This is one of those occasions in which the initial song came to me very quickly. Within a couple of hours, I’d written the verses and choruses. Like most effective melodies, it’s simple. But there is a feature in the chord-melody combination that sets it apart.
A twist in the chord progression
One of the things that made it different was altering where the chords changed in the pattern. Normally, you might have the first chord play for a couple of bars, then have the second chord play for a couple of bars. Afterwards you can keep repeating. So the pattern would look like:
Chord 1 / Chord 1 / Chord 2 / Chord 2 /
What I did was simply to alter where the chords changed. So:
Chord 1 / Chord 2 / Chord 2 / Chord 1 /
In fact, both the verse and the chorus work this way. The only difference is that in the verse, the process happens twice as quickly. Same chord progression; different feel. Once I had established that, the melody and lyrics flowed pretty quickly.
Slogging through the arrangement process
Where the song got bogged down was in the arrangement of instrumentation. For the challenges I faced, see a previous article, “Writing and arranging a Latin-rock song for guitar.”
It took a while to figure out, as this was one of my first forays into adapting the Latin flavor to a rock band. For this song, the keyword player and I switched roles between the verses and choruses.
In the verses, the keyboard player used a trumpet patch to cover the “horn stabs” in between the vocal lines. The guitar plays a simple “Montuno” pattern; incorporated into that pattern the guitar also adds complementary notes to the horn stabs played by the keyboardist, helping to thicken up the “horn section.”
For the chorus, the keyboard player switches to a sprightly piano Montuno, while the guitar offers a syncopated, 2-note chordal pattern with a clave-based rhythm.
Finally, in the post chorus riff section, the guitar plays a simple horn-like line. I utilized doubled bent notes for a fatter sound. And, the vocalist sings the line to make it sound even more like a horn part.
Bridge, solo, and breakdown
Up to this point, only two chords have appeared in the song. After the second chorus, the song introduces the third chord for the first time: the sub-dominant (minor iv chord) of the key. Vocal harmonies carry the simple melody.
This segues into the guitar solo, which occurs over the same progression.
Finally, the song ends on an extended breakdown, which begins with the piano on its own playing the Montuno, gradually adds in the other instruments, and ends in a crescendo on the chorus.
As he was recording the percussion parts, the eminently talented Jimmy Branly alerted me to the fact that we “switched the clave” between the verses and choruses. What this means is that we go from a 2-3 clave to a 3-2 clave between parts — something not normally done.
In our naivete, we weren’t even aware we were doing it. Just another example of serendipity in song arranging!