

The final time, however, there’s a change:

“And the spies came out of the water
But you’re feeling so good ’cause you know
That those spies hide out in every corner
They can’t touch you, no
‘Cause they’re just spies”

And in typical brilliant Coldplay fashion, the band musically highlights the lyrical change from “feeling so bad” to “feeling so good.” The first two times through the chorus, the chord at the end of the second line is G-sharp minor (the G-sharp comes on the word “know”), which is the minor v chord in the song’s key of C-sharp minor. But the last time, the chords on the first and second lines are slightly changed–slightly enough that you only catch the difference if you’re listening carefully–but those slight changes set up the surprise change of the G-sharp minor chord to an F-sharp major, the major IV chord in C-sharp minor. This is a completely different chord than the G-sharp minor, and it serves to create a completely different, brighter feel to the line–which corresponds to and highlights the change from “feeling so bad” (minor chord) to “feeling so good” (unusual major chord).

You can hear the song “Spies” in its entirety, courtesy of our good friend Last.fm, here.

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