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Sebastian: Analysis of Pop Songs Part I07 Feb 2006 04:09

I WANT IT THAT WAY (Max Martin & Andreas Carlsson)

Verse    - Chorus
Verse    - Chorus' - Bridge
         - Chorus"
         - Chorus
         - Chorus
         - Chorus/Tag

Keys: F#m/A - G#m/B
Metre: 4/4

Backstreet Boys are a very successful group in the UK. Out of their 18 single releases, only two have failed to hit the top 10. 'I Want It That Way' entered directly into #1 on 15th May 1999. Quite a good month for boybands since the previous #1 had been a track recorded by Westlife and one week later IWITW would be overthrown by You Needed Me (Boyzone).

The song's co-written by Max Martin, who's been widely criticised as repeating himself so much, both melodically and lyrically. Well, he knows how to make a great pop-song anyway... he's co-written a large number of classics including It's Gotta Be You for Michael Jackson's nephews (3T), most of Five's debut album, many N'Sync songs, Celine's That's The Way It Is, Bon Jovi's It's My Life, a couple of Westlife tracks, Def Leppard's Unbelievable, Kelly Clarkson's Since U Been Gone, most of Marion Raven's debut solo album including the hits Break You & Here I Am, several compositions for Nick Carter and the Britney Spears marathon of gems: Baby One More Time, You Drive Me Crazy, Oops I Did It Again, Stronger, Lucky, Overprotected, I'm Not A Girl Not Yet A Woman.

He'd worked with the BSB before and had participated in four of their five top 3s to date: We've Got it Going On, Quit Playing Games With My Heart, Everybody (Backtreet's Back) and As Long As You Love Me.


     | F#m    |  D   A  |
A:   | vi     | IV   I  |
F#m: | i      | VI   III|

Simply a nearly instrumental half-verse. The few vocals are sung by AJ McLean, the 'bad boy'.


     | F#m    |  D   A  | F#m   | E    A  |
A:   | vi     | IV   I  | vi    | V    I  |
F#m: | i      | VI  III | i     | VII  III|

Simple AAAA' structure similar to another one of the hits by the Martin/BSB combination, 'Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely' (which is in F#m and overall uses the same chords and same key-shift at the end). The strenght of these pop songs is in the arrangement alterations:

1st Verse: Brian, the main vocalist, sings solo, supported by acoustic guitar arpeggios and synth effects.

2nd Verse: Nick, the heart-throb, sings, acoustic guitar turns strummed, synth dissappears and rhytmic section (bass & drum) enters.

3rd Verse: AJ sings with Brian doing harmonies. Instrumental arrangement is a combination of the two previously used: acoustic guitar plays arpeggios as in 1st, but there are bass and drums as in 2nd. Probably cut n' pasted.

First Chorus:

     |  D     | E    A | F#m   | E     A |
A:   | IV     | V    I | vi    | V     I |
F#m: | VI     | VII III| i     | VII  III|

AAAA' form remains. Interesting vocal arrangement having one lead singer being answered by a two-part harmony formed by the remaining four. Nick sings both "tell me why" and "I never wanna" being joined by the choir for "hear you say, I want it that way".

Second Chorus:

     |  D    | E     A | F#m   | C#     |
A:   | IV    | V     I | vi    | V-vi   |
F#m: | VI    | VII  III| i     | V      |

Similar arrangement to the first except that the "tell me why"s are uttered by AJ and the remaining solo parts by Brian. The ending changes with Brian doing a nice cluster with very passionate effect to introduce the synth-based bridge.


     | F#m    |  A   | D     | Bm   E  |
A:   |  vi    |  I   | IV    | ii   V  |
F#m: | i      | III  | VI    | iv   VII|

     | F#m    |  A   | D     |  E      |
A:   | vi     |  I   | IV    |  V      |
F#m: | i      | III  | VI    | VII     |

Interesting section where Martin's fingerprint is clearer than ever. Compare its functional harmony (in minor key) to other of his works: As Long As You Love Me's and Everybody (Backstreet's Back) bridges and Baby One More Time's verse/chorus progression.

