The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” Reworked from Major to Minor Scale; Ella’s “Summertime” Goes Minor to Major

A commonplace in rock and pop songwriting: minor keys are sad (or dark or soft) and major keys are happy (upbeat, extroverted, etc.). Want to add some complexity? Set happy lyrics in a minor key or vice versa. You don’t need much theory to grasp the concept (applying it effectively is another matter). But even for classically trained composers, the why of it all is still a bit of a mystery. Guardian classical music blogger Tom Service suggests that since the 17th century, it’s become learned behavior, as is our tendency to fall into minor thirds when communicating sadness through speech. Whether a natural or cultural phenomenon, there’s no doubt that transposing tonality can give a song vastly different emotional resonance.

Which is exactly what happened with a recent viral digital experiment: a tweak of R.E.M.’s tortured “Losing My Religion” from minor to major so upset religious blogger Matthew Linder, he commented that the “change in tonality whitewashes the sorrowful song and brings in the Pollyannaism of REM’s much derided ‘Shiny Happy People.’” Now I happen to think “Shiny Happy People” is a completely stupid yet loveable song, but he does have a point. The tonality hack, originally performed by MajorScaledTV, has also been done several times by Ukrainian YouTube user MajorVsMinor, real name Oleg Berg and his daughter Diana. The Bergs take songs like the godawful “Final Countdown” by Europe and make them almost listenable, or ruin songs like “Hey Jude” (above).

And sometimes a fascinating thing happens. Remember that counterpoint between tonality and content I noted above? In some cases, the entire effect of a song depends upon that tension, as is the case with George Gershwin’s “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess. In the tweaked Ella Fitzgerald version above, the lyrics—“and the living is easy”—lose their sexiness, their melancholy undertones and strained irony, when the tune sounds as happy and straightforward as the words. This is not an improvement, of course, but an interesting example of how form and content push against each other in compositions more musically sophisticated and emotionally complex than “Final Countdown.” Once these tweaked versions of popular songs lose their appeal as viral curiosities (if they haven’t already), they’re sure to make excellent teaching tools for musicology professors.

MajorVsMinor have applied their treatment to over two dozen popular songs and film and video game themes. Want to know how they do it? Watch Oleg and Diana reveal their secrets in the video above. There’s quite a bit more to their process than assumed about MajorScaledTV’s REM experiment.

via BoingBoing

Related Content:

R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” Reworked from Minor to Major Scale

Bobby McFerrin Shows the Power of the Pentatonic Scale

History of Rock: New MOOC Presents the Music of Elvis, Dylan, Beatles, Stones, Hendrix & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (8) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (8)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • David Bradley says:

    Always amuses me that people criticise Shiny Happy People as bubblegum, whereas it’s actually about the advent of Prozac as the legal drug of choice for the chattering classes…

  • Randolph Peters says:

    How about a little journalistic skepticism here?

    Olga and Diana do NOT have the ability to sound like John Lennon, Ella Fitzgerald and countless other unique voices.

    They might be able to access or create separate tracks that can be auto-tuned or otherwise manipulated, they might play some replacement tracks, but you can tell from the sound and the poor lip synching that the claim that they can mimic these famous voices is not to be believed.

  • Josh Jones says:

    Hi Randolph: I thought it was pretty obvious that the “secrets revealed” video is a joke.

  • Randolph Peters says:

    Point taken, Josh.

    I plead temporary humor impairment and will now go check to see if someone replaced my espresso with decaf.

  • Josh Jones says:

    Heh, no worries, Randolph. It’s kinda subtle. I should have stuck a *wink wink* in there somewhere.

  • D. Johnson says:

    Mr. Jones and Mr. Peters, your internet comment civility does not go unnoticed. It’s a rarity these days but you both prove it still exists. :-)

  • Diana Berg says:

    This “secrets revealed” video was published on April Fools day, and of course it was a joke. All the time people ask us about our work process, and we recorded this video just for fun.

    Randolph, there is no way to create separate tracks. We do not use multi-tracks (there are so few of them available), instead we work with sum.

  • Pete Selletti says:

    Utterly stupid, worthless.. just MORE garbage on the internet.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.