Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Expansive Form in Pink Floyd's "Dogs"

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Expansive Form in Pink Floyd's "Dogs"

Article excerpt

[1] In the climactic moment of Pink Floyd's song "Dogs," the wailing electric guitar of David Gilmour suddenly splits into three distinct voices {13:55-14:06}. One melodic line is no longer sufficient for the vigor of this third and last guitar solo in the song. In three-part harmony, the guitars weep through some of the harshest measures in Gilmour's corpus: a sequence of augmented triads falls from the topmost register of the instrument to the bottom as the tonal fog of a whole-tone scale immerses everything.

[2] This passage was so singular that when forced to record the solo again after it was accidently erased, Gilmour chose to reproduce the very same phrase rather than improvise a new one (Gilmour 2003; MacDonald 1996, 204). Indeed, this passage is a definitive moment in the song's build-up. Gilmour's guitar navigates the energy throughout the song toward this tonal swirl, offering an appropriate climax to one of the highlights of Pink Floyd's music, achievable only after having taken the listener for such a tumultuous ride.

[3] This is not how "Dogs" sounded before the band recorded it as part of the 1977 LP Animals. During the two preceding years, Pink Floyd performed an early version of the song, which was then titled "You Gotta Be Crazy," in numerous concerts. Although the musical themes and form of "You Gotta Be Crazy" stayed almost the same when it became "Dogs," the impression that the two versions make is completely different. Today, listening to concert recordings of "You Gotta Be Crazy" is a mixed experience: the material is interesting, but substantial repetitiveness prevents it from maintaining a sense of variety and direction.

[4] The large-scale song was one of the major innovations of British rock in the 1970s. Several bands experimented with expanding the standard three- to five-minute format of alternating verses and choruses by adding lengthy instrumental solos, introductions, and interludes, resulting in songs that last between seven and ten minutes (e.g., Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," Dire Straits's "Tunnel Of Love," Queen's "The Prophet Song," David Bowie's "The Width of a Circle," Genesis's "Firth of Fifth," and Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Trilogy").(1) A few progressive-rock bands went further and recorded pieces lasting fifteen to twenty-five minutes (and occasionally even longer), which they structured as a long series of short sections that varied greatly in melody, harmony, rhythm, and texture. These sections were frequently joined together in "section groups" to create the impression of complete sub-songs, each consisting of its own verses, choruses, and solos.(2) More often than not, pieces of this length were structured as multi-movement suites that carried individual section titles, creating a hybrid of the song cycle, the nineteenth-century suite, and the symphonic poem (Macan 1997, 41-42). Notable examples include Genesis's "Supper's Ready," ELP's "Karn Evil 9" and "Tarkus," Jethro Tull's "Thick as a Brick" and "Baker Street Muse," Yes's "The Gates of Delirium" and "Close to the Edge," and King Crimson's "Lizard." At the same time, Pink Floyd had their own ideas about how to structure an extended form.

Figure 1. The difference in the variety of the material and its pacing of change between Pink Floyd's song "Dogs" and representative tracks of equivalent length by Yes, ELP, and Jethro Tull. "Close to the Edge" and "Tarkus" are multi-movement suites, whereas "Baker Street Muse" and "Dogs" are single-movement pieces

[5] Pink Floyd, whose style fuses classic-rock vocabulary and progressive elements, recorded in their official catalogue four songs that are longer than fifteen minutes: "Atom Heart Mother" (24 minutes, Atom Heart Mother, 1970), "Echoes" (23 minutes, Meddle, 1971), "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" (26 minutes that are split into two tracks on Wish You Were Here, 1975a), and "Dogs" (17 minutes, Animals, 1977). The last three pieces demonstrate a fundamentally different approach to songs of this length: the band used a small amount of cohesive thematic material, appropriate to a standard-length song, and expanded each of its sections enormously by using heavy repetition and an exceptionally slow harmonic pace. …

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