Recently I was teaching The Smiths’ song “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” to a student. He was bewildered by the actual richness and variety of Marr’s playing. And while playing the last to chords of the songs, my student marveled : “it sound so cool, never heard chords like that !!!”.
Well it does sound great, and those 7sus4 voicings are more common in jazz. But they are also used in one hell of an interstellar hit : “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie.
Johnny Marr has always claimed to be influenced by Nile Rodgers (CHIC) who produced and co-wrote “Let’s Dance”, (he even named his son Nile… Nile Marr, yes). Do you believe in coincidences ?
As the lesson was over, I went online to find a quick “Let’s Dance” tutorial to reference my student to… And I ended very disappointed as all the videos I found on line (true, I didn’t spent 3h research, but the top 5-6) are all wrong! They all miss just ONE note, but that annoyed me a bit… =-)
So here are the ACTUAL 4 voicings from “Let’s Dance”. Most videos got number 1, 3 and 4. But number 2 …
Nile Rodgers is a great musician, who happens to play guitar. His guitar style is not very flashy, but actually very subtle. If you want to know what rhythm guitar should sound like in funk-soul, you gotta to check him out. Rodgers says that he learned chord voicing from jazz books, and that he usually play mainly on 3-4 strings (no bar chords, good news) but changes voicing more often than what most guitarists would. In a way, I see that as a kind of the funk version of Freddie Green.
His guitar part on “Let’s Dance” is very very simple : 3 stabs on each chords, that’s it, the delay was programed by the producer afterwards. Less is more as they say.
Let’s analyze those voicings :
The key is Bb minor, so we are tempted to call the first chord Bbm11, but the voicing doesn’t have the 3rd, so it’s a voicing you can use in any 7sus4 situation.
The second chord is a Bbm6 (and not m7), with the G natural. The voicing is interesting because it has both wide interval (Bb-F – perfect 5th), small interval (F-G – major 2nd) and a Tritone (G-Db).
The third chord is a classic Ebm7.
And finaly a Bbm7.
The G natural creates a nice chromatic inner line Ab G Gb on the three first chords, and it’s a small subtle color. That is the sort of things that makes Nile Rodgers stands out from your normal disco-funk guitarist.
When you replace the min6 by a min7 chord, you even out the whole thing: it sounds armless and less funky really. You take out the jazz out the equation. And neither Nile Rodgers nor David Bowie -a jazzfan- would want that.
Notice that the sax solos on this song are very ‘free jazz’, and create a nice contrast to the great blues solo that Stevie Ray Vaughan delivers.
And that’s all for today’s rant ! Thanx for reading, sharing, listening.