I was listening to the Raspberries's song "Go All the Way" as covered by The Killers in the movie "Dark Shadows." I sorta figured out the song by ear on my guitar and I was a little confused. It is in the key of A and uses D minor. Here's the chorus I found on guitaretab.com:

    A            F#m         D      C#m Bm
    Please (baby) go all the way
        E       C#m              F#
    It feels so right (feels so right)
               Bm           Dm   E
    Being with you here tonight
    A            F#m         D      C#m Bm
    Please (baby) go all the way
          E      C#m              F#
    Just hold me close (hold me close)
               Bm           Dm  [1: G6   2, 3: E]
    Don't ever let       me go
              (don't let me go)


What is the effect of a minor subdominant in a major key? Is it an abrupt key change, modulation, something else? I don't get it, but it's really cool.

  • Since you accepted @PatMuchmore's answer, was your question really "Is it common to have a minor subdominant in a major key?" I thought you were asking about its effectiveness in this passage. Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 18:36

4 Answers 4


Borrowed chords—that is to say, chords that belong to the parallel key—are actually quite common, and borrowed IV or iv chords are probably the most common of all. This is an example of a iv chord borrowed from the parallel minor.

In general, the function doesn't change—the normal IV would have functioned as a predominant chord leading to V, the borrowed iv does too. The aural effect varies based on the situation, but the use of a chromatic note (in this case, the third of the borrowed chord) within a harmony tends to create a somewhat surprising, fresh quality to the progression. In the case where the borrowed chord is minor like this, it can also add a bit of darkness to the sound.

  • Borrowed chords do seem especially common in the psychedelic rock genre, but in this case it sounds funny to my ear to think of Dm as borrowed from Am, considering we've just heard a lot of stuff that strongly implies A major, including a significant IV, and the overly-major F#. Maybe if it was F#m... Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 2:55
  • I'm not sure I'm understanding. A borrowed chord always happens within the opposite modal context. A borrowed iv will happen within a major key and a borrowed IV will happen with a minor key. Of course you're right that the immediate context will change the extent of the esthetic context, but borrowing from the parallel key is the definition of a borrowed chord. Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 3:02
  • Yes, I agree, and of course your answer is correct! But I think interpreting this Dm as a borrowed chord implies that there is some kind of interplay going on between A and Am tonalities in the context of the passage - in other words, why is it important in this passage that the chord belongs to the parallel minor, and/or why does that make it more meaningful than any other chromatic substitution? Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 3:15

I analyze the first two lines as follows:

I - vi - IV - (passing iii) - ii - V -
iii - V/ii - ii - iv - V -

To my ear, ii (Bm) and iv (Dm) have the same harmonic function, so @rlo's answer is a good horizontal (melodic) interpretation.

I think the reason it is also effective vertically (tonally) is that the F-natural implies the neapolitan chord. (Try substituting Bb in first inversion - i.e. D, F, Bb - for Dm.) This is a standard 19th-century trick, and the analysis would read iii - V/ii - ii - bII(6) - V - I.

  • I'm hearing the bass play play an F over the Dm chord then E over the E chord. Therefore the transcription is implying the Dm by the bass line. The other thing you have is if you play F# - F - E on the melody to needs to resolve to A.
    – r lo
    Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 17:38
  • It's certainly a Dm chord. I'm saying if you make the neapolitan substitution instead (Bb instead of Dm), the effect of the passage is further enhanced. Thus I think it's the best interpretation of why the Dm is effective in the first place. Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 18:46
  • So your saying it just modulates to bm? dm is not the subdominant of bm. only D major is the mediant Commented Jun 22, 2014 at 0:55
  • 1
    I don't think there is any modulation at all, my analysis is in A major everywhere. Commented Jun 22, 2014 at 1:24

You've already defined the effect of a subdominant minor in a major key. It's 'really cool'. And it's so common that it really doesn't need any other justification.

MAYBE the piece is later going to modulate to C major. That's a very common modulation in 'Golden age' songwriting (Cole Porter and the like). It might get there via ii7, V7, I in the new key. That would be Dm7, G7, C. So IF you were going to do that, throwing in some iv chords might be a tasty way of preparing the ear for the modulation. But that would be vast overthinking here!

Get rid of the idea that a chromatic chord or note needs special justification. It really doesn't. It can be there to just add an interesting musical colour (chroma - colour - chromatic, geddit?) The diatonic scale and chords of whatever key a song is based in (if any) is a framework, not a strait-jacket.


Bm chord - (B D F#) to Dm (D F A) I could only guess that the writer wanted the notes F# - F -E leading to a resolution on the following E chord.

  • okay so it might have a chromatic bass line. but I don't think the E is a resolution, more like a half cadence. Commented Jun 20, 2014 at 18:12
  • Its a ii - V - I turnaround (Bm-E-A) Borrowing Dm as a leading chord to E is what I think it is after another listen.
    – r lo
    Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 17:26

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