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I was analyzing Gone Hollywood by Supertramp, and from around 0:22 a riff starts. The chords in the riff are G#, D#m/F#, F and G. The weird thing is that in the key of G# major the D# minor chord should have been a major chord, if i'm not mistaking. Because in this key the F# should be a G. Can someone explain this to me?

Later in the song, around 3:10, there is also a modulation from Cm to B, which seems also very strange to me. Can you explain that too?

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    Theory is a means to categorize certain parts of certain music. Everything can't be explained by theory, since most music isn't written with an explicit reference to theory. – Meaningful Username Dec 3 '14 at 10:56
  • Agreed, the 'hard and fast' mathematical rules of harmony and tonality are practically nonexistent and typically take a far, far backseat to cultural conventions in our music. "Music theory" generally deals with categories of these conventions (and usually in a culturally biased way). In my experience Jazz theorists are most likely to explain theory in a way that doesn't seem prescriptive, but only for about the first five minutes they try explaining it - then "Jazz theory" takes over and reduces everything to nonsensical wankery. – Darren Ringer Dec 31 '14 at 0:48
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The song could be on G# major; It would be easier to say it's in Ab major scale. These two are the same scale and they are called Enharmonic scales. (I'm using Ab because it is more common and easier to understand).

Here is how:

Ab (G#) -> 1st chord of your scale.
Ebm (D#m) -> 4th of the minor scale with the same name (Ab or G# minor) -- you are allowed to borrow a chord like this; borrowing the 4th chord from the minor scale is really common.
F -> Is the 6th chord of the Ab major scale. Now this chord should be a minor chord, but it is major one. In jazz, it is pretty common to play the sixth chord as dominant; this means that instead of Fm, the chord would be F7. (I'm not 100% sure this is the case here, but I cannot explain it otherwise).
G-> is the 7th chord of the scale. Now, this chord should be a half diminished one. I cannot tell you for sure what it is. It could be that the chord is Eb#5 (hence the natural B), with G in the bass. Eb is the 5th chord of your scale. The B could resolve up to C, which is the 3rd of your tonic, Ab.

Now, besides all the theory stuff, the composer could have simply followed the rule

It sounded good and I like it, so I kept it.

Not everything has to be theory-explained. That's how music evolves and that's what makes it beautiful.

  • Just want to clarify that G# Major is an impossible key, therefore it must be Ab Major. Eb is the 5th degree or dominant chord, so that's normal. The F major chord is modal mixture if the chord quality doesn't serve a specific harmonic function (like a secondary dominant). Again, the G major chord is modal mixture unless it is the half-diminished leading-tone chord normally found in Ab major and functioning as such. – jjmusicnotes Dec 2 '14 at 23:19
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    G# Major isn't really impossible, it crops up (albeit pretty rarely) in C# Major/Minor pieces that modulate to the Dominant key. It's a key where all pitches have a sharp except F, which has a double sharp. Don't get me wrong, it's still quite uncommon, and a lot of composers just use Ab major for readability, but Beethoven and Bach both occasionally used it. But yeah, starting the piece is G# Major is strange, and it's an especially strange choice to apply to a piece that has no score. – Pat Muchmore Dec 3 '14 at 0:58
  • Playing the VI chord as a dominant generally leads to the II, leading to V then to I - cycle of fourths.You're right - sounds good = is good. Theory only attempts to make sense of what happens, hence theory. – Tim Dec 3 '14 at 8:38
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I haven't listened to the excerpt, but it looks like a sort of extended Neapolitan. A passage on Wikipedia explains a possibility (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neapolitan_chord):

"Another such use of the Neapolitan is along with the German augmented sixth chord, which can serve as a pivot chord to tonicize the Neapolitan as a tonic. In C major/minor, the German augmented sixth chord is an enharmonic A♭7 chord, which could lead as a secondary dominant to D♭, the Neapolitan key area. As the dominant to ♭II, the A♭7 chord can then be respelled as a German augmented sixth, resolving back to the home key of C major/minor."

"In rock and popular music, examples of its use, notated as N and without 'traditional functional connotations,' include Fleetwood Mac's 'Save Me', Journey's 'Who's Crying Now', and The Rolling Stones' 'Mother's Little Helper'."

(Of course, based on this, it would seem a sort of ornamental minor-izing note gets slipped into the excerpt)

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To add to Shevliaskovic's answer, after listening to the song, I notice that after the G major chord that you cited is followed by C minor. So that can explain the eventual move to G: To resolve to C minor (a V/i relationship).

I think if you consider the G# chord to really be an Ab, it might put the two chords Cm and Ab into a closer relation. As for the F? Is it IV of i in C minor, or VI/I in Ab? Either way, it's an altered (and beautiful) chord. F minor, which fits diatonically with these two keys, finally appears around 2:53.

Melodically, during the C minor vamp, the note Ab is very prevalent. It's so far a tug-of-war (so to speak) between C minor and Ab major.

Next, Eb major is emphasized (III/C or V/Ab), resolving to the beginning section in Ab, but then coming back almost as a tonic at the end!

So we have three harmonically closely-related sections of this song that are C minor, Ab, and Eb. Perhaps this could be best thought of as a fantasia. It ends on Eb but I'm not convinced that is the key.

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listenin for the very first time (although I know and like them) ...it sounds like the beginning is in the key of G# with a Mixolydian flava, as the second chord sounds like a F# -with notes that seem to be taken from a Phrygian mode that connects the F# with F (Phrygian Dominant) - So, just for the first three important chords, it's all about mixed modes composition style. Immediately after, I hear a sudden G major , and I would say it's a case of superfast change of tonal center - but the G is also used as a Dominant to resolve on a C minor (7?)

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