When you win six Tui at the NZ Music Awards you must be doing something right. The Six60 album is huge, their live shows are epic and they are busy touring and promoting it all over the world. It’s time to run one of their hits through the X-Factory and see what these former Dunedin university mates are doing differently from everybody else!
Ever since Metallica asked the late great Michael Kamen to “orchestralise” their live show for 2000’s ‘SnM’ live album it’s been deemed okay for rock bands to soften up and express their more cultured side. How does a band strike the right balance between oboes and overdrive without alienating the hardcore fandom? Beats me. It may come down to really picking the right song to rework and here, Six60 have chosen wisely.
To my ears Lost is a song about vulnerability, loss and perhaps the search for a more profound human connection. Ideally these types of stories are matched to predominantly ascending stepwise diatonic chord progressions. Why? Because everybody, everywhere does it.
It has become (for better or worse) a cultural signifier; good writers provide a listener with a sense of hope lifting them step by step through a selection of cohesive primary major chords before anchoring again in the minor. Catharsis in a diatonic nutshell.
Six60 however, pull a couple of nice moves that challenge the status quo just enough to make things interesting, without slapping the radio programmers in the face with quirky jazz fluff.
The first half of the verses are truncated to a three-measure phrase rising from the intro Am through G (first inversion) to begin on downbeat C, a short D and back to Amin. There’s a nice rhythmic symmetry in these first four chords, major dotted minum – crochet, two-measure brooding Am gravitas before the major crochet release and upward climb. The second half of the verses switch to a more conventionally square four measure round-off with full measures lengthening both the IV and V of our tonic key G. Why? Vocal phrasing. The second half of the verse is allowed to breath and expand, no longer tied into a (purposefully) confining three-measure rut.
Just when you think we are about to cycle round again the (first inversion) G drops down to an unexpected F chord, Am chord (a measure each) before a full blown release on tonic major G. Its the first time we hear the tonic in root position and the first time it falls on the downbeat of a bar. These are two very important attributes because (1) root G coincides with the chorus lyric payoff “I just want you to find me” and (2) up until now Six60 have favoured the ii chord Am in both length and structural placement. It’s a canny move keeping root tonic as the ace in your compositional sleeve, for sure.
But, I hear you say, why say we are in G when Six60 utilise the diatonic chords from C major as well as G and begin the verses on C, and spend most of their time in that key’s relative minor (Am)?
Chords derived from G major G Am C D Em –
Chords derived from C major G Am C – Em F
We are in G major because although Six60 employ the primary major (I-IV-V) chords from both G and C, exploiting the subtonic F natural in a cadence to G is a more orthodox non-diatonic relationship (bVII – I) than tonic major C to major supertonic D (I-II), as would be the case if we were in the key of C. Also, the very last chord in Lost is a G.
And my old piano teacher always said – that’s the one that counts.
Godfrey de Grut is a Silver Scroll co-winner with Che Fu. 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 email@example.com