Understanding Get Lucky

Understanding Get Lucky

Show Video

hey, welcome to 12tone! by 2013, it seemed  like Daft Punk was pretty much done. it had   been 8 years since their last studio album, and  12 since their last commercially successful one.   the band was still touring, but for those of us  who grew up in their heyday of the early 2000s,   it felt like they were just riding a wave of  nostalgia and waiting to become irrelevant.  

and then they made Random Access Memories  and proved everyone wrong. in what would   ultimately be their final album, Daft Punk once  again evolved their sound, pulling back on the   electronic elements they'd been known for and  bringing in more physical instruments, including   collaborations with some of funk and disco's  greatest artists. it was a breath of fresh air,   a clear reminder of the skill and craft that had  made the French duo such a phenomenon in the first   place, and leading the charge was the album's  first single, Get Lucky. let's take it apart. (tick, tick, tick, tick, tock) it's been a while since I looked at a song  that was so thoroughly based on groove,   so I'd like to start this analysis in the place  where every good groove starts: the drums,   in this case performed by Omar Hakim. (bang)  

it's not the most extravagant drum beat in  the world: you've got kicks on all four beats,   snares on 2 and 4, and then constant 8th note  hi-hats. pretty simple, but the execution is   rock solid, providing a clear foundation to  build the song on top of. without it: (bang)   all the syncopation in the other parts kinda  doesn't work. it sounds like three separate  

rhythms that aren't really talking to each  other. but if we add the drums back in: (bang)   suddenly, it all makes sense. so, yeah. Hakim is  playing a simple pattern not because he can't do   more, but because if he did, it would get in  the way. this part isn't meant to be flashy.  

it's a binding agent, a musical compass that  allows you to orient yourself within the groove. but while it's a pretty conventional drum  part, these conventions exist for a reason, so,   if you'll indulge me, I'd like to take a minute to  talk about some of the things that make this kind   of pattern work so well. for starters, the hi-hat  isn't actually constant 8th notes. I lied to you.   sorry about that. to be fair, it mostly is, but  for the last beat of each bar: (bang) he adds an   extra 16th note right at the end. to borrow a term  from my friend 8-bit Music Theory, this serves as  

a rhythmic approach note, creating a little  metric tension that releases on the following   downbeat. and that's a big deal because funk and  funk-inspired genres are all about the downbeat.   now, that might be a bit surprising to some  of you: it's easy to assume that funk is about   syncopation, and it is, but as we saw earlier,  you always need something to syncopate against.   funk needs a really strong downbeat precisely  because it's so rhythmically complex. the 1 is  

your home base, your true north. it provides the  anchor that holds the rest of the groove in place,   and these rhythmic approach notes ensure that you  always know exactly where that 1 is. without them:   (bang) you still have a pulse, but  you don't really have that strong,   authoritative downbeat that  a song this funky needs. another thing I want to highlight here is the  snare sound: (bang) because it's not just a   snare. there's also a clap, and I'm pretty sure  there's some finger snaps as well. or, at least,   I hear them in the full song, but they're  not on this isolated drum track. anyway,   this is pretty common in dance music these  days. layering multiple mid-range percussion  

sounds on top of the snare helps it cut  through the mix, giving the backbeat a lot   more punch. and that's important because  in dance music, especially styles derived   from African American dance traditions, the  backbeat is usually the primary indicator   of how to move your body. if the downbeat is  the anchor, then the backbeat is the waves,   rocking the boat back and forth until this entire  metaphor collapses under its own weight. point is,   the beefier the snare sound is, the harder  the groove hits, and this groove hits hard. that backbeat is also emphasized by the kick  drum playing a four on the floor pattern,   which just means he's hitting all  four beats, not just the 1 and the 3.   this is an iconic disco sound, distributing  the dynamic energy more evenly throughout   the bar and adding a little extra weight to  the other beats. it also provides more of a  

