Ohio Players – The Smell Behind The Funk

Today for my Music Programming Composition class, I was analyzing a classic “Funk” song.  It is called the “Funky Worm” by the Ohio Players. What I found out surprised me. I grew up always feeling the funk, but whenI analyzed the song I saw Music Theory written all over it. The whole harmonic makeup of the song was basically notes based around the tonic chord for the key. The horn line, the bass, and the rhythm guitar. Then the scale used was a natural minor, and I even heard the tendency tones being emphasized for that scale.

I was like wow, the whole song is basically 3 chords and a scale.

Thats when I became awed at how great the song was. Here you have a major cult classic and hit song, that wasn’t complex, and using a complex chord progression. It takes a great musical intelligence to turn something this basic into such a hit. Its like what if the teacher told me “your assignment is to make a hit song only using 3 chords, across 2 keys and limit yourself to mainly the tonic chord tones of that key.”

I copied the following stats from this website – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ohio_Players

“The band’s first big hit single was “Funky Worm“, which reached #1 on the Billboard R&B chart and made the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1973. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in May of that year.[1] The band signed with Mercury Records in 1974.”

[youtube]NEscJWErZ0I[/youtube]

This is my “Song Form” analysis:

Song Title: Funky Worm by The Ohio Players.

URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=NEscJWErZ0I

Key: A minor

Meter: 4/4

Form Label: Something Else…

Sections:

0:00 – 0:24

Intro: A minor (Natural Minor)

This song starts with a Drum role that leads the bass line in. The bass plays a disjunct Am7 chord, Funk Style, Arpeggio. The Horn Sections plays a riff that gives off the minor scale sound. They play from the tonic, ’A‘ down to F, E, F, E, D, E. This sounds minor because the 6th degree of a minor scale has a tendency to want to resolve downward to a 5th.

“Granny” who is the “Funky Worms Manager” narrates. To introduce the next section, Granny calls for the signers to sing, then a Drum Roll is played.

——

0:24 – 0:45

Verse 1: Key of G minor (Natural Minor)

You hear male vocals, followed by Granny voice narrating again.

The Bass Line changes to a repeating i-V cadence. It emphasizes G minor Chord notes from the 1st beat and a D tonic on beat 3 of every measure.  The Horn Section and the Rhythm guitar provide harmonic Support. The Horns plays a G minor Chord 1st inversion. The Rhythm Guitar plays a G minor Arpeggio, and then strums a D major chord in rhythm with the Bass.

Granny cues the next section by saying “He only comes out of his hole when he wants to get down, and when he comes out, it sounds something like this”. Then another Drum Roll plays to introduce the next section.

—–

0:46 – 1:08

Solo 1: Key change back to A minor (Natural Minor)

A Moog Synth Solo sets this section apart. The patched sound of the moog establishes itself as the classic “Worm Sound”. The melody brings out the “minor” sound by stepping down the  “A-minor Scale” and highlighting minor tendency tones. It repeats the ‘6 to 5’ resolution and trills the ‘3 to 2’ resolution as it slides through its wormy melody.  The Bass line Repeats Same Am7 Chord pattern and harmonic support is provided by the Rhythm Guitar playing an “A minor chord”. The Horn Section is silent.

Granny shouts out “Come on wit it again fellas, come on wit it!” then a Drum Roll plays to introduce the next section.

—————

1:08 – 1:30

Verse 2: Key change back to G minor (Natural Minor)

You hear male vocals again, different lyrics. The bass changes back to the same G minor pattern. But now the Horns come in and add strong harmonic support by playing G minor chords and riffs.

Granny claims “When he grabs his guitar and starts to pluck, everybody wants to get up and dance!” then a Horn Riff and a drum roll introduce the next section.

—————–

1:30 – 1:53

Solo 2: Key change back to A Minor (Natural).

The sound of the Moog synth changes. It is patched with a bubbly guitar sound.

The Horns remain silent. The Rhythm Guitar provides Harmonic support by playing an ‘A’ Chord. The bass changes back to the same ‘A’ minor pattern

A small drum roll introduces the next section. This is a subtle change.

——

1:53 – 2:15

Solo 3: Key change back to G Minor (Natural).

Granny’s voice is heard telling the worm “Don’t stop now honey, Get Down!”

The Moog has the same bubbly guitar patch, but it plays a new Solo.

The bass changes back to the same ‘G’ minor pattern.

Granny says, “That’s enough, get out of here”, then a longer Drum Roll is played to introduce the last section.

2:15 – 2:38

Outro: Key Change back to A minor (Natural).

The moog Instrument changes back to “Worm” patch and plays a different solo. This time there is no horn section. Only the Rhythm Guitar provides Harmonic Support. The bass plays the same A minor pattern again. Granny asks “Do we get paid for this?” Then the songs end with a synchronized cadence.

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