Originally published March 10, 2010

In this new series I get to ply some of my “learning” (as the old folks would say) from music school. Now I promise not to get too nerdy, that’s really not that point. There’s always someone who knows more and there’s always someone who wants to get into a debate as to whether something is a flat 5th or a sharp 4th. This Inside The Song of “You Give Good Love” won’t be one of those posts.

“You Give Good Love” is from Whitney Houston’s debut album Whitney Houston which was released in 1985(has it really been that long?). Written by LaForrest “La La” Cope the song served as an introduction of Whitney to many who may have not seen her television debut on the Merv Griffin show in ’83, or numerous other appearances on television and record leading up to her debut album. What an introduction it is…

Structure

“You Give Good Love” is comprised of 3 main sections, although sometimes I would argue 4 depending upon how you look at it. So what we have as our main sections are: verse, chorus and bridge. Now the reason that I sometimes argue that there are 4 sections is because of how the verses are constructed. Typically(not always) verses are constructed in 8 or 12 or sometimes 16 measure sections. This song is interesting in that you could either look at it as the verse being one 14 measure section or you could look at it as one 7 measure verse and a 7 measure pre-chorus(your setup for the chorus). I tend to lean towards this mode of thinking because of something that specifically happens before each pre-chorus.

The Magic

All great songwriters have a bag of tricks that they can pull from. Whether it be a turn of a phrase, something rhythmically or harmonically interesting, the great ones know when and how to weave their spell. When I was a younger lad and I first saw the video to the song I knew there was something different going on but I couldn’t really put my finger on it then. I just knew or felt something sounded different. While reading the bio of La La Cope something occurred to me. But first let me back up for a minute. When you read the writer’s credit for the song it says “Words and Music LaForrest Cope”. Ok that speaks volumes right there. In reading Ms. Cope’s bio it mentions she gave a concert at Carnegie Hall at 8. So right there we can glean that she is someone’s pianist. What does that mean?

Well for starters it means that she is going to approach the construction of the song like a pianist. Just like a guitarist, or a vocalist, or a horn player, percussionist on down the line. What is blatantly obvious in the construction of this song is the amount of time “La La” spent playing and studying classical music. That’s what the magic means to me: The ability to take two disparate forms of music and combine them but in a subtle way that you would only catch it if you’re really tuned into what the writer is doing.

This is something that I would love for all the aspiring writers out there to take away from all this. Listen to and study all kinds of music, not just the music that you are into. You will be very surprised at how the music you surround yourself with will creep into your own creations. Just make sure it’s good music.

Back to the song…

The most ingenious device that “La La” Cope utilizes in this song is her use of modulation(moving from one key to another). Western Harmony, which most of the music we listen to is based on, is centered around 12 keys. “You Give Good Love” Utilizes three major keys. Let me pause right there for a moment. In a few instances these days folks struggle to stay in one key. Now, I’m not saying for everyone to go out and write songs that modulate all over the place, I just wanted to state that the use of modulation is one of the appealing aspects of this song.

The other thing about the use of modulation in this piece is it not your typical Sunday morning I’m going to go up a half-step after the the third verse. The movement is a little more calculated than that. The song begins in the key of E Major by the time we are ready for the first pre-chorus we are modulating to G Major. By the time we finish the first chorus and the second verse we have modulated yet again to the key of Bb Major. All these keys are related, but that would most of the time be something that you would know from studying the relationships. Do some folks arrive at these same conclusions without studying? Sure some do. But often when you can not only do the trick but explain the alchemy behind it, you are in an entirely different category of wizardry.

The other point to keep in mind is that this is a “Big Song” in the sense that the melody line requires a certain amount of vocal range: an entire octave and a fourth to be exact. In the pop music world that’s big, because often songs are written within a very limited range. This song also requires that the vocalist have a great sensibility regarding pitch. Now if you really want to test someone’s skill give them the first pitch of the song, let them sing acapella and then check what key they are in each time the song modulates. What’s required to make the modulation happen is to sing the interval of a minor 6th. That’s a pretty big jump and so you have to be very secure in your pre-hearing ability to make that happen.

Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em

Another trend that I’ve seen over the last decade and a half is this notion of finding a beat and just locking that beat in for the entire song. That does work in some instances, but, it is also refreshing to have some variation. Now I know I’m getting a little bit into the arrangement area here but I believe that it is worth noting in this instance. What’s used in this song that is such a great setup for the chorus is what is called a “Two Feel” or almost a “1/2 time” feel. What I mean by that is that the song is in 4/4 time(4 beats to a measure) but instead of playing on all 4 beats you play and sustain on 2 of those beats. So it gives the impression or illusion that the verse is somewhat slower but it’s not the entire song is at 76 beats per minute in this case. So by the time you reach the chorus and the rhythm in the bass and the drums picks up it feels like we’ve entered a new section. If you take two bars of rhythm and loop them ad-infinitum eventually it’s going to get boring.

Conclusion

My impetus for putting this together is to begin a discussion on what are the elements of a “classic” song. My hope is to discuss songs from numerous decades and today. I really try not to have a narrow definition of the word “classic” and what I’m really focusing in on is structure. I’m hoping that someone will be able to take something from the discussion today and apply it to their creativity. I would love to hear from you.

Postlude

Over the past few months it has truly been an honor and an esteemed pleasure to get to know the man who produced this outstanding musical debut, none other than six-time grammy nominated artist, songwriter, producer, educator and filmmaker Kashif!

We at Grown Folks understand the importance and cultural significance of what Kashif is doing with his latest project, the monumental docu-series The History of R&B Music! There are few weeks left to support the Indiegogo crowd funding campaign and you can pledge your support here.

We would be remiss if we did not share the story behind how this production came to be so we are pleased to hear from Kashif himself below.

One other aspect that we would be remiss if we were not to point out that there is an incredible amount of magic happening in this production so it’s no wonder that it served as a fitting introduction to a once in a lifetime singer. I invite you to listen to this track and witness how Kashif masterfully unfolds the drama. The lead vocal is front and center, in fact incredibly intimate in the verses and the airy and warm backing vocals provide vibrant support during the choruses and bridge.

Check out the interplay between the instruments and the use of harmonics by the bass to lead into the middle 8 section where the key changes. It all works and there are so many lessons to be learned from this song alone.

As we celebrate the music and the memory today, tell a friend or two thousand about the great work that Kashif is continuing to do and how it is important to understand we all have that break, that push that puts us on the road to success.

Ivan Orr is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, performer, and writer. A native of Charlottesville, Virginia Ivan was involved with the forming and nascent days of The Music Resource Center as its first Program Director. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Music, Ivan currently resides in Richmond, VA where he maintains an active performance and production schedule while serving as the Music Editor for Grown Folks Music, a position he has held since 2010.