Your Song – those chords

Your Song. Elton John. Beautiful.  Originally released in 1970, there’s now a cover version being hammered on UK tv for a John Lewis ad, performed by Ellie Goulding.  It’s different, and for anyone who finds the Elton John original appealing, it’s probably annoying.

Ellie Goulding has adapted the shape of the verse melody to fit a new chord sequence (aka, messed up the chord sequence).

This Noteflight page show’s the 2 chord sequences; EJ’s chords followed by EG’s chords, each transposed to C major to make comparison easier.

So what has changed?

EJ’s verse chords evolve, with chromatic movement (Am/F#), a passing modulation (E7 – Am) some 7ths and inversions (G/B).  Hardly a chord is repeated in the sequence.
EG’s verse loops 4 chords, 3 times.  The original harmony is sterilised.
The chorus chord sequences are more similar; less cleansing.
Why do a cover and not respect the text?
Every musical device suggests character and rich chord movement doesn’t (currently) sit with typical pop.  It’s maybe an explanation, not an excuse.

Is a chord sequence part of a song’s identity?
The fundamental elements of a song that establish it’s character are lyrics, melodies and chords.  But typically, the chord sequence is not copyright, though for many songs the chord sequence is a defining part of its identity, containing implied melodies in itself.

Which version do you prefer?

And by re-writing the verse chord sequence (and melody) should EG get a co-write and the associated royalty share?

5 responses to “Your Song – those chords

  1. Great analysis. I agree when you suggest that rich chord movements are not fashionable in popular music currently.

    Suggests to me a change of instrument – was the Goulding version arranged on guitar? it reads like it.

  2. It’s one of my favourite songs and as soon as I heard the EG version I knew something was wrong. The new chords have completely destroyed the descending bass line in the opening four bars – C (F), B (E), A, G, F#, F.

    Chords are part of a song’s identity, of course, but I suppose for clarity in law it has to be the melody that defines a work.

    There’s no basis for a composers share here (I doubt that EG would claim one anyway). It’s an arrangement and as such can’t be copyrighted for publishing royalties and so on.

    Definitely prefer the original.

  3. Music copyright cases are fascinating! I’ve tried to find more case histories but I’ve not discovered a comprehensive resource yet. To only define (in law) the lyrics and melody as the the copyright elements seems ludicrous. There are many features in a piece of music that contribute to its character and the ‘pecking order’ of these will vary to the extent that harmonic progressions could be more important than even melody and lyrics.

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  5. I don’t think it was an interpretation of the original. I think an inept musician “figured out” the chords from the original, and no one involved with the project knew the difference.
    And no, no royalties should be forwarded to the remake artist, but perhaps a summons to court, should they try to call it an original work.
    Hacks abound.

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