Eagles - Take It Easy

Creating Contrast With Chord Progressions in a Long Melody

Some songs, instead of using a clearcut verse and chorus structure, will instead be constructed of one long melody that has different sections. I’m thinking of a song like Eagles’ first single “Take It Easy”.

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It’s comprised of three sections, the first starting on a G chord (“Well, I’m a-running down the road/ Tryin’ to loosen my load…”). The middle section starts on Em (“Take it easy, take it easy…”), and the third section starts on C (“Lighten up while you still can…”).

You likely hear it as a short one-phrase verse which is followed by a longer two-phrase chorus, or you may, like me, simply hear it as one long melody where the verse-chorus labelling seems unimportant. In any case, the contrasting of major and minor is an important way of creating contrast in long melodies like this.

Take It Easy - harmonic structure

I should point out that the middle phrase starts on minor, and uses more minor chords than the other sections. This is not the same thing as saying that it becomes minor. There are no key changes here; it’s simply a case of one section — the middle one — putting the focus on minor.

And that change of focus from major to minor is all that’s needed to create chord contrast. When we hear the focus change to minor, we subconsciously know that major is eventually going to return. Because we know that, we’re more inclined to wait for its return. It keeps audiences interested.

If you’re writing a song that is comprised of one long melody, like “Take It Easy”, you can create that all-important sense of expectancy and interest by having one section of the melody change focus from the original key to one that’s in the opposite mode.

James Pankow did the same thing when he wrote Chicago’s 1975 hit “Old Days.” The opening couple of phrases establish and reinforce the key of C major. The next two phrases move the focus to A minor, before re-establishing C major.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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