October 7, 2019 Musicology No Comments

Lil Nas X has like a zillion dollars worth of lawsuits coming at him. And one of them has a point, but it ain’t this one. Two songs can sound a ton alike and not be a case of infringement. This in my opinion is such a case. Give me another two and half minutes.

No question, “Rodeo” sounds a lot like “Broad Day.” I get it. And if you’ve never heard them before, you’ll get it too, probably need only the first 20 seconds of each. Here, listen to both.

They sound a lot the same, sure. But here’s “how” they sound the same. They sound the same because over and over and over they’re both playing the same three guitar chords and in the same scalar order. These songs both go from E to F to G and back down to F and then back to E; all major chords; E major, F major, G major. That’s what it is.

It’s got a certain sound, right? It’s got a recognizable character. It’s a thing, a device, all by itself. It’s familiar enough that it evokes something in the listener. It’s the kind of thing you find humorously employed in a Quentin Tarantino film about badass mariachis or something. Or like…

And that thing in music has a name. It’s called phrygian mode. It sounds like surf music thanks to Dick Dale and Pulp Fiction and before that lots of other associations. It also sounds like Spanish music; as in Maleguena. Check out Roy Clark. You’re welcome.

Or La Fiesta by Chick Corea?

(Those guys are good, eh?) If you blew the rest of my three minutes listening to them all the way through, I don’t blame you.

La Fiesta popped in my head instantly when I saw what this suit was. It happened to be one of the pieces that taught me to play this style of music as a teenager. It contains exactly the same chord progression as Rodeo and Broad Day, same rhythm, four bars that would look the same on a lead sheet. It’s the same.

So, three minutes later, do you get it? It’s a musical cliche. If I were asked to compose a piece for something titled “Super Duper Bad Hombrés,” E-F-G-F-E is one of the first places I’d explore. Probably THE first. But until I add a melody and lyric that goes, “Oh here we go, please let me know; Off we go, don’t leave me in the cold,” I would not expect to hear a peep from Lil Nas X about it.

It’s just an arpeggiated “I – II – III – II – I” progression in Phrygian mode. “Building block” as can be.

You can leave all five of those videos playing at the same time, btw, adjust the volumes a bit and they’ll glue together pretty well!

Written by Brian McBrearty