First (A) Phrase:

ALAYLM:    | i    | III    | i     | VI    VII |
BOMT:      | i    |  V     | III   | VI    VII |
Everybody: | i    |  V     | iv    | VI    VII |
IWITW:     | i    | III    | VI    | iv    VII |

Second (A') Phrase:

ALAYLM:    | i    | III    | i     | VI    VII | (identical to first)
BOMT:      | i    |  V     | III   | VI    VII | (ditto)
Everybody: | i    |  V     | VI    | VII       |
IWITW:     | i    | III    | VI    | VII       |

The melody is very similar to another of the many Martin & Carlsson penned hits of the year: Celine Dion's 'That's The Way It Is'. Just compare "now I can see that we're falling apart from the way that it used to be YEAH" with "I can read your mind, and I know your story, I see what you're going through YEAH", using the same patterns.

This section's first phrase is sung by the old and serious "boy" (27 at the time) of the group, Kevin, while AJ joins for the second half doing a very nice high harmony.


/--------x3--------/          half
| D      | E     A | F#m    | E   |
| IV     | V     I | vi     | V   |

While the chords aren't very different from the other choruses, the tempo changes several times to increase the dramatic feeling. I've labelled this break section a Chorus because of the backing harmony, but the melody and lyrics follow a first verse variation.

Howie is the lead singer now, making IWITW the first single of the group in which all five of them have got solo parts: all of their previous releases had been sung by Brian plus either Nick or AJ or all the three of them, and the one preceding IWITW, 'All I Have To Give', had been sung by all of them except Kevin (safe for one line he shouts in the extended remix).

At the end Howie, Brian, Kevin and AJ (in that order) form an ascending cascading harmony, foreshadowing what N'Sync would do one year later in another Martin/Carlsson track under similar climatic circumstances. In the latter case, the cascade would be five-part and done, in order of entrance, by Lance, Joey, Justin, JC and Chris. Lyrics in IWITW are "you are", while in It's Gonna Be Me are "it's gonna".

Fourth & Fifth Choruses:

They follow the same chord harmonies as in the first only that they're now shifted two semitones up. The differences are in lyrics and arrangements (especially who-sings-what). 4th's got Nick as the lead singer introducing the section with a very emotional "don't wanna hear you say" and then repeating the same line in a more tranquil form. The other four sing the chorus lines with altered lyrics.

Fifth chorus has got Nick doing the same soft "don't wanna hear you say" near the end but during the rest Brian is the lead singer uttering both "tell me why" lines and doing a nice melodic variation at the end.

Sixth chorus:

Brian continues being the lead singer sustaining a long "tell me why" while the others continue doing the same chorus lines as in fifth. AJ takes the lead role onwards and then at the end repeats the last two bars as a tag. One year later the boys would release 'Shape Of My Heart', another mid-tempo written by Max Martin recycling many features including the fact that AJ ends solo the song with a tag of the chorus, which is repeated four times in a row during the end, shifted up two semitones and with Brian, AJ and Nick alternating lead parts. Pop is predictable but that's why we love it, or, more to the point, that's the way it is :)

1.PD 07 Feb 2006 18:21
Great piece of analysis, maybe the best to date. I too noticed that similarity with "...way it is". Interesting to see they are from the same songwriter.
2.Sebastian 07 Feb 2006 20:42

F Minor, 4/4

| Intro | Verse |Spacer/2|
        | Verse | Spacer | Chorus |
                | Spacer |
        | Verse |Spacer/2|
        | Verse | Spacer | Chorus |
                | Spacer | Chorus'|
        | Verse |        | Chorus"|

Well, maybe this one's not universally considered pop since Green Day are more widely respected as a rock band. BOBD is the band's biggest hit to date and insanely successful in Japan. Many references to Oasis' 'Wonderwall' in the harmony.


| Fm    Ab     | Eb     Bb     |
| i     III    | VII    IV     |

Exactly the same functional harmony as in 'Wonderwall' (hence the famous mash-up 'Boulevard Of Broken Songs'). There are no backing vocals, arrangement changes from one iteration to another, particularly in the first and last verses, suddenly changing from acoustic to electric and adding bass and drums in the middle of the section.


| Db    Ab     | Eb     Bb     |
| VI    III    | VII    IV     |

| Db    Ab     | C             |
| VI    III    | V             |

More than a chorus it seems like a middle-eight. Alterations include sustaining the V chord for one bar longer. Vocal is harmonised for the last measure of each phrase. Note some subtle similarity with Wonderwall's bridge and chorus:

