The other day I was chatting on Twitter with @h_matthews when she pondered: “blissed and melancholy all at once. How does it happen?” when trying to figure out the chords to this song. So I offered to try and see if I can help figure it out. Thanks, Heather, for the idea! This is indeed a great song but I hadn’t gotten to know it yet, until now.
So the song is made up of three chord progressions. The first:
Am D/F# F Am C D
Am D/F# F C Esus4 E
That one starts out on the intro and comes back multiple times. The interesting chord is D/F# — which is a D with F# as the lowest note. Compared to a regular D, having the F# at the bottom makes the chord feel more ambiguous and unsettling. The bass note then resolve to F, which is only half a step away, but that F in the context of key of Am is an anguished sound, too, so those two chords together create that tension in this song, the sense of frustration and yearning.
The next section, the “verse” part, goes like this:
The F to C repetition here is probably what you may describe as “blissful.” It’s a IV-I relationship in the key of C, coming down from IV to I has a very comforting effect. But Esus4 to E cadence brings you back into the world of A minor, where the melancholy lives.
The final chord progression is a simple repetition between F and G. While simple, the effect of this section is again that of feeling unresolved — because it’s literally so. In the key of A minor, F and G has a strong impulse to resolve to Am, but by going back and forth between these two you just sustain that state of waiting for resolution. The sense of arrival when the song finally goes back to Am (then on to the first chord progression) is dramatic and somewhat tragic.
Toad is a master songwriter and really understands the art of Impactful Songwriting — with these chord progressions they perfectly capture and support the emotions expressed in the lyrics, which is of someone who is burdened and longing for a relief. The song deviates from the traditional verse-chorus pattern, which perhaps reinforces the notion of unpredictability of life, building up to an emotional outburst of sorts. Not exactly a happy ending to an album that started out with an uncharacteristically cheery tune, but that makes it all the more poignant. I’d say their first album in over a decade is about as good a return to form as a fan can hope for.