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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) (1968)

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) (1988)

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. Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” (bass line and chords) (1985)

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. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, “Reelin’ in the Years” (bass line and chords)