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Old 11-14-2019, 01:26 PM
WoodenBoxThing WoodenBoxThing is offline
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Default "High Time" - Grateful Dead (from the Workingman's Dead album)

Can any music theory buffs provide some insight on the chord structure of this song, especially in the verses? The structure seems harmonically complex and unusual, yet the chords fit together and flow beautifully.

For the chords I'm using the tab in the old "Grateful Dead" songbook from Ice Nine Publishing Company (the book with the cover illustration of a jester holding a lute).
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Old 11-14-2019, 02:43 PM
GGNJ GGNJ is offline
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Check out rukind.com
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Old 11-15-2019, 10:47 AM
JonPR JonPR is offline
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I actually disagree about how well the chords flow. I find the sequence sounds a bit disjointed, with some changes sounding arbitrary. But I think that's mainly the harmonic rhythm (rate and pattern of chord changes) which is definitely lop-sided.

The interesting thing is that verse and chorus both come in at 16 bars (of 3/4) each, but it doesn't sound like the usual 4 lines of 4 bars, because the changes are offset by one bar. I.e., if you take those 16 bars and split them 4x4, it looks like this:

Verse
|D - - |C#m - - | - - |G# - - |
|G# - - |F# - - | - - - |A - - |
|A - - |E - - | - - - |D - - |
|D - - |A - - | - - - | - - - |

Chorus
|B - - |E - - | - - - |A - - |
|A - - |E - - |D - - |A - - |
|A - - |E - - | - - - |G - - |
|G - - |A - - | - - - |- (break)|

So the chords hang on from one line to the next, and then change in odd places.

But make that opening bar (of both sections) a pick-up bar, and it makes a whole lot more sense:

Verse
|D - - |
|C#m - - | - - |G# - - |G# - - |
|F# - - | - - - |A - - |A - - |
|E - - | - - - |D - - |D - - |
|A - - | - - - | - - - ||

Chorus
||B - - |
|E - - | - - - |A - - |A - - |
|E - - |D - - |A - - |A - - |
|E - - | - - - |G - - |G - - |
|A - - | - - - |- (break) |(D - - |)

So, the key is A major, although it takes a while to become clear. The chords function as follows:

D = IV

C#m = iii

G# = V/iii, i.e., secondary dominant of C#m. Normally this chord would precede the C#m, because that's the whole point of the chromatic major 3rd (B#), to lead up to C#. Then again, it's quite common rock to find V chords following I instead of leading to them.

F# = V/ii, another secondary dominant, this time of the ii chord, Bm. Except it doesn't go to Bm. There is no Bm! (This is one of the reasons I find the sequence clunky. Not "wrong", just takes a while to get used to.)

A = I

E = V

B = V/V, secondary dominant of the V chord. This one does resolve as expected, to E; and (even more expected) goes on to A.
The second line of the chorus is then like the last line of an A blues.

G = bVII, borrowed from A mixolydian or A minor. bVII chords are standard in rock, although it feels a little unusual in this context. It adds "darkness", contrasting with the "brightness" of all those secondary dominants. But the move from E to G does echo the move from F# to A in the verse.
The other effect of the G chord is to make the end of the chorus (G - A) sound a little like IV-V in D major, which kind of sets up the following D as a potential new tonic. Except it isn't because it drop to C#m straight away.
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