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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

Small decisions make "Go All the Way" stand out from the pop rock pack

Little changes go a long way for Eric Carmen and the Raspberries.

Listening to music with family has always been really fun for me, regardless of the setting in which it occurs. It's an experience I've gradually had less of since I started college, owing to my living elsewhere for three of my four years at Cal, but it's one I continue to cherish on the occasions it does occur.

Today, a ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and back to help my dad with some business in San Rafael reminded me just how much I enjoy hearing and talking music with people who understand my passion for it. As we usually do while driving together, my father and I mostly listened to XM's 70s on 7, a station with a playlist that features many of my dad's favorites from his youth, as well as many tracks I know and sing along with.

While listening today, I ended up being quite intrigued by a song that took me a bit to recognize (my dad knew it, of course): "Go All the Way" by the Raspberries, a Cleveland-based band which was led by a young Eric Carmen (later of "All By Myself" fame), who also wrote the song in question. "Go All the Way" has the makings of a very standard pop rock song in its instrumentation and love-based lyrics, but it has a couple elements in its arrangement which really made it stand out to me compared to other power pop fare from that period.

I wouldn't call it far-fetched to label "Go All the Way" as being somewhat adventurous in terms of harmony, but being quite typical for its time otherwise; aside from Eric Carmen's scream-like high end to his vocal range, I wasn't surprised by much else. I find that keeping most elements of a piece simple or typical is the best way for a popular act to surround something more complex or unusual, as it makes whatever it is that is less normal both a) stand out more in the immediate, and b) be mediated by the other pieces around it to sound like it fits the song.

So what are those interesting harmonies, and why do they stand out? Well, we don't have to go too far to find the first instance, because it's at the start of the (very short) first verse, about half a minute in. The entire introduction and most of the rest of the song are solidly in A Major, yet the verse is led into by a big G chord and lands solidly on C Major. A and C are relatively