"Rag Tag Army" by John Edmond

The song is uptempo-ish, and in C major without any mode mixture from C minor. There are A minor and E minor chords in it, yet none of them even end a phrase, instead they show up in contexts like "Am-D7-G" and "Am-Em-F-C", yet the song still is sad-sounding. Why?


2 Answers 2


I think it's mostly because of the frequent use of the words "dead" and "die."

There are two musical elements to consider, though. One is harmony: a "happy" harmonization might use the ii and vi chords somewhat less. Another is melody: the descending scale C-B-A-G has a certain melancholy aspect to it, especially the descending semitone, and indeed it is closely related to the lament bass.

But these elements can also be found in "happy" songs in major keys. To answer the question, a little experimentation is possible. Write some words in the same (poetic) meter about two people falling in love and living happily ever after, and then sing it to the same tune. Does it still sound sad? I think you'll find that it does not.

  • I agree with your second paragraph in particular. It’s the context that makes it sad, not the music. Would “Taps” sound sad if we didn’t associate it with someone passing? I don’t think so. Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 18:36

I think there's several factors to it.

People have mentioned the lyrics. I admit I missed a lot, but the parts I did catch kinda confirm it isn't exactly sunshine.

Someone also mentioned a general tendency of the melody (and the second voice and instrumental solo in which both it's much more pronounced than the main melody) to go down more often than up.

Another factor is precognition. The song has a distinct "Irish-like" kind of sound, and you just know how often Irish songs with similar tunes deal with topics like oppression, incarceration or wars. So the moment you hear the intro, you already get the "this is gonna be about how the empire is screwing us again, ain't it" feeling.

And then there's the instrumentation. While the rhythm part goes fast and the vocals have a nice moderate tempo, a solo cuts through it all with long tones that sound like a lament - especially in the contrast.

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