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Section 9.6 The Subtonic VII Chord in Popular Music

Although we will discuss mode mixture and the Mixolydian mode later, the ubiquity of the subtonic chord (♭\(\left.\text{VII}\right.\)) in rock and popular music makes it important to discuss here.

The ♭\(\left.\text{VII}\right.\) chord can precede tonic, dominant, and pre-dominant chords, which means it can substitute for any function except tonic.

Figure 9.6.1 Harmonic Flowchart for Popular Music with Subtonic \(\left.\text{VII}\right.\) chord in Major

Notice also that movement from \(\left.\text{IV}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{I}\right.\) (from the plagal cadence) is common in the following examples from popular music.

Here are examples ending with ♭\(\left.\text{VII}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{IV}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{I}\right.\), where \(\left.\text{IV}\right.\) progresses to \(\left.\text{I}\right.\) (a plagal cadence) and is preceded by ♭\(\left.\text{VII}\right.\).

Figure 9.6.2 Lennon–McCartney, “Hey Jude” (bass line and chords only)

Consider the following questions: When a phrase ends on the \(\left.\text{IV}\right.\) chord, does it have dominant function (i.e, is it a half cadence)? Does \(\left.\text{IV}\right.\) have dominant function in popular music when it progresses to \(\left.\text{I}\right.\)? If so, does ♭\(\left.\text{VII}\right.\) have pre–dominant function in the above progression?

Notice that ♭\(\left.\text{VII}\right.\) begins the phrase in the following example, and proceeds to a \(\left.\text{IV}\right.\)–\(\left.\text{I}\right.\) conclusion.

Figure 9.6.3 U2, “Desire” (bass line and chords)

The following example has ♭\(\left.\text{VII}\right.\) preceding and following the \(\left.\text{IV}\right.\) chord. Does the ♭\(\left.\text{VII}\right.\) chord have tonic prolongation as labeled, or is it “pre pre–dominant” in function?

Figure 9.6.4 Forsey and Schiff, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” (bass line and chords)

Here is an example with ♭\(\left.\text{VII}\right.\) cadencing to the \(\left.\text{I}\right.\) chord in the first four bars then progressing to the \(\left.\text{vi}\right.\) chord in a deceptive cadence in the second four bars.

Figure 9.6.5 Becker and Fagen, “Reelin’ in the Years” (bass line and chords)