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October/November 2013

by Godfrey de Grut

X-Factory: Rikki Morris – Nobody Else

by Godfrey de Grut

X-Factory: Rikki Morris – Nobody Else

When I first heard Nobody Else back in 1988 I assumed that like the Tex Pistol hit, Game of Love, the previous year, it was another ’60s classic reworked with Simmons drums and DX-7s.

No mere Kiwi could compose such a monumental melody, thought 11-year old Godfrey. Now I know Rikki Morris did 25 years ago, and the 36-year-old Godfrey still thinks there is no better NZ song than this one. It certainly helps that the lyrics are pure gold. ‘There’s nobody else in my life’, followed by the disarmingly Kiwi understatement, ‘…nobody else comes within a country mile’. The protagonist isn’t talking about the whole world and everyone in it, just who matters most in his immediate geographic surroundings. Frank, honest and all the more believable and personal because of it.

 

If you can couple those heartfelt lyrics with a commanding melody breaching the octave divide with an authority only leaps of 4ths, 5ths and 6ths can provide, you’ve had a good day at the office. In the past I’ve unsubtly pried Morris for information on how the chorus came about. With his relationship on the brink, a 2am drive home from a gig provided the right frame of mind for inspiration to strike.

Quickly laying down a demo on four-track meant singing in a barely audible whisper so as not to wake the flatmates and led to his brother Ian suggesting the soft falsetto actually suited the song. Slowing the tape while vocal recording allowed for the lift in pitching on playback and fabricated the tightly focused vocal we’ve all tried to emulate in the shower, to varying degrees of success.

X Factory - excerpt 1 nzm151It’s not just melody that sells this one, the harmony is subtle and varied at just the right points across the arrangement and provides the essential tension and release we all subconsciously crave. Take for example the relative minor pre-chorus echoing John Barry’s Bond theme with the perfect fifth rising through augmented fifth to 6th and down again.

This is mirrored nicely in the bass root tones during the third phrase of the chorus where Morris moves up Bm – A/C# – D and back down before closing off with a satisfying ii-Vsus-I. Listening closely you begin to identify the lack of functional V7 chords. These are replaced with sus11 voicings, which lack a major third and the internal tritone tension against the dominant 7th inherent in V7 chords. These Vsus turnarounds are softer on the ear and allow for the tonic pitch ‘A’ to be sung over them with no dissonance from rubbing against the leading tone ‘G#’.

It’s an RnB device whose origins hark back to the usage of plagel cadences in gospel music. These harmonic punctuations involve chord IV moving to chord I where both chords contain the tonic note. RnB threw a different bass note underneath (the 5th of the key center) and combined the best of both worlds, the weight of the dominant (in the bass root tone), AND the ability to have the gospel tinged plagel IV supporting the tonic note.

This limiting of leading tone interference is also seen on beat 3 of the chorus where the leaps in the vocals anchor either end of the octave span on ‘A’ which would cause some nasty harmonic friction were you to pair the melody with a C#min instead of the extended tonic chord ‘A’ re-voiced over the third, C#. Just one note difference between A and C#min makes all the difference. Here, the gravitas of a proper iii chord is cunningly held in reserve till the bridge, where it supports a change in tone oscillating with vi under a quintessential effected sax solo.

X Factory excerpt 2 nzm151Never complacent in supplying further depth to an already meticulous arrangement, Morris proceeds to build back up from a drop down chorus over a simplified I – IV, to an invigorated and rhythmically punchier second half chorus, harmonically borrowed from the ‘pre’ (complete with assertive overdriven guitar), before releasing into the more comforting chime of the double chorus fade.

This is such a huge tune because it is built upon an extremely satisfying harmony cycling through familiar RnB progressions. It is such a huge tune because it couples this with the rich and varied sonic textures of synth, sax and gat, which in turn provide an undeniably lush back-drop to a chorus which is jaw-dropping in its acrobatic grandeur, made all the more strident by the shrewd use of much smaller melodic intervals leading up to it.

Nobody Else, satisfying lovers since 1988.

Godfrey de Grut is a Silver Scroll co-winner with Che Fu and MD of the 2013 Silver Scrolls. He is now a freelance writer, arranger and producer, lecturing in popular music studies at the University of Auckland. Follow his musical ramblings @GodfreyDeGrut on Twitter, or email g.degrut@gmail.com