Luckily, some problems correct themselves.

I’m trying to think of the last time I heard “Hey Jealousy” on the radio. What brought this up was lying on the chiropractor’s table this morning, waiting, and listening to the country-pop station the radio was tuned to.

(I tried listening to modern country music stations for a while several years ago. I found that after 4 days I had literally heard their entire playlist. Not playlists. There was only one.)

“Hey Jealousy” is an awful track exemplifying everything that’s wrong with modern popular music. It’s barely even music. The chord progression is painfully stupid. The performance, musically, is boring. The lyrics are insipid and poorly sung. The concept and message are utterly immature and forgettable. The world would be a better place if it hadn’t been recorded. And, fifteen years later, it’s nearly vanished from the airwaves, thanks be to God.

4 thoughts on “Luckily, some problems correct themselves.

  1. Timmy says:

    Sorry D, but you're wrong on this one. Hey Jealousy is actually a fairly sophisticated, well crafted pop song. Let me explain:

    The song is in the key of G, but it starts off with a C chord – the IV chord of the key. In fact, the progression throughout the verse entirely avoids the home chord of G, giving the verse an unsettling, yearning feeling – an emotional tone that perfectly matches the regretful lyrics. Withholding the I chord through the entire intro and verse builds musical tension that is only released when the G chord finally makes its initial appearance in the chorus. Here, the lyrics again match up with the emotional tone of the chord progression – alternating between the I and IV chords of the key. The reliance on major chords support the more optimistic lyrics during the chorus, which ends on the same chord with which the verse begins. This is a clever musical device which produces an unresolved feeling as the lyrics once again turn pessimistic and regretful.

    The instrumentation used in the song is also notable. The band uses a trademark combination of distorted, strummed chords and arpeggiated articulation, creating a complex and textured interaction between the two guitar parts. In the chorus, the lead guitar plays a melodic line in octaves, setting the chorus apart from the verse and providing harmonic interplay with the vocal melody. Even the bass plays a significant part with a catchy fill that starts the song and becomes a reoccurring motif. In fact, the song could probably be recognized in the first 4 notes just based on the bass line.

    Far from being a boring, uninspired song, Hey Jealousy just might be a perfect pop song.

  2. naptastic says:

    Oh hell to the no.

    You start on tonic, you use tonic-function chords, you use sub-dominant function chords, you use dominant-function chords, you use THE dominant chord, and then the ONLY PLACE YOU GO is back to tonic (unless you go V-VI and repeat your refrain.) The ONLY acceptable exception is twelve-bar blues.

    Going V-IV is basically never, ever OK. It's called a retrograde progression and you lose ten points for doing it in every music class I've ever taken. It goes against our biology, like trying to hold in a sneeze. (Retrograde progressions leave you with the same sensation.)

    Going VI-V-IV-V over and over again is just wrong. It sounds clunky and disorienting and there are reasons you're not supposed to do it: it doesn't satisfy! You can't end a song with it! (Even twelve-bar songs are notoriously difficult to end.) Sooooo many pop songs of the last 20 years have even had the bald-faced suckitude to end the song with V-IV and then just letting it ring. Try ending a song with VI-IV-II-V-I and you'll feel a lot better; it's like letting the sneeze out.

    Distorted rhythm guitar is nothing new, and Stevie Nicks was arpeggiating her chords better than Gin Blossoms 20 years before.

    And you're not supposed to play melody in octaves. You only do that on an organ, and then it's not an octave, it's a mutation rank. It's a cheap hack to make your sound fatter without increasing the musical value of your song.

    And that's what the Gin Blossoms do: they take mediocre lyrics and put it to uninteresting music full of hacks that make it seem musical when it isn't.

    We're still listening to Joshua Tree 26 years later. Dark Side of the Moon after 37 years. IV after 39. The Beatles… and the crappy pop of the mid-90's–really, any decade, are all but forgotten.

  3. Timmy says:

    Rock and pop music break the rules of classical composition all the time. The Beatles were probably the worst offenders. For example, in Norwegian Wood, the bridge goes from D Major (in the key of D) to D minor. That's a definite no no in classical composition – you can't use the minor chord of the tone of the key you're in! It ruins the whole concept of tonality – in theory. In practice, it works brilliantly.

    Starting on the tonic is a perfectly acceptable practice, but starting on a non-tonic chord is also acceptable. Again, the Beatles did it on countless tunes; it's a hall-mark of sophisticated song-writing. And there's no reason one must revert to the tonic after a dominant chord. If you, as a songwriter, want to resolve to the tonic, that's your business. If you don't, that's fine too: there are thousands of songs which use non-functioning dominant chords.

    Hey Jealously doesn't use a V IV progression. But even if it did, there wouldn't be a problem. As you mentioned, the standard blues progression uses a V IV progression, and since rock music is the direct descendant of the blues, it makes perfect sense that V IV progressions would be utilized in the genre (and they are – extensively).

    The verse progression of IV V VI V (not IV V IV V) is disorienting, it's true. The tonic is intentionally avoided to produce an unsettling emotional sensation, which is exactly the tone the composers were going for, as indicated by the lyrical content. It's exactly this harmonic technique that sets the song apart from less sophisticated pop songs, which rely on a standard I IV V progression. Not all songs have to be Louie Louie, you know.

    You couldn't be more wrong about playing octaves. One of the most respected jazz guitarists of the 20th century, Wes Montgomery, pioneered the use of octaves for melody lines. Virtually every song he ever recorded uses the technique. It's anything but a "cheap hack."

    If there's a valid criticism of Hey Jealousy, it's that it suffers from mediocre production. It has a kind of "too clean" sound that producers favored during that era. See Toad the Wet Sprocket. But that's not the fault of the song, which I still contend is a good one.

  4. naptastic says:

    Oh Tim, now you're just being a contrarian.

    The point is, bad popular music is a problem that corrects itself over time.

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