Chaka Khan's 1978 debut solo album "Chaka" was among the very first records to feature the fruits of Anthony Jackson's experiments with down-tuning his 4-string Fender bass. As such, the succession of low Cs that shape the chorus of "Love Has Fallen On Me" - along with the perhaps better-known detuned bass parts on the "Naughty" album - were, in hindsight, destined to change the future of the bass guitar.
In a Nov. 2008 interview with Bass Player magazine, AJ talked with Chris Jisi about his early experiments with tuning down, citing "Love Has Fallen On Me" as being among the first recorded examples of this tinkering.
"In 1978, I started doing really intensive down-tunings of a major 3rd or a 4th on my Fender Jazz the night before a session, using epoxy cement and serrated kitchen knives to raise and file the nut, while also adjusting the truss-rod and bridge. I'd tune down all four strings so they had an even feel and tone across the neck. To get the notes I wanted, I had to play with lightest touch possible. It was a priceless education on controlling my instrument with my fingers only, learning how to make them speak and dance, from an almost subliminal whisper to a roar, all without plucking too hard, which would have caused the strings to hit the fingerboard and go sharp. One of the first tracks I cut this way was a Diana Ross song called No One Gets the Prize, from her album The Boss [Motown, 1979]. Another early attempt was the chorus of Chaka Khan's Love Has Fallen on Me, from her album Chaka [Warner Bros., 1979]. That paved the way for the more widely known down-tunings I did on Chaka's albums Naughty and What Cha' Gonna Do for Me [Warner Bros, 1980 and 1981], and the Luther Vandross cover of A House Is Not a Home, from his album Never Too Much [Epic, 1981]."
The full article can be found here on the Bass Player magazine website.
The rhythmic phrasing adopted by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber (yes, that Andrew Lloyd Webber ) in the introduction is very interesting, breaking down into four bars of 4/4 and one bar of 6/4, followed by another four bars of 4/4 and a single bar of 6/4, before finishing off with two bars of 4/4. While it's possible to count this section as 13 bars of 4/4, the resulting phrasing feels very unnatural. If you try counting it both ways you'll see what I mean.
The tempo of "Love Has Fallen On Me" fluctuates surprisingly as events unfold, starting at about 85 BPM for the piano/vocal introduction and abruptly accelerating up to about 89 BPM with the entrance of the drums at bar 11 and the rest of the band from bar 13. The transitions from ensemble playing to quieter piano/vocal sections, and vice versa, are all marked by small, but significant, changes in tempo.
In light of Andrew Lloyd Webber's classical background, it's perhaps not surprising that "Love Has Fallen On Me" makes use of some fairly "nonstandard" modulations. The intro kicks off in Bb major, sidesteps to A minor at bar 13, twists deftly into Ab major at bar 27, back into Bb at bar 55, and then, for old time's sake, meanders back to Ab for the final chorus section-cum-outro. That's not too say that these modulations are steeped in classical tradition; far from it! For example, to move from the strong Bb intro to the A minor verse, Lloyd Webber simply slips down a semitone at the end of the section and treats A-minor as the new tonic: a classic case of direct - or unprepared - modulation. Points deducted and an hour of detention in any university harmony class, but maximum points for effectively delineating the start of an important new section in a pop song!
In terms of the bass part, AJ is content to provide, for the most part, exactly what the song needs: a solid, if fairly unspectacular, groove. However, he also occasionally livens things up with occasional flashes of inspiration. For example, he repeats the same spiralling blaze of sixteenth notes in two separate sections - bar 85 and bar 93. And why not?! Anything this cool and groovy surely deserves to be heard twice. However, part of me can't help wondering if he planned it that way... I can visualize two scenarios: In the first, AJ is relaxing with the rest of the band behind a massive recording console as he hears the line pump through the speakers for the second time: "Yes sir! That's the good stuff," he says in my imagination. However, in an alternative scenario, the instant he realizes the same phrase has been repeated verbatim, he drops to his knees, throws his head toward the sky and pounds the floor with his fists ala Burt Lancaster in the final scene of Planet of the Apes..."Noooo!!! "What have I done!" he wails.
Hmm... maybe I drink too much coffee.
Like "Clouds" from the "Naughty" album, there's a moment in this track that wipes me out every time I hear it: When AJ finally drops down to that first history-altering low C in bar 45 (on Ab7/C) it still makes me want to jump up out of my seat, kick a hole in a rainbow and high-five the whole of planet Earth. Even just thinking and writing about it gets the ol' adrenalin surging through the veins!
