now here’s a little story that must be told of how you can’t be my girl (the chords) got written. i wrote it last month in response to a text from my friend vin (caged animals).
deezy. when you were writing you can’t be my girl. were you thinking of it as a shift from d major to c major between chorus and verse? or were you viewing the verse as d dorian, i’m curious to know the logic you had in mind.
now, my native language is roman numerals. that is what i’ve trained my ears to hear, so in my discussions i always have to translate that knowlege into musical letters (haha that’s not what they’re called) like C, D, E, F, G. since i went to the trouble of digging the truth out for vin, i thought i’d share it for any songwriters and/or nerds out there.
my email to vin:
i love this question! so the answer is that the chorus is in A mixolydian. a ha. and the verse i would say goes into C major but because it starts with that V ii cadence (G major to D minor), it is essentially the D dorian sound first, followed by a quick dip into A aeolian (F major to A minor) before finally arriving at the I chord (C major) and articulating the ionian sound. to answer the question of how i thought of it, i was like, damn, mixolydian is hard to break out of and for all of the four chords that i use in the chorus, i never feel like i’m escaping that fundamental mixolydian sound. so i wanted to break out of it. so i chose that D minor chord, yes, thinking “i’ll go to D dorian for the verse.” but it changed later. looking back over my voice notes, D dorian would have been my 3rd idea for the verse by that point. i started with the chorus rhythm guitar part and from there my first idea was to go to A ionian via B minor as a ii chord, oscillating between B minor and A major (ii – I). this didn’t feel different enough since i think the notes in that B minor chord are also in the mixolydian scale, so that failed. idea #2 was to break out of the chorus progression and go straight from the G major to F major, and then play with the resulting IV – V feel between F and G. which i noticed had a nice way of launching back into A mixolydian as the old bVI – bVII – I cadence (F, G, A). very unambiguous and dramatic, harmonically speaking. i ended up keeping this part as the end of the verse. while exploring the F – G / IV – V idea, i threw in a few D minors. from there i quickly came up with the idea of going straight to that D minor from the G at the end of the chorus progression. at that point, i wrote the lyrics and added them to the two-chord D dorian vamp in search of the melody. the other chords in the verse came from realizing how stagnant the D dorian vibe felt after one or two go-rounds with rough melody. so i tried putting the F chord back in after a few D min / Gs. but i still didn’t have the melody. at this point i quit for a while and switched gears and came up with the D ionian bridge progression and melody (“sweeet but you’re messed up” which is basically bill murray’s line from Rushmore in the elevator scene haha, i stole it.) then when i returned to work on the verse progression i hit on the A minor as a good chord to use in ending the melody of the first couplet of the verse. from there i hit on the C major, while guessing at a solution to the melody. so the C major was the very last chord idea i came up with. but of course it worked well leading up to the F – G / IV – V thing. which led back to the chorus in a way i liked. yay!
so the first thing that came to me was the chorus rhythm guitar part and the words to the chorus, and the timing of those words. i think next i went and wrote the lyrics to the whole song. then i did all the trial and error outlined in the last paragraph in search of the chords and melody for the verse and bridge. k? got it? shout out to posterity.