Minor dominants

Typical pop and folk songs in the major mode use major chords for the tonic (T), subdominant (S), and dominant (D). Hence, Loui Loui: TTT-SS-DDD-SS-… etc. Minor chords are used for the relative minors. Nevertheless, some pop songs employ a minor dominant, with dramatic effects.

  • Someone’s gonna break your heart, by Fountains of Wayne. Dramatic T-mD-S riff. A-Em-D to be precise (I use bold type for actual notes). (Could be D2, actually.)
  • Looking for Lewis and Clark, by The Long Ryders. This a very mixolydian song, with a strong presence of the subtonic (ST). It goes T-ST-mD. In fact, A-G-Em. Perhaps this is all there is to it: a minor dominant contains the subtonic note (the G note  in this song).
  • Barstool Blues, by Neil Young. Actually, it sounds like T-mD-S when the voice comes in, but it is not, the actual tonic is “D”. In particular, the chords are A-Em-D twice, but then resolves to D, and it’s clear D is the tonic.
  • From Mr. Young: Cinnamon girl. This song also features a minor subdominant in its weird bridge. It is also a candidate for the upcoming list of great one-note solos.
  • The great 60s band The Remains in Why Do I Cry (btw, this video is live from just a month ago!  Good to see these fellas are still rocking.) This is a bit different: a song in the minor mode, with a mT-S-mD. It is the S which is major, and it sounds great. (Major D in a minor mode is really standard.)

This contrasts with the explanation I got some time ago about the necessity of having a strong dominant that should be major, even in minor songs, this leading to the harmonic minor scale (that contains a leading-tone instead of a subtonic).

See also: leading tone and subtonic tone in wikipedia. The leading tone is called “sensible” (sensitive) in Spanish.

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