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The three-flat-two slide
December 2, 2016
I'm going to talk about a chord progression. Or not even really a full progression, just a specific sequence of chords that I always notice in songs, and how sometimes it's great, sometimes it's cheesy, but it's a striking songwriting crutch that's been used for a century.
I am talking about what I'll call the Three-Flat-Two Slide. For music tyheory geeks, this is a minor iii followed by a minor flat iii followed by a minor ii. It's a slick little chromatic slide of three chords, sometimes highlighted as a major harmonic feature of a song, sometimes stuck into the background, cloyingly smarmy, and sometimes really delicious.
Here's just a few samples of songs that have the 3-flat-2 Slide:
(Apologies, this link is to a tribute band, apparently the Beatles aren't allowed on YouTube.) This one is the best example to start with because they play the Slide over and over, and it's the major harmonic doo-dad in the song. You first hear it at 0:16, then again 0:20, then 0:24. In the verse it's really played between every sung line "Listen / (Slide) Do you want to know a secret / (Slide) " etc. Got it?
Another really obvious example, again a very highlighted part of the song. Hear here at 0:16, right after the title line. (And it's in the intro too.) You can't miss it. The Slide sounds really nice here.
Now that the first two examples have solidified the Slide in your mind, here's a great example of it being used under a sung line rather than as an accent between lines. The melody steps down in parallel to the chords, really emphasizing that smooth slidey feeling. (A performance of this song was already singled out in more detail in another blog post. Check it out.) See if you can hear it. If not, I'll tell you it's at 2:31.
Dean Martin also made this song famous, but since we've done one of his, here is Sinatra's version of it. 0:11, under "Fire is so delightful". This time the vocal melody pretty much ignores the slide going on, it's just a nice effect.
As I've mentioned in a few examples preceding, the Slide is characterized by three chords stepping downchromatically. In "Everybody Loves Somebody", Dean Martin sings right along with that slide. In "C'Est Si Bon", Streisand does it one better. The Slide covers the very first line of the song, and very slowly. Like in "Everybody Loves Somebody" the melody steps down along with the chords, but in this case, she sings the second of the three notes up an octave! Instead of walking down three stairs, she takes the second one on the bannister. Coming right at the very top of the song it's a rather disorienting sound, as we haven't really gotten our harmonic bearings yet, and having the vocal jump to that 7th and minor 9th is practically atonal sounding. But it isn't atonal -- it's just our old 3-flat-2 Slide, but made fresh by one of the few vocalists who could pull it off so effortlessly (notice how solidly she lands on that 3rd note -- and she's doing it sitting down, for cryin' out loud), not to mention the cleverness of the arranger (Peter Matz, possibly). The original song of "C'Est Si Bon" was from 1947 and was performed in a more upbeat style and didn't even have the Slide in it. Eartha Kitt did a famous sultry version of it, though it was still much faster than Streisand's.
OK, there we have it, an examination of the 3-flat-2 Slide. Hope you enjoyed it. There are of course a thousand other examples. In fact, as I type, another one started playing on my playlist "I'm in the Mood For Love". The Slide is everywhere!