Wonderwall Bridge: | VI    VII    | III    i | IV      |
Wonderwall Chorus: | VI     i     | III      |
Boulevard Chorus:  | VI    III    | VII   IV |


7 Feb: I Want It That Way's been updated.


3.Ricky 13 Feb 2006 03:11
Great job, Sebastian. I'm also excited that you're analyzing a Green Day song, a band which I also enjoy. However, I might offer a correction--in the chorus, it is not a Bb. Rather, it's an Fm. I used to think the same way too until my friend showed me. So, technically, it's more smilar to Wonderwall Bridge than you thought.
4.Sebastian 30 Apr 2006 19:53

Written by Avril Lavigne, Scott Spock, Lauren Christy and Graham Edwards
Single in 2002 - #1 in Canada, Top 10 in UK, USA, Mexico and Australia
4/4, D Major - F Major / D Minor

No matter how many people hate Avril for her suck-up attitude or her fake image, the song's outstanding. It was written by the same people who penned 'Complicated' and several other pop hits.

| Intro | Verse |
        | Verse | Chorus |
        | Verse |
        | Verse | Chorus |
                | Chorus |
| Intro |                | Bridge |
        | Verse | Chorus |
                | Chorus |


| I   | V    | vi    | bVI  |

Simple but catchy. bVI chord isn't very common in such songs but it does sound nice. Many aspects in this song remind me of 'Keep Yourself Alive' and it's one of them.


| I      | V     | vi     | bVI  V |
| I      | V     | vi     | IV   V |
| I      | V     | vi     | bVI  V |
| I      | V     | vi     | bVII   |

bVII works as pivot for the modulation (it's V of the new key)


| I    | V    | vi   | V    |
| I    | V    | vi   | V    | IV    | -    |


| i    | VII   | -    | VI   V |

5.Sebastian 07 Jun 2006 18:54

Written by Matthew Rowbottom, Richard Stannard and The Spice Girls
E-Flat Minor (six flats), 4/4

One of my all-time favourites. It uses the same progression all throughout: i-v-VI-III:

1 - Synth backing and vocal harmonies
2 - Ditto. It's the only variant since it lasts two further measures sustaining the chord.
3 - Acoustic guitar solo (Spanish-influenced)
4&5 - Emma sings
6 - Emma and Mel B do parallel octaves
7&8 - All five do the chorus (three-part: fifth and octave)
9 - Mel B sings, during the third and fourth measures Emma joins on fifths
10 - Mel C sings, during third and fourth measures Emma joins on fifths
11 - Emma and Mel B on parallel octaves, Mel C joins at the end
12&13 - Chorus
14&15 - Guitar solo, at the end there are chordal harmonies
16 - Synth-string solo
17 - Victoria Beckam sings, Emma joins on the last two measures
18 - Emma and Mel B on octaves, Mel C joins at the end
19 to 24 - Mel B and Victoria/Geri on octaves and Emma on fifths, Mel C repeating the lines.
25 & 26 - Mel B sings low vocals and Mel C repeats the lines. Fermatta ending.

All in all the song lasts 106 bars, the melody is quite short (12 bars), thus having a factor of 12/106 = 11.32%. Or if we exclude instrumental bars (and the ones having just chordal voices), it'd be 12/80=15%.

I like a lot the Spanish guitar runs, they're beautiful and simple (no chromatic notes). Synth-solo is sort of chord oriented.



Written by Brian May
C Major / Ab Major, 4/4

| Verse | Lift | Chorus |
| Verse | Lift'| Chorus | Bridge |
               | Chorus |
        | Lift"| Chorus...

May had wanted to make a solo record for a long time. 'Back To The Light' (the song) begun its life on March 1988, parallel to Queen's Miracle sessions. He ended up releasing it four years later and scoring his third (and last) top 20 (all of which were consecutive) in a 13-month period (which coincidentially started the week when Freddie passed away).

