Lately I’ve been hearing lots of people lament the dreadful state of pop music, and wonder what the future holds for us. Nothing’s new: every year has its hit-makers whose popularity can make any self-respecting pop music enthusiast weep. But Adele, pop soul artist from England, should give any and all reason to hope. Her latest hit, “Rolling in the Deep”, is fantastic, and offers much for budding songwriters to study. Its best lesson is that simplicity is not a bad word.
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With an amazing voice that makes it all but impossible to believe she’s only 22 years old, Adele sings “Rolling in the Deep” with gutsy passion and soul. The song has a very simple verse-chorus form, expertly structured and crafted so that the controlling of song energy is the highest priority.
Here’s a map of the formal structure:
Song energy in “Rolling in the Deep” comes from several elements. Firstly, melodic direction. The verses are written with downward-moving melodic motifs, typical of standard blues melodies.
We start to sense the building energy as the song moves through the pre-chorus: the melodic shapes elongate as instrumentation begins to build (more about that below).
The main melodic motif of the chorus reverses direction, reaching upward instead of moving downward, completing the melody’s task of building subtle song energy.
Instrumentation is the second element used to build energy. Nothing complicated, just a logical progression of adding instruments to develop momentum, and taking them away again to reduce it:
- Verse 1: Bass/guitar line only (implied chords), then tom-tom beat;
- Pre-chorus: light keyboard, hi-hat
- Chorus: background vocals, busier keyboards & drums.
The song uses three main chord progressions:
VERSE: Cm Gm Bb Gm Bb
Pre-CHORUS: Ab Bb Gm Ab Bb Gm G
CHORUS: Cm Bb Ab Bb
Verse harmonies, as we know, can benefit from a sense of ambiguity, resulting in what we term “fragile” progressions. Usually a fragile progression means that its key centre might be unclear.
In “Rolling in the Deep”, however, it’s the rhythmic treatment of the backing chords that offers a sense of “fragility.” Just the subtle displacing of the chord by one 8th-note, as we hear throughout much of the verse, gives a sense of uncertainty to the harmonies. The rhythm solidifies through the pre-chorus, and the harmonies change to a very strong Cm-Bb-Ab-Bb pattern for the chorus.
I really love songs that sound, at the outset, more complicated than they really are. I’ve always believed that in the balance between simplicity and complexity, simplicity almost always wins.
And it’s simplicity that makes “Rolling in the Deep” a singable, memorable tune. Check out her album, “21”, if you haven’t already. A fantastic collection of compositions that show impressive diversity and awe-inspring songwriting strength.
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