structure for the rest of the band to syncopate  against, highlighting the pulse like a metronome   so you can really feel how everything  else is falling into place around it. and finally, there's the fills. every four bars,   Hakim drops in a little flourish with some  open hi-hats, alternating between this: (bang)   and this. (bang) in both cases, he's doing  basically a larger-scale version of that   rhythmic approach thing we talked about earlier.  the phrases in this song are four bars long,   built on a four-bar chord loop, so at the end of  each phrase he's generating some extra rhythmic   tension to set up a return to the start.  this makes it very clear to the listener   where that start actually is, which is gonna be  important for reasons I'll talk about in a bit.

but before we do, let's move on to our next  instrument, Nile Rodgers's guitar. (bang) here,   we see a very different rhythm from anything  Hakim was doing. Rodgers is skipping the downbeat   entirely, hitting a chord on the first 8th note,  then he starts playing this dotted-8th thing,   hitting the chord again every three 16th  notes until the end of the bar. this creates   a sort of cross-rhythm, a different metric  pulse that almost implies a different tempo,   but because there's a slightly longer  gap between the end of one bar and the   start of the next, it still fits snuggly  within the groove Hakim is laying down. but the eagle-eared among you may have noticed  that I lied to you. again. Rodgers isn't just  

playing this dotted 8th pattern. he's actually  playing every single 16th note, but for most   of them he's lifting his fretting hand slightly  off the neck, muting the strings and creating a   duller, softer, more percussive sound. (bang) so  he's not just playing a harmonic cross-rhythm.   he's also performing a vital rhythmic function  by explicitly marking out the metric layer of the   16th note. Hakim's part is almost all 8ths, but  a lot of the syncopation in this song is at the   level of 16th notes, so the guitar becomes almost  like a second hi-hat, playing a constant pulse at   a smaller subdivision. by using a muted tone,  Rodgers is able to fulfill both roles at once,  

quietly filling the gaps while emphasizing  his cross-rhythm with fully voiced chords. speaking of which, let's look  at the chords. the whole song   is based on a single four-chord loop. (bang)   this is what I like to call a piston loop, because  it has a clear rise and fall to it. it starts on  

the root, then gently drifts away from it in  3rds. this takes us to our furthest point,   where it turns around and returns home  using stronger harmonic motion like   steps and perfect 4ths. the piston loop  structure creates a strong sense of flow   through the progression, with a period of  rest and then a clear, solid destination. probably the most common piston loop, and arguably  the one that popularized the idea of four-chord   loops in the first place, is the Doo-Wop  Changes. (bang) this is the classic loop sound,  

but since the 80s, we've seen the rise of other  patterns, like the axis progression: (bang)   and the plagal cascade: (bang) that use more  strong harmonic motion to create a greater sense   of landing at the expense of that softer floating  section. as such, piston loops in general take on   a kind of nostalgic tinge for me, representing a  more old-school approach to loop writing, and I   think that's probably part of what makes this song  feel so… classic. it's a product of another time. but there's actually a deeper connection here.  this chord loop is really just the Doo-Wop   changes upside down. bear with me. so, if we  take the Doo-Wop Changes: (bang) and follow  

the root motion, we go down a minor 3rd, down  a major 3rd, up a whole step, then up a perfect   4th to start over. but if we take the Get Lucky  progression: (bang) and follow that root motion,   we go up a minor 3rd, up a major 3rd, down a  whole step, then down a perfect 4th. it's the   exact same shape, just moving in the opposite  direction. actually playing the Doo-Wop Changes   itself might have sounded a little too dated, but  this is about as close a reference as you can get.