The song's a very clever single, featuring unusual I > bVI and I > III modulations. As far as I know this is the only song he did with that detail.


| C   G | C     | Em   F | G     |
C:I   V | I     | iii IV | V     |

| Am  G | F C/E | Dm     | G     |
| vi  V | IV I  | ii     | V     |

Nice section using all six diatonics.


|   C   | G   C  |  C    | G   Am  | F#halfdim |
|   I   | V   I  |  I    | V   vi  | bvhalfdim |

Second lift is prolongued by a measure.


| C     | F      | Am     | G   C G |
| I     | IV     | vi     | V   I V |

| C     | F      | Am     | G C F C | G      | -      |
| I     | IV     | vi     | V I IV I| V      | -      |

AA' phrasing, all chords are diatonic. Some choruses are guitar solos.


|  Ab   | Eb     | Ab     | Eb     |
Ab: I   | V      | I      | V      |

| Db    | Ab     | Eb     | -      |
| IV    | I      | V      | -      |

Modulations are done abruptly.


| C     | G   C | C    | G  Am | F    | D/F#  |
| I     | V   I | I    | V  vi | IV   | V-V   |

Overall Comments:

- Chord-oriented melody in some parts
- Eleven chords (two of them non-diatonic)
- Abrupt modulation
- Melody factor: 26/61 = 42.62% (omitting instrumental parts)

6.Bohardy 08 Jun 2006 01:22
Nice work Seb, but I do have to point out that your harmonic analysis is often quite off. Your chords to the Avril Lavigne song for example are almost more wrong than right.

The rest of the analayses are sound though, and although I don't share the same fascination for ultra-commercial pop songs as you seem to do, it's still interesting reading musicological studies of them.
7.Sebastian 08 Jun 2006 03:43
You've got a point about my chord transcriptions. I usually don't have the actual songs (mp3 or CDs) at my office, and when I do I get bored playing along with them so often I rely on my memory, play the melody on the guitar and then get the chords that apparently work better. That's indeed something I need to correct asap in order to have a good overall quality. After all, I feel I'm fairly good at placing functions and all of that, but it'd be nicer if I had accurate chords to begin with :)

Now that you mention Sk8r Boi, I feel the bridge is arguably the worst transcription I've done. I must re-write it. Any other song you think needs radical changes?

I'm not fascinated by ultra-commercial pop tracks. Or perhaps I am, but not only those; I do enjoy some more obscure Spice Girls or Backstreet Boys tracks as well, not only the #1 hits. But I think the classics are better for the general range of Royal Legend visitors (same as I wouldn't post an analysis of Leroy Brown on a Maroon 5 forum).
8.Sebastian 10 Aug 2006 19:58

4/4, Keys C# and G#

| AABC | AABC | AA' | DDEE | DDEE | Fx5 | Gx12     | Hx6 |
                                        | G'G'G'G" |     | I | Jx6 | Kx12 | LL  |
                                                                   | Kx8  | LLLL|
                                                                   | Kx8  | LL  | MM' |
                                                             | Jx8 |

Five chord masterpiece. Simple form in spite of the several sections. The song's more valuable in lyrics and arrangement than actual composition.

9.PD 19 Sep 2006 13:18

This summer I was listening to some Bill Haley tracks. Bill Haley was not only singer but also songwriter. (I guess nowadays it still the minority case.) Bill Haley is generally known by only 2-3 major singles: "Rock Around The Clock", "See You Later Alligator" and "Shake Rattle And Roll". Upon these singles he is considered to have written straightaway 12-bar blues stuff. For some extent it is true that he wrote many simple songs, but closer look reveals some creativity/complexity in his songs.

I just mention two obscured songs:

"Hot Dog Buddy Buddy": reprises the riff of "calling all the comets"
With that chromatic riff (see "Fun It")

"Farewell So Long Goodbye": the Chorus of the song uses bVII chord and a chromatic progression that first sounds like I > bIII > IV > bVI. Something unexpected from a rnr band in the fifties. The harmony transcribed more precisely:

| E B D   C#   C     : tune
| E   G   A    F#    : bass
| E   G   A    F#dim : chords outlined

This is a variant of the more usual "When The Saint Go Marching In" progression. ("I want to be in that number") The song also uses the bVII chord.

Happy Baby:
The most interesting in this song is its form:

  || Chorus | Verse | Verse |
   | Bridge | Verse | Solo (Chorus) | Chorus |
   | Bridge | Verse | Chorus/outro |

For first look it does not looks very unusual, but it is. Except both
Bridges are followed by verses I could not find any other
repeated fragment in this sequence of sections.

