Ralf von Appen/Markus Frei-Hauenschild

Corpus Analysis: Song Form and Harmony in the Repertoire of the Rolling Stones

While many detailed analyses on the music of the Beatles have been published, almost no research has been conducted focusing on the music of the Rolling Stones who are rather dealt with from a cultural point of view. Evidently, the Beatles’ melodic songs, their harmonic ‘richness’ and colourful instrumentation seemed to offer more to originally classically-trained scholars than the Stones’ approach. 

Our corpus analysis of c. 300 songs by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards aims to characterise their idiolect and its development over the course of their 50-year career. The first focus is on how song forms like AABA, simple verse, verse/chorus and the uses of non-repeating sections develop towards what fits the Stones’ aesthetic best. The second focus is on harmonic structures. The prevailing verdict of harmonic simplicity wrongly equates a limited range of chords to harmonic paucity. It thereby ignores the variety of shades provided by the famous intervening of guitars making the chords “move within themselves”, the harmonic ambiguity caused by bi-tonicality, and the reinterpretation of chords by means of syntactical rearrangement. More generally, we will talk about the Stones' aesthetic apparent from our analytic results. Whereas the Beatles’ songs are often discussed as works of art, many listeners interpret the Stones’ music as an expression of a certain lifestyle. Descriptions like hedonistic, passionate, or ‘elegantly wasted’ come to mind. Moore’s recent concept of how a fictitious persona is constructed through the design of a musical environment will be used to tackle the question of whether musicological analysis can actually show correspondences in the music that trigger and support such ascriptions.
Ultimately, we present results valid for many kinds of music that refuse to comply with the prevailing aesthetics of artistic sophistication and progress.