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Take Me Home, Country Roads
Song: Take Me Home, Country Roads
Songwriters: Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert
Singer: John Denver, Olivia Newton-John and others
Whenever I feel a song I'm writing needs a middle eight, I think of Take Me Home, Country Roads. (I would say “John Denver's Country Roads”, but I'd be wrong on two points: firstly, that isn't the title, and secondly, I was amazed to discover a few moments ago that John Denver, a seriously good songwriter himself, didn't write Take Me Home, Country Roads – hats off to husband-and-wife songwriting team Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert.)
Take Me Home, Country Roads is one of those reliable sing-along songs that is as sure a way as any to get an audience to join in (especially if drink has been taken). But for me, it's the middle eight that merits its place in my personal Pantheon of Great Songwriting. So what's the secret behind this great middle eight?
The first thing to notice is how the middle eight of Take Me Home, Country Roads stands apart from the rest of the song. I think the key, which makes it a perfect model for any middle eight, is that it starts out as a contrast to what has gone before, melodically, rhythmically, harmonically, and in terms of phrasing, and builds to a climax, the resolution of which can only be the chorus. It produces a kind of feeling of “Uh-oh, where are you taking me- no, this can't be right – oh, hang on a minute – now I know where I am!”
The verse and chorus of Take Me Home, Country Roads are pentatonic, interestingly enough. Now, the pentatonic (five-note) mode is great for producing a strong, solid, folksy melody, but it lacks the variety of tonal colours that are staple of a good middle eight. So the middle eight of Take Me Home, Country Roads abandons the pentatonic, immediately producing a contrast.
Similarly, the phrases of the verse and chorus are very short, strong, and snappy:
Almost Heaven /
Again, the middle eight takes its own path with contrasting, more meandering phrases. Notice how the phrases gradually increase in length and complexity :
I hear her voice /
Harmonically too, the middle eight starts with a shift to the relative minor. The F chord (if we are playing the song in G) marks the furthest point from the harmonic home, and coincides with that last long phrase.
The final “Yesterday” of Take Me Home, Country Roads marks the perfect climax of the middle eight. It bridges the gap between middle eight and final chorus, by both echoing the “yesterday” of the preceding line in the middle eight, and presaging the first line of the chorus, of which motif it is a transposition (up a second). The last note of “yesterday” is sustained on the seventh of the dominant seventh chord, which more than any other begs for resolution onto the tonic chord. In terms of harmony, phrasing and melody it seems to be crying out:
“Take me home...”
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