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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"Clocks" - Coldplay Song Analysis

Reader Liz Lib asked for a song analysis of a favorite song of mine. One of the most successful songs of Coldplay's career, "Clocks" won a Grammy for Song of the Year in 2004 and has been used in commercials, movies and numerous samples since. The song is from the band's second album entitled A Rush Of Blood To The Head that went on to sell more than 13 million units worldwide.

As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song itself, the arrangement, the sound and the performance.

The Song
Here's another song that has a pretty standard form that's very cleverly crafted into something a lot more interesting. The form looks like this:

Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Chorus, Bridge, Interlude, Chorus, Outro

The melody of the verse is very catchy and memorable, although the chorus isn't, unlike most hit songs. But as in most hit songs there is a great hook, and it's the piano part on the intro and choruses.

The Arrangement
If you were to look at the form of "Clocks" on paper you'd think there was nothing special, but as in all popular songs, the arrangement cleverly takes it to a new place. The song develops nicely, with the piano hook re-entering on the first chorus along with an additional synth pad, and harmony vocals on the second verses and chorus. Right after the 2nd chorus, the piano figure moves up a third so it sounds different and the song develops even more. The peak of the song is the bridge, which then breaks back down into an empty piano intro.

Here's a look at the arrangement elements:

   * The Foundation - Unlike most songs, only the bass and the kick carry the foundation (which is the pulse of the song) as the rest of the drums play the piano figure.

  * The Pad - There are two synth pads that are very obvious. The first one enters with the piano in the intro and plays throughout the song. The second enters only on the choruses.

  * The Rhythm - Once again, unlike most songs, the drums play the rhythm element in "Clocks" because they mainly add movement and push the song along.

  * The Lead - In the intro and chorus, it's the piano. In the verses, it's the vocal, which is almost secondary in the chorus.

  * The Fills - On the bridge and the outchorus you hear some subtle guitar lines that fill in the holes.

Once again, the song seems simple on a quick listen, but there's a lot going on beneath the surface.

The Sound
Although the sound is big, the bass doesn't translate well on small speakers and the kick drum is fairly buried in the mix (and the rest of the drums are a little on the low side). The reverbs have some nice long decays that wash over the pads well and the vocal reverb has a short pre-delay that's timed to the track. I'm not sure if the guitar is buried in the mix or it's muted but you don't really hear it until the bridge and then again on the outro.

The vocal sounds really nice. It's very natural and present without being too compressed.

The Performance
Chris Martin sells the vocal very well, but for me, Gerry Berryman's bass is what's cool in the song. He takes a possibly boring 8th note pedal part, plays it dynamically, and takes it to some unexpected places to keep things interesting.

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bennettk said...

I respect the analysis, but then you link to a 240p youtube video? You can hardly hear anything in that!

Bobby Owsinski said...

240P is the video resolution and has nothing to do with the audio.

Audio is never great on any YouTube video but this one is perfectly acceptable.

plurgid said...

What got my attention the first time I heard this on the radio was: "holy crap! a song on the radio that's not 4/4 or 6/8".

That's the most interesting thing about this, the way they used 8/8 so it sounds a lot like an alternating 3/4-3/4-2/4 signature.

VIOZ said...

Hi. I've got a question a little related to song analysis: how is it called when at the end of a song, especially in the last one of a live performance, every player just starts making noise and play fast, especially the drummer: like what Eric Clapton does at the end of every single song on "One More Car, One More Rider". Thank you, love the blog.

Bobby Owsinski said...

Hi Vioz,

We always just called it a "big ending." Don't know if there's an official description. Readers?

A very wise musician that I once played with taught me that "big endings get big applause." He was right then and he's still right today.

Anonymous said...

bobby sorry that's still just 4/4. One can easily count or feel four over the song. that's the thing about syncopation it doesn't need a new time signature for each small phrase. it is in four. and by the way there are no songs in eight.


About the 8/8: It's a weird kind of mesure, composers never use that kind of mesure, however It's possible to write that song in 8/8.
The thing is that the melody is the principal component of a song, and in this particular case, the melody is composed mostly using quarter notes, so if you write this melody in 8/8 you're gonna use a lot of tie notes (eight notes) and it's not necessary and definitely is weird and difficult to read.
The 8/8 mesure is like a 4/4 subdivided.
This song is a 4/4, the thing is that it has a lot of syncopation that makes it interesting.
Definitely 4/4.


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