now, so far, I've been talking as if this  B minor is the root. is it, though? 'cause   Pharell Williams keeps resolving to F#. (bang)  and yeah, maybe the melody is just built on   the 5th of the key. that happens. but it doesn't  really sound right to me. I'll get into this more  

when I start breaking down the melody, but for  now, let's just say that it seems to be pretty   clearly in F# minor. so… what gives? which of  these is the root? which key are we in? and, uh…   I'm not really sure. or, rather, I'm not convinced  there is a correct answer. the harmony definitely   seems to resolve to B minor. not only is it the  destination of the chord loop, the place that all  

the strong harmonic motion is pointing us toward,  it's also in the strongest metric position. it's   the first chord in each phrase, emphasized  by Hakim's hi-hat fills. it's not subtle.   the chords are in B. but the melody is equally  unsubtly in F#. it never really resolves to B,   and in the few places where it has the option,  it doesn't really sound like it wants to. this makes Get Lucky a perfect example of an  argument I've been making for a while now:   sometimes, keys just aren't the best  framework for understanding a song's   tonality. keys are rigid structures with clear,  unambiguous roots that everyone agrees on,   and Get Lucky doesn't seem to have that. instead,  we've got something more like a hybrid tonality,  

with different parts agreeing on a pitch  collection but not a pitch center. Rodgers   is playing in B, Pharell is singing in F#,  but since they're both using the same notes,   there's no real sense of disagreement. it's  possible the band was thinking of this in   one specific key when they recorded it, I don't  know, I'm not a mind reader, but as a listener,   trying to decide which one I hear as the "real"  key feels kinda pointless. they're both right,   which means neither of them is completely correct.  and that's fine. that's how music works sometimes.

but I feel like I've spent way too much time not  talking about the bass, so let's talk about the   bass. unlike Hakim and Rodgers, whose parts  stay pretty consistent throughout the song,   bassist Nathan East takes a more freeform  approach, full of subtle variations and fills.   this approach reminds me of the "funk formula"  described by legendary bassist Bootsy Collins,   which can be roughly summarized as "hit  beat 1, then for the rest of the bar,   do whatever you want. preferably syncopated."  but while East's part is full of embellishments,   there's still a basic template that he  seems to be working from most of the time,   so let's take a look at how an average  bar of Get Lucky's bass groove is built.

most bars start roughly the same way, with this  rhythm: (bang) where he hits on the first two   beats, then anticipates beat 3 by hitting a  16th note early. this pattern acknowledges the   metronome pulse of Hakim's four-on-the-floor  kick, then immediately subverts it. he often   takes this third note up an octave: (bang) to  give that anticipation a little more punch,   drawing your attention to the way he's  contradicting the implied groove. he also   often adds an extra attack right before  the jump, to really make it pop. (bang)  

this portion serves to establish,  then break your rhythmic expectations,   effectively giving himself permission to do  whatever he wants with the rest of the bar. from there, things get a little more loose, and we  see a lot more variation in the back half of the   bar, but if I had to nail down a single pattern  that best represents the idea he's playing off of,   it'd probably be this one. (bang) here, he  switches to 8th-note syncopation, hitting   the offbeats after beats 3 and 4. on the first of  these, he just hits the root again, but after the   last one, he sets up the next chord a 16th note  early. one thing to note about this pattern is  

that, up until the very end of the bar, none of  the notes he plays line up with any of Rodgers's   accents. in fact, these middle three hits all come  one 16th note before a chord stab, creating a sort   of call and response between the two parts.  they're not playing the same rhythms, but   they're clearly in conversation, a conversation  that's mediated by Hakim's rock-solid groove.

again, though, East's part varies a lot.  sometimes he skips the hit on beat 3: (bang)   and sometimes he starts the  16th-note run early. (bang)   and that's not even getting into the fills he  adds on the last chord of the phrase. (bang)   this bassline is constantly  evolving throughout the song,   and while he keeps coming back to this basic  pattern, he refuses to be restrained by it.   this gives the song a sense of adventure and  excitement: Hakim and Rodgers are laying down   a really solid foundation, but East is  the one in charge of building momentum. but there's one issue left: sometimes  he just breaks the pattern entirely.  