Anyone out there know what I'm talking about?!
Surely I'm not the only one to get this vibe... Am I?! C'mon,, help me out here... ;-)
Compounding the already noted subtle tempo changes dotted throughout the track is another interesting tempo-based incident, which occurs in bars 89-90 (and to a lesser extent, in bars 99-100) when the violins surge ahead of the beat in a blaze of excitement, so much so, that for a second, they seem on the verge of careening completely out of control. As the sleeve notes cite additional recordings at different studios, I suppose it's possible the strings were recorded at a different session and then tacked on later. These days, this kind of "problem" could be ironed out in the blink of an eye with software such as Pro Tools. Having said that, I'm a big fan of this this kind of imperfection, as it adds a human edge to the music that a lot of modern stuff simply lacks.
In terms of theory, this song gave me considerable pause for thought with regard to the naming of a certain chord; specifically the Ab chorus sections in which the bass descends Ab, Gb, F, and then onto what most folks would like to call an E. However, every fibre of my classically-educated being screamed at me to write this as an F-flat.
"But why?" I don't hear you ask. Well, allow me to put forth my reasoning in answer to your nonexistent question...
Following the Ebsus9 chord of bar 26, the key is firmly rooted in Ab major by bar 27. Only a musical masochist would consider perceiving this section in the theoretical key of G# major and all it 8-sharped pointlessness. As such, let's trace out the harmony over the four-bar phrases that unfold from bar 27:
Firstly, we have one bar of common-or-garden Ab major. A textbook modulatory device is then employed as the bass descends to Gb under the unchanging Ab to give Ab7/Gb; in other words, Ab7 with the 7th in the bass. As expected, the next bar yields the equivalent of Db/F - the first inversion of the IV chord in Ab but now being seen as the new tonic following the Ab7. I've notated this chord as Ab/F to retain the logic of the descending bass part. Though this chord can be seen as Ab/F, the underlying harmony is Dbmaj9/F, in the new, albeit temporary, tonic of Db major. So far, so good: three bars of harmony that even seventeenth-century composers wouldn't balk at. However, it's in the fourth bar that things get interesting, at least on a nomenclatural basis. (And yes, I, too, had to check "nomenclatural" in the dictionary!)
As we've all heard a million times before in progressions of this kind, the bass descends another semitone in the fourth bar, to... F-flat?! Yes, F-flat. Sure, we could call it an E to make life easy for everyone, but theoretically it wouldn't fall within the harmonic picture. I guess it could be seen as the leading tone in F minor (the relative minor of Ab major), but there's no hint of a move toward that key.
If we hypothetically shift the key to C, and give the slash chords their full harmonic spelling then things become clearer: In C, the same chords would run thus: C / / / | C7/Bb / / / | Fmaj7/A / / / | Fmin/Ab with the Fmin being perceived as the minor IV of C. As such when we look at the original piece in Ab, things begin to make more sense.
Ab7 is simply the V chord of the Dbmin (replete with F-flat as the minor third). If we attempt to avoid the discomfort of using F-flats, we'd have to start this section in G# major - with a theoretical eight sharps! In the fourth bar of the phrase in question, though the Dbmin chord seems sandwiched between two instances of Ab/Fb, the first of these can be seen an initial Mozart-flavored appoggiatura approach into the main Dbmin chord, with the second functioning as a stepwise anticipation of the return to the Ab chord in the next bar.
In terms of notation and chord-naming for this section, you're damned if you notate it one way; damned if you do it another. Paul Simon's "Mrs. Robinson" perhaps sums it up best: "Laugh about it, shout about it, when you've got to choose; any way you look at it you lose."
But...in my own defense, let me say that
if this was an arrangement that would be handed out to a big band or to session players who were expected to knock it off in a couple of takes, then yes, it would be wise and advisable to alter the notation of this section to make it easier to read - even if that meant shoehorning in E-naturals and C#min chords, instead of the" theoretically correct" F-flats and Dbmin chords. Clarity of communication is the most important factor in these kinds of situations. However, as this is a transcription where there's no time restraint on getting it right, I've written the harmony out as it actually functions. Yes, I could have made this easier for you all to read, but it's my transcription and I can do what I like. So there! (Cue childish thumbing-of-nose and empty threat to get my big brother to bash your big brother.) ;-)
Transcription © Stevie Glasgow 2009