For those who haven't been on another planet since November, no song has been played at you more than "Hello". As the name suggests, it has probably invited itself to nearly every public moment of your life for the last three months. And all things considered, it could be a lot worse.

I remember the first time I heard "Hello", and believe it or not, it was not while being accosted by it in a Target. Nope, I actually bought a copy of 25, put it in the car, and listened to the entire album on the way home for Thanksgiving. And I still remember my very first impression after a precious four minutes and fifty-five seconds.

Huh... That wasn't a very good song.

The Plot Thickens

Now before you say that I'm just hating to hate, if I may clarify: I actually really enjoyed 25. "When We Were Young" -- so catchy. "Remedy" -- who doesn't love a good 6/8? "Love in the Dark" -- a film soundtrack in the making. "Million Years Ago" -- acoustic, real, great melody. "All I Ask" -- passionate, soaring vocals, and even comes with a bonus modulation! That's like two pop songs for the price of one.

For all the hype Adele had to live up to, 25 is honestly fantastic. Most of these songs are slam-dunk hits. So why, then, did the leading single feel like such an utter disappointment?

For one, I don't think the hype helped. "Hello" came out a few weeks before the album was released, and it was the biggest pop culture news to come out of the UK since the Royal Wedding. And even though I couldn't turn off the peanut gallery, by some manner of divinity I had actually managed to avoid listening to the song until that fateful day in November.

But that was certainly no real explanation for why I felt the song just didn't land. I thought more, and for one, I'm a far bigger fan of Adele's less-produced, more raw material. The less synthesizers the better, and "Hello" clocked in at more reverb than Notre Dame. So that certainly knocked a few points off.

Still, that answer wasn't satisfactory. There was still something about the song... Some inexplicable melody that bothered me.

Regardless, if I wanted to keep making friends at parties, I had to keep my song repertoire fresh. I sat down to learn "Hello" on piano, and that's when it hit me.

**It's that stupid B♭!**

All About Them 4ths

Allow me to explain. "Hello" is written in F minor, which has the following scale:

F, G, A♭, B♭, C, D♭, E♭, F

All good pop songs have a hook. It's what makes them catchy. It's that melody, those one or two words that constantly get stuck in your head every time you listen to the song. The hook in "Hello" is pretty obvious: "hello from the ooother siiiiiiiiiiide".

The melody starts with with F ("hello"), continues up to A♭ ("from the"), and then finishes with the punch: B♭ ("other side") -- the 4th of F.

This is supposed to be the climax of the song. The part that wins Grammys. The melody that can only be removed from your head via invasive in-patient surgery. Except there's just one problem.

The 4th is a really lame interval for a pop song.

Here's the thing. Pop songs are formulaic. We are used to them sounding a certain way. I'm not going to claim Rick Rubin-esque production ability here, but I know a good pop song when I hear one, and it doesn't use a 4 for its climax.

Remember "Titanium" by David Guetta? ("I am titaaaaaniiiiummm"?) That was the 3rd. "My Heart Will Go On"? 5th. "All I Want for Christmas Is You?" Perhaps the catchiest pop song ever written? The 1st. Mariah would have you enjoy nothing less.

My point is, there are lots of lovely intervals for pop music choruses, and the 4th is not one of them. 3rds are vulnerable and raw. 5ths are comforting and catchy. 6ths are passionate and evocative. 7ths are oh-so-spicy. Even 2nds are bearable if they're sandwiched between a 1st and a 3rd. But a 4th? Who decided that was a good idea?

Even the backing track is playing the catchiest of all melodies: a 1 / 6 / 3 / 7 [1] I feel like the vocals should at least back us up with a luscious 3rd or 5th. Which then begs the question...

OK Mr. I-think-I-know-better-than-Rick-Rubin, fine, you don't like 4ths, then what do you think it should be? [1:1]

You know what, that's a darn good question. Truth be told, I'd have to sit down with Ms. Adkins herself to test out a few new melodies. But unfortunately she's pretty busy right now, so I'll have to resort to the next best thing:

15 minutes and a copy of Audacity.

I thought about it for a bit, and though I think we'd need to change more than just one note to really make "Hello" shine, but given our current options a quick whole step up could really make some headway. Time to test my hypothesis and let you hear what on earth I've been ranting on about for the last fifteen paragraphs.

Let's take that B♭, and turn her into a C!

OK, so it does sound a bit like Alvin and the Chipmunks, and certainly an actual recording of her singing it and not a poor man's pitch modulation would make a big difference, but I hope it illustrates what just one interval change in a song can do.

If a 5th were indeed the answer to our interval woes, then it would definitely be worth cleaning up the surrounding notes too. But you know what? I kind of like this more already. I think we might be on to something.

Let's call up Rick and see if he has any intern positions available.

  1. Actually I'm not sure if Rick Rubin did produce anything on 25 other than give feedback on the initial takes. Maybe that was the whole problem... ↩︎ ↩︎