A Modulation Masterpiece 🎸

How a popular music YouTuber did something magical with an old cheesy pop song: He forced you to think differently about it, which is really what good storytelling is all about.

To me, the sign of a really great story or piece of content is that it gets you to think completely differently about something that you’ve experienced a thousand times.

In this case, the thing you’ve experienced a thousand times is “Never Gonna Let You Go,” a pop song released by Brazilian musician Sérgio Mendes in 1983. (He’s not the singer on the track, but the producer. Nor did he write it—it was instead written by Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, a famed songwriting duo.)

You’ve most assuredly heard this song by accident more times than you can remember, thanks to the fact that it topped the Adult Contemporary charts and was a top-5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

But it has a secret, one that digital guitar instructor and YouTube musical theory expert Rick Beato discussed in length on a recent episode of his popular YouTube channel.

Beato and a small group of friends were tasked with playing this song for an event at a park in the early 1980s, along with a number of standards. The musicians were talented players with a background in jazz, so they could often play things by ear. Just one problem: This damn song had approximately 600 chord changes.

“I mean, I’ve got a great memory for for songs and chord changes, incredibly good memory,” Beato says in the clip. “But this is like this is an impossible task just on listening to it for 20 minutes and rehearsing it or 30 minutes.”

The thing that’s really amazing about seeing Beato work his way through this song is that it exposes something about a tune that the average person doesn’t even regard as a good pop song. It’s seen as something of a throwaway in modern pop culture.

But working through the numerous chord changes, the shifts in melody and modulation, and the fact that seemingly no two parts of the song ever repeat, you realize that this song has been completely underestimated by mainstream pop audiences.

And despite the fact that assuredly most of the people watching Beato are probably not professional musicians, the result is incredibly compelling to watch, because it forces a new context on something nobody ever thinks about.

This, to me, is something that a lot of people who create content on the internet are trying to do in their own ways. I mean, this is my personal goal with a lot of my writing—though my parameters are usually, “If someone spent the time researching history beyond what they find on the first page of Google, what would they find?”

Rick does a lot of great stuff on his channel that encourages people to think about the musical theory of songs they listen to all the time, but this particular clip feels like a rare thing: An analysis of a song that seemingly doesn’t deserve in-depth analysis, but gets it anyway, and singlehandedly proves the analysis is deserved.

When telling stories on the internet, we struggle to reveal new things with words sometimes. Rick managed to do it by struggling to keep up with a cheesy pop song from 1983.

Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes

Time left on clock ⏲: 2 minutes

Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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