in the Babylon sister intro, What is going on with the F#/E- A7b5-Ebmin7 ? ( my sheet music says Ebmajsus4 )

Just wanted advice on how to label The chord functions. I’ve circled the part in blue on the attached photo . I cant tell what key I’m in. On the sheet music it says Ebsus4 but I think it’s EbMaj ! Are we in Ebminor right now ? Thanks for helping if you can! The A7b5 resolution to “Eb” works so well and I don’t know why ! Are any of these Tritone subs? I don’t think so but not sure why this section sounds so satisfying using such apparently distant cadences. Plus I’m thinking the sheet music is wrong on the EBsus4 - it sounds like Ebmin7 I wish someone with a jazz backroad would analyze this entire tune harmonically - I couldn’t find anything online . 1: enter image description herehttps://i.stack.imgur.com/iOOiO.jpg


1 Answer 1


Wow, where to start? Well first, let me say that this is a very complex song from a harmonic standpoint. That being said, don’t look for a heck of a lot of long term tonality or traditional harmonic function in this or any later Steely Dan song. Just satisfy yourself with the interesting and unusual chord movements and voice leading produced by those great chord progressions. However, if you look you will find many snippets of harmonic function in these types of songs

Regarding the chart, it is absurd to put this in 6 flats. This song is so chromatic that it makes no sense to use a key signature. This creates enharmonic horror in places like the E5 (Ab, Cb, Eb ?) and A7#11 (Db ?) bars to name a few. It also makes it harder to read, keeping track of all those flats when so many bars have naturals or sharps. It should be in an open key signature, all accidentals added as needed.

Now, getting to your question, the E triads sound like they might be G#m triads with a B on top to me. There is only one note difference between the two but then it would contain the maj7. F#/E gives you an Emaj7#11 flavor, especially when prefaced by the E (or G#m) triad. That enforces thinking of these bars as Emaj7#11.

Let’s skip the A7 and go to the Eb chords. These chords are really Ebm11 chords in my book. The Gb’s on beats 1 and 4 sound like a part of the entire 2 bars. Even though those Gb notes do not sound for the entire two bars, they linger in your ear until the chord changes.

That gives us Emaj7#11 to Ebm11. This is a bII to Im. The bII is a Neopolitan chord that is often used in Flamenco music and many pop tunes.

Now for the A7#11, it is not a substitute dominant because then the dominant chord would be Eb which is our target chord. This seems like a chord that has no real function, maybe they just liked the movement and the sound. I do see a micro function in there though. If you tonicize the E chord, then it is a IV7 chord. It doesn’t resolve but does have interesting movement to the next chord. The IV7 is widely used in jazz, pop and blues.

These chords are actually similar to the chorus of the song, except that the chorus starts on the Im instead of the bII and is a half step down, Dm11-Ebmaj7#11. They also don’t use the passing Ab7#11 chord on the chorus.

Some might not agree with my take but analysis is after the fact and can be somewhat subjective at times. Also, I’m pretty sure Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were not sitting around writing Roman numerals on a piece of paper when they wrote this :)

  • 1
    Perfect . Thank you so much !
    – Boaz
    Dec 7, 2023 at 19:30
  • 1
    The A7#11 chords bear a passing resemblance to common-tone diminished 7th chords in my eyes, especially their resolution.
    – Dekkadeci
    Dec 7, 2023 at 20:13
  • @Dekkadeci I do see your point. It only has two notes of an Eb diminished chord though, A and Eb and the voicing doesn’t have a diminished sound to it with that big ol’ R-5 in it! Dec 7, 2023 at 20:46
  • Drop the key signature !
    – Boaz
    Dec 7, 2023 at 20:57

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