Saturday, September 23, 2006

Truck Driver's Gear Change

I laughed my head off when I stumbled across the Truck Driver's Gear Change website earlier today.

Apparently, Truck Driver's Modulation or Truck Driver's Gear Change is the slang term for the now-sneered-at-habit of songwriters to modulate their songs a half tone or whole tone higher when they repeat song sections (usually the chorus as the song fades).

Dominic Pedler's essay on the same site provides an interesting (and perhaps ear-opening) write-up on the phenomenon. The part which really struck me was an excerpt from George Michael's autobiography Bare, which reads:

Jerry Wexler (of Atlantic Records) told me, whatever you do, avoid making a one-note key change Рtaking everything up one key at the end of a song. All it means, he said, is that you can't think of anything else to do and you want people to notice that something else has happened in the song. He said it's the oldest and worst clich̩ in the book. And since that day I have never put a one-key progression at the end of my songs. But you hear it everywhere Рyou hear it on every Whitney Houston record.
Guess that shows how plebeian my musical tastes are, because I usually enjoy these key changes and feel that they do add an extra bit of ooomph to the songs.

Bottomline, I'm not a song-writer or composer. And until I can actually compose a song myself, I think I will refrain from sneering at people who can, even if they do use the Truck Driver Gear Change. ;-)

Side thought: By the above standard, Baba Yetu is a truly fantastic song because while there seem to be a couple of key changes during the orchestral interlude (roughly 2min 15sec in), the song returns to the original key just before the choir resumes singing. The song also ends in the same key from which it started.