11
[Chorus:]
Bb                                     Eb
And I think it's gonna be a long, long time
                                           Bb
'Till touch down brings me roung again to find
                                   Eb
I'm not the man they think I am at home
           Bb              C
Oh no, no, no, I'm a rocket man
Eb                                         Bb
Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone

Simple question here but want to know what the better option would be. In the chorus to Elton John's "Rocket Man" (in B-flat major), there is a C major chord.

Would it be best to analyze the C major chord as V/V, or as a borrowed chord from B-flat lydian, or something else?

I don't know if it is a good option to analyze a chord as a secondary chord unless it resolves to that chord (or as a deceptive resolution, ex. V/V to vi/V).

I'd appreciate any thoughts on this. Thanks.

  • 4
    Just like the Beatles 'Eight Days a Week' for one. – Tim Apr 24 at 15:23
  • I know the chromatic line based on the chords helps the chords flow more smoothly (starting with the Bb chord, F-E-Eb-D). As you said, this chord progression occurs in that song too. – Lennon_Ashton Apr 24 at 15:34
  • 2
    I’m not an expert but if a chord is not followed by a chord that has a root a fifth lower, then it seems to make less sense to me to view it as a “V/“ anything. In other words, I wouldn’t normally view it as “V/V” if it’s not followed by the V chord. – Todd Wilcox Apr 24 at 15:45
  • Right, exactly. That is what I was thinking and why I'm wondering what a better analysis would be. – Lennon_Ashton Apr 24 at 16:01
  • 1
    Another option to consider for analysing this chord besides V/V or a lydian motif might simply be as the II chord. – user45266 Apr 24 at 16:44
13

To answer the question of whether the C chord is "really" V of V, you need to remember one simple fact about music.

When you listen to music, you hear it progressing in time.

Therefore, analysing any chord in terms of "what comes after it" by looking at the score is just an intellectual exercise, if it has no relationship to what the music actually sounds like. A description like "V of V" only makes sense if the listener expects to be hearing common practice functional harmony, but that's not what the song is about.

The chorus starts with a Bb chord, followed by an Eb chord over the same Bb bass note. The cumulative effect of the Bb and Eb/Bb chords in fact destablilizes Bb as the "tonic" - we are used to hearing harmonic progressions that progress somewhere!

So when the C chord arrives, at last we have a progression! We don't know where we are progressing to yet, because we haven't heard what comes next, but at least we are going somewhere.

… except that actually we don't go anywhere, because the next chord is right back to Eb and then Bb again. But hey, that C was a nice surprise while it lasted.

You can replace the C with virtually any major chord get a similar effect. Try Db major, D major, Gb major, or G major, for example.

Bottom line: this isn't functional, common-practice harmony. Good luck trying to invent a functional-harmony name for a Db or Gb chord here, but they work as music. Elton John just happened to pick C instead. Maybe his backing band haven't learned Db or Gb chords yet … (just joking, of course).

  • I can't agree. This sounds entirely functional. It is just a bit of mode mixture, using the common Lydian chord progression of II-IV-I. It's perfectly common in rock music to have sections in Lydian or Mixolydian. Replacing the C with other chords does not have the same effect of being both surprising yet still entirely smooth and natural sounding. – trlkly Apr 25 at 6:52
  • I am downvoting this answer because I disagree with some points. You say that the C is not part of an harmonic progression, and then somehow it isn't funcional harmony anymore? There is literally just one note off the scale and that makes it not functional harmony? This song is not atonal, nor modal, nor anything, it's 100% functional harmony. – coconochao Apr 25 at 15:23
7

The other answers make the important points about analysis.

Not a secondary dominant V/V, because it isn't functioning as a dominant. The upper case II will provide a Roman numeral analysis symbol to show it is a major triad.

Some people call I II IV I a Lydian II progression and it's fairly common in pop/rock.

But, I want add one other point: notice the symbolism of that chord in relation to the lyrics. We have a root progression up by step from Bb to C and the normally minor ii has the third raised to make a major triad II. The C chord doesn't resolve in a typical functional way. You could say the chord goes up but doesn't come back down! That musical symbolism at the moment the lyrics say "...rocket man!" explains a lot about the emotional meaning of the chord when they don't fulfill the standard harmonic expectations.

  • 3
    Another point about the musical context is that in the arrangement I've heard, there is a synthesizer pitch slide from (I think) F up to C, which coincides with the arrival of the C chord. The slide is a very literal depiction of a rocket rising off the launch pad. The fact that it's a slide kind of blurs the focus on any specific triad or harmonic function. – Ben Crowell Apr 24 at 18:30
  • 1
    I've always wondered about that slide sound, if there is slide guitar in it? – Michael Curtis Apr 24 at 18:41
3

Somedays ago I've read somewhere that the Beatles had written many songs in modal harmony and not in major/minor. Looking at the chord progression my first association here has also been: Beatles. Yes, like others saying: Eight days a week!

So as there are certainly modal elements here ... it doesn't make sense to analyse it in RNA.

Except you could understand this solution: I-II-IV-I

my argumentation:

When I studied at Swiss Jazz School in the late sixties they didn't use the signs ii,iii, iv for minor chords. The notation was IIm, VIm etc. And the secondary dominant progression C-A7-D7-G7 was written as I-VI-II-V as a variant of I-VIm-IIm-V7 (I-vi-ii-V7). I know there are still different systems of writing chord progressions in Jazz.

3

I'm going to go against the grain with other answers here and say that the C is in fact a V/V since it does in fact resolve to a V, albeit momentarily. Listening to the recording, there's a momentary F in the piano before resolving to Bb which serves as the V/V-V-I resolution we're expecting. It also make sense to play it this way as the voice leading is no longer parallel.

This is also more pleasant to the ear than an unresolved C in the middle of an (admittedly key vague) piece. You'll find that if you play the chords without putting some leading tones in between C and the next chord (Bb again) it sounds quite odd. It's certainly odd to hang out on the V/V, and this provides a certain tension, but I think it's quite functional in terms of the harmony.

I should also point out that this answer doesn't invalidate other answers, and it's entirely subjective really - all music is. However, I hear the V fairly well despite the fact that it's buried in the mix, and I want to say that it makes just as much sense to my ears.

  • 1
    Where does the Eb chord fit into what you hear? Do you mean you hear V/V-V-IV-I (C - F - Eb - Bb)? – trlkly Apr 25 at 7:01
  • @trlkly Yes, you're right. There's a IV in there that delays the resolution, although as another answer says it's actually a Eb/Bb which is somewhat ambiguous. Still sounds enough like V/V-V that I'm comfortable with that interpretation. – gjsmo Apr 26 at 21:43
0

2¢ for the tip jar. Maybe with the inversions and passing chords it would change the discussion. Even tho the bass note only implies the Bb/D=1/3 after the C7, it's pretty necessary. Downbeats on the left, lowest common denominator to avoid nested parentheses:

Bb=1                     Bb              
_ And I think it's gonna be a long, long 
Eb=4                   Eb
time 'till touch down brings me round again to 
Bb=1             Bb
find I'm not the man they think I am at 
Eb=4             Bb/D = 1/3 
home. Oh no, no, no, I'm a 
C7=II       (C7    Bb/D = 1/3)
rocket man.    _
Eb            Eb                 
Rocket man, burning out his fuse up 
Bb         
here alone.

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