10.PD 25 Oct 2006 07:24
I've just hear the theme of "James Bond - Goldfinger" (1964). It's got strange chord progression. Listen to it at
11.Sebastian 27 Aug 2007 18:59


Composer: Andrew Lloyd-Webber
Lyricist: Tim Rice
4/4, 5/4

| Intro | Verse | Verse' |  "Chorus"  |   Break  |

                         |  "Chorus"  | Break x2 |

                                                          | "Chorus"x5 |

        | Verse | Verse" |

Although 'JC Superstar' depicts Judas as the main character, the title role is the most demanding in both singing and acting. This particular song is one of the most famous from the Lloyd-Webber/Rice partnership, and certainly representative of their earlier period. A recurring aspect is the diatonic descending fragment that had been present in previous numbers of the musical (e.g. 'Pilates' Dream', 'Poor Jerusalem').

'Gethsemane' has been performed in different keys by different singers, including Ian Gillan, Ted Neeley, Glenn Carter, Steve Balsamo, Michael Ball and Gary Cherone. This analysis is in Am and then Bm.



| Am  /G | /F  /E | Dm / C | /B  /A |

| G      | C      | E      | Am     |

| F      | Am     | B      | E      | --> 1st and 3rd

| F      | Am     | E      | Am     | --> 2nd

| F      | Am     | E      | F      | E     | Am     | --> 4th

Similarities with the previous song, Last Supper, are the use of progression with descending bass and the alternate verse. Both cases are quite common in all sorts of music: examples of the former range from JS Bach's BWV 1068 to Save Me, and about the latter we may cite Avril's Sk8r Boi and two more of Dr May's: No-One But You and Keep Yourself Alive.

Note the clever way the last verse is expanded.



| Am  | -    | -    | -    |

Very dramatic bit, featuring a key-shift on the third iteration.



| Am  |  G  |  F  |  E  |

The most repeated section in the song, done seven times, sometimes with altered melody and the last ones on 5/4 metre (check out Last Supper and Everything's All Right). Flamenco cadence.


Btw: The only line actually paraphrased from the Scripture is "take this cup away from me" (Mark 14:36 reads "take away this cup from me"), the rest of the lyrics develop the hypothetical plea from Christ to the Lord.

Post was edited on 30 Aug 2007 20:02
12.PD 30 Aug 2007 06:20

By the title I couldnt remember which song is this, but looking at the chord progression I identified it quickly as I used to play it on guitar.
I think I would analyse the song completly in a-minor.

The break: I may be wrong (having not listened the song for this reply), the break stays in 4/4, but uses the 3+3+3+3+2+2 rhythm pattern. There is a 7/8 song in the album, but I can't remember which particualr song is it.

One more aspect that I obesreved a few months ago regarding JCS:

The cathchiness of the album is greatly contributed by album-level reprised themes. There are themes that occur 3-4 times in 3-4 different form.

Post was edited on 30 Aug 2007 06:20
13.Sebastian 30 Aug 2007 20:09

You're right about the 4/4, indeed it's a nice disorienting trick ... the song shifts one step up for "if I die what would be my reward" and maintains that new key until the end (including the 5/4 bit).

Heaven on Their Minds does have 7/8 bridge, so it may be the one you're referring to.

Regarding reprised-themes: I love the clever way the monumental tune (in this case, this one) is "suggested" on previous parts of the musical by having some bits thrown here and there. As I wrote before, there had been two number in the first act foreshadowing either the melody or the progression, which helped the audience to be prepared for the climatic moment when the piece would be performed by the main character (or second-main, in this case, depending on how you interpret the plot). A very similar trick is used for both 'Cats' and 'Evita', while 'Aspects' takes a completely different approach, with (IMO) disastrous results.

Btw, a Queen-related comment: Gethsemane has a climax (with triumphal arrangement), after which returns to the first theme on slow tempo. Exactly the same pattern is seen on Roger Taylor's Foreign Sand.

Post was edited on 30 Aug 2007 20:11
14.PD 31 Aug 2007 06:33

Meanwhile I found out where is the 7/4 bit:

"See my eyes I can hardly see..." - the temple (?)

Regarding the JCS overture: it foreshadows lots of themes off the musical.
Similar album overture can be heard in the "Tommy" (The Who).

15.Sebastian 31 Aug 2007 17:10

For some extent 'Dark Side' uses the same trick.

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