Popular Songs in Varied Tonalities

“DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love” by UsherAeolian
“Wayfaring Stranger” by Jack BlackAeolian
“Somebody That I Used to Know” by GotyeAeolian
“Counting Stars” by OneRepublicAeolian
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by NirvanaAeolian
“Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” by Green DayDorian
“Thriller” by Michael JacksonDorian
“Mad World” by Tears for Fears/Gary JulesDorian
“Telephone” by Lady GagaDorian
“The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)” by YlvisDorian
“White Wedding” by Billy IdolDorian
“Can’t Stop” by Maroon 5Dorian
“Oye Como Va” by SantanaDorian
“Radioactive” by ImagineDragonsDorian
“Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee GeesDorian
“Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan LewisDorian
“Yorktown” (Hamilton) by Lin-Manuel MirandaDorian (with a touch of minor)
“Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” by Stevie WonderMixolydian
“Don’t You Evah” by SpoonMixolydian
“Sisters” by Bobby McFerrinMixolydian
“Lady ’95” by StyxMixolydian
“Porcelain” by MobyMixolydian
“Only In My Dreams” by Debbie GibsonMixolydian
“Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N RosesMixolydian
“No Rain” by Blind MelonMixolydian
“Molly Bán” by the Chieftains & Alison KraussMixolydian
“Express Yourself” by MadonnaMixolydian
“Born This Way” by Lady GagaMixolydian
“Royals” by LordeMixolydian
“Gin and Juice” by Snoop DoggPhrygian
“Cinq Mélodies Populaires Grecques: No. 2. Là-bas, Vers L’église” by RavelPhrygian
“Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-LotPhrygian
“Mashallah” by Shreya Ghoshal, Sajid–WajidPhrygian
“Run It!” by Chris BrownPhrygian
“Peer Gynt, Op. 23: No. 8, Dance of the Mountain King’s Daughter” by GriegLydian
“Dust to Dust” by John KirkpatrickLocrian

Multitonal Songs

According to Gordon, multitonal music is made up of tonal patterns that seem to suggest more than one tonality at different points in time. Here are some examples of songs that I audiate as multitonal:

“Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran DuranMultitonal (Mixolydian/Major)
“Breathe (2 AM)” by Anna NalickMultitonal (Mixolydian/Major)
“Material Girl” by MadonnaMultitonal (Mixolydian/Major)
“Alice’s Theme” by Danny ElfmanMultitonal (Dorian/Minor)
“You Oughta Know” by Alanis MorissetteMultitonal (Dorian/Mixolydian)
“Love Shack” by the B-52sMultitonal (Mixolydian/Dorian)
“Six Feet Under Title Theme” by Thomas Newman*Multitonal (Lydian/Mixolydian)
“The Simpsons Theme Song” by Danny Elfman*Multitonal (Lydian/Mixolydian)
“Another Place to Fall” by KT TunstallMultitonal (Phrygian/Minor)
“Hot in Herre” by NellyMultitonal (Phrygian/Dorian)
“Eleanor Rigby” by the BeatlesMultitonal (Dorian/Aeolian)
“Billie Jean” by Michael JacksonMultitonal (Dorian/Aeolian)
“Fly Like an Eagle” by Steve Miller BandMultitonal (Dorian/Aeolian)

*Note: Some might label these as “polytonal” because multiple simultaneously sounding parts are in multiple tonalities.

Songs with Subjective Tonality

According to Gordon, songs that have objective tonality are those for which the tonality can generally and easily be agreed upon by many persons. However, songs with subjective tonality are not so unanimously agreed upon and tend to be audiated differently by different people. Here are some examples that I feel have subjective tonality, based on my experiences disagreeing with other people. 🙂 How do you audiate them?

I’ve heard others say they audiate this in B Dorian or F-sharp Aeolian. I could possibly be swayed to hear the verse that way but definitely not the refrain. I audiate the bridge and refrain as A Major with a ii-IV-vi-V progression that never resolves to I!
I tend to audiate this song as being in E-flat Lydian because of the rhythmic ostinato on E-flat and the descending A-G pattern, which gives it a distinct Lydian “flavor” to me. However, others may audiate it in A Locrian. Depending on the speakers it’s played on, I can be convinced to hear it that way, too!
BTS ain’t got nuthin’ on NKOTB circa 1988!
Is this in Lydian or Mixolydian? Depends on whether you audiate the A-flat and B-flat chords as I-II in Lydian or VII-I in Mixolydian! (Personally, I hear it as the latter.)

(Return to preceding page)

I would love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to add them in the comments…

One thought on “Popular Songs in Varied Tonalities

Leave a Reply