10 Life-Affirming Key Changes

One of the oldest and simplest and best tricks in the pop songbook, the key change has been knocking about in British indie guitar music for yonks. Oasis put three of the fuckers into the gloriously excessive ‘All Around The World’. Then in came Westlife, with their ‘Let me just get up off this ’ere stool’ routine, and back the key change went into the file marked Must Never, Ever Be Employed Ever Again.

But it hasn’t always been this way, and shouldn’t be this way in the future. The key change can be a genuine heartstopper, and now that the above dorks are drawing ever closer to the dustbin of granny-pop anonymity, let’s try and take it back. It belongs to the people, and here are ten of the incidences where it has been put to good use.

1 – The Beatles, ‘Penny Lane’
Let’s just get them out of the way, shall we? The masters of clever/simple pop music, and this instance of shifting up a gear sounds as natural and as unforced as you like. Extra points to George Martin for enlisting some piccolo playing to further emphasises it.


2 – Michael Jackson, ‘Man In The Mirror’
“Make that……. CHAAAAAANGE!” And at the other end of the scale, you get Michael Jackson’s most overblown moment ever. If ‘Man In The Mirror’ didn’t have a key change in it, you would be sorely disappointed. Note to future songwriters: there is simply no other way to end a song about how you are going to cure all the world’s ills starting with yourself.

3 – Oasis, ‘All Around The World’
The one that Noel in 1993 claimed was “going to win the Eurovision Song Contest” didn’t of course, but it did manage to be the longest UK Number One single ever, and have some rather brilliant step ups, aided by Richard Ashcroft and The Wives. What the fuck, as they say, was that all about?

4 – The Temptations, ‘My Girl’
Smokey Robinson, who wrote this, is not a man who needs any introduction to tricks of the teenage heart-wrenching nature. He wrote dozens of Motown hit singles for others and for himself, but the moment where he kicks The Temptations’ up a gear is his most potent. It’s at about 1.50, at the bit where it goes “I don’t need no money, fortune or fame…” but you knew that already, right?

5 – Ramones, ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’
Punk pop’s finest, who were absolutely, completely committed to having the hit radio record that never arrived for them. Especially by the time of this, from their fourth album ‘Road To Ruin’. Listen to the way the guitars glisten, the drums sound like Range Rovers, and only a minute in, they push the key up. The video made ten years later is awesome, as well. See if you can spot a young Courtney Love.


6 – Tim Buckley, ‘Dolphins’
A different kind of key change, this one, almost just an afterthought, that arrives in the dying seconds of this cover version. To be honest, it’s not even that good a key change, I just wanted an excuse to post up this video, which is one of the most beautiful songs by one of the most beautiful voices ever.

7 – The Foundations, ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’
Ruined by Slug-And-Lettuce closing time discos the world over and ‘Something About Mary’, this is a monumentally great song that needs to be saved from the clutches of cheese. Wedding Discos have got enough glorious key changes, we want this one back please.

8 – Suede, ‘Metal Mickey’

9 – Franz Ferdinand, ‘Ulysses’
Franz, obviously, are destined to spend the rest of their days having their name prefixed by the phrase ‘arch-popsters’, and songs like this are not going to change that. Still, for cynical deployment of well-worn pop tricks in an ’80s indie setting, they are the kings, and the key change in this song is fabulously forced.

10 – Bon Jovi, ‘Living On A Prayer’
Yes, everyone knows that Bon Jovi are dicks, but everyone also knows that, like all bands of dicks, they have one moment of indisputable cheese-rock genius. The man once described himself as “less a singer, more the CEO of a multinational corporation” and has 3% body fat or something stupid – largely down to the bolt of energy that surges through him every night when he goes up to “WAHHHHHH-HO!” If I was doing that, I’d be so pumped up I’d have to run round Wembley 40 times just to cool off.

Anyway…. Cooling down. Any more for any more key changes. Sorry… key ch-AAAANGES?