in the first chorus, he switches  to a much less syncopated groove,   hitting all four beats and echoing  Hakim's four-on-the-floor kick. (bang)   this settles the energy a little bit, allowing  the focus to shift from East's intricate bass   part to Pharell's vocals so he can properly  establish the hook. in later choruses,   he keeps going with the main pattern, but  for this first one he steps back to avoid   overwhelming the listener right away. and he does  a similar thing at the very start of the song.  

for the first two bars, he plays a simplified  pattern with that same metronome emphasis. (bang)   this one's a little more confusing to me, so  if you have a good explanation, feel free to   let me know in the comments, but the best I can  come up with is that he's again trying to leave   space. the foundation of the song's groove comes  from the interaction between Hakim and Rodgers,   so East is giving them a moment to set things  up before he makes it more complicated. and finally, we should talk about the vocals.  these are pretty much the only part that gives   the song an actual form: there's a couple  other changes, which I'll highlight as we go,   but without Pharell, there aren't many real,  obvious differences between sections. it's  

mostly just the same groove, repeated over  and over until the song ends. and to be clear,   that's not a criticism: if you've got  a good groove that's fun to dance to,   changing it up just to do something different  is rarely a good idea. my point is that,   since the groove is so strong and  so consistent, the job of defining   the song's shape falls squarely on Pharell,  and I want to talk about how he does that. the two primary tools he uses to differentiate  between sections are phrasing and target notes.   I don't really want to talk about tonality because  who cares, but it's pretty clear that different   sections focus their attention on different  pitches, so each one takes on its own sort of   tonal color. you'll see what I mean. anyway,  let's start with the verse. (bang) here, the  

phrasing tells a story of increasing complexity.  he starts on a beat, sings some straight 8ths,   then starts hitting every off-beat 16th note,  ending slightly after the next downbeat. this   doesn't really line up with any of the other  parts. in fact, if we layer it on top of the drum,   bass, and guitar grooves, then in the bars where  Pharell is singing, the band is collectively   hitting 14 of the 16 possible 16th notes.  there's a lot going on here. but this is also  

the only section with significant gaps between  phrases. each one takes about a bar to sing,   and then Pharell leaves a full bar of rest before  starting the next one. this helps relieve some of   the tension built up by all these competing  cross-rhythms and leaves room for the band   to shine. in terms of target notes, this section  is pretty clearly aiming toward F#. each phrase  

ends with a definitive walk down to that note.  (bang) he does mix things up on the third phrase,   ending on A instead: (bang) but to my ears, it  just sounds like a diversion away from our main   target. the verses clearly establish F# as the  root, at least as far as the melody is concerned. the prechorus, though, is extremely different.  this section has the longest, slowest,   and simplest phrases in the whole song. there's  no 16th notes at all, and only a couple notes per   bar. they also change the vocal production here,  layering in a second take to create a greater   sense of depth. this starts out just doubling the  lead: (bang) before splitting off and harmonizing  

in 3rds. (bang) because it's so much slower, the  section as a whole doesn't really have as clear   a target note. instead, Pharell defers back to  the chord progression, sitting on the 3rd of each   chord in turn. we've got D over B minor, F# over  D major, A over F# minor, and G# over E major.   the 3rd is the most colorful chord tone, the one  that defines its quality, so building the melody   from those gives this section a rich, harmonic  sound that ties it in with the motion of the loop.   and because the loop ends on an unstable point,  the melody does too, with a hanging G#: (bang)   as opposed the the resolved F# we saw at the  end of the verse phrases. in the second half   of the prechorus, he ramps this up even  further, replacing the G# with a B: (bang)   in order to continue the upward trajectory  of the melody and propel you into the chorus.

the chorus melody is, in  terms of phrasing at least,   kinda similar to the verse. it uses the same  trick of hitting all the off-beat 16th notes,   but this time it starts right away before  ultimately resolving onto a beat at the end   of the bar. (bang) instead of increasing  tension, it's releasing it. landing heavy   on beat 4 after all that syncopation just feels so  satisfying every time he does it. the phrases are,  

once again, one bar long, but this time there's  no gaps between them, increasing the sense of   urgency to match the lyrics. on the fourth  phrase, he adds an extra 8th note at the end:   (bang) and it feels to me like it's trying to walk  back to the downbeat, fully resolving the rhythmic   tension by returning to the all-important 1. but  at the last second he feints away and returns to   the top of the section instead. it's a nice nod  to the never-ending night he's singing about. in terms of target notes, though, the chorus  is pretty interesting. in each phrase,   he only sings two different pitches, which I'll  call the body and the tail. the body is the one   he sits on for most of the line, and the tail  is the one he moves to for the final note. so,  

in this phrase: (bang) the body is D and the tail  is E. and I'm separating these out for a reason:   the two parts behave pretty differently. if we  just look at the body notes, we have D, D, C#,   B, which is a clear, deliberate walk down  the scale, looking for somewhere to land.  

on the other hand, the tail notes are  E, E, E, A. this is a solid resolution,   mirroring the rhythmic tension of the phrases by  sitting on an unstable pitch for most of the time   before finally collapsing to something stable  at the end, in this case by dropping down a   perfect 5th. and since A is also the next note  in the walkdown from the body notes, I'm kinda   forced to conclude that the target note of the  section, the pitch the melody revolves around,   is A. now, am I saying he changed keys? not  really. I can still hear the A wanting to   continue down to F#. that root is still there.  but the structure of the melody in this section  

leans more heavily on A, the relative major  of F# minor, and that gesture toward the major   root gives this section a bright, shimmering  quality that elevates it above the verses. I think that's all the big things we  need to cover, but before we wrap up,   I want to do a quick review of some  of the arranging decisions they make   in the second half of the song to keep things  interesting. this starts in the second chorus,   where halfway through, Hakim and East drop out,  leaving just Pharell, Rodgers, those hand claps,   and Chris Caswell's keyboard. (bang) this sudden  drop in sonic energy provides a natural break   in the song, and when they come back in,  Hakim is playing a new drum groove: (bang)   with rapid-fire kicks on beat one and some open  splashes on the hi-hat, which he keeps doing for   the rest of the song. this is also where they  introduce one of the few electronic elements  

provided by the band: a vocoder looping  the final line of the chorus. (bang) this   is the most recognizably Daft Punk part of the  song, evoking their earlier work while still   making space for this new direction. and they  embrace that evolution by keeping the vocoder   going as Pharell comes back in to sing the  prechorus. (bang) then we get another chorus,   a double-length post-chorus, and finally a new  synth riff that loops until they fade out. (bang) and that's pretty much it. or at least, that's  it for the single version: the album version is  

two minutes longer, with a new intro by Rodgers  and some more space for some of these sections,   but the single is the one I'm most familiar with  so that's what I decided to talk about. anyway,   I don't think it's much of an overstatement to  say that Get Lucky saved Daft Punk, introducing   their music to a new generation and giving them  one last moment in the spotlight. the popularity   of the song propelled Random Access Memories to  the top of the charts, making it the band's first   and only number one hit record. they'd eventually  break up 8 years later without releasing another   album, but Get Lucky let them go out on a high  note, taking the world by storm one more time. and hey, thanks for watching, thanks to our  Patreon patrons for making these videos possible,   and extra special thanks to our Featured Patrons,  Susan Jones, Jill Sundgaard, Duck, Howard Levine,   Warren Huart, Kevin Wilamowski, Grant Aldonas, and  Damien Fuller-Sutherland! if you want to help out,   and help us pick the next song we analyze too,  there's a link to our Patreon on screen now. oh,  

and don't forget to like, share, comment,  subscribe, and above all, keep on rockin'.

2022-09-19 09:17

Show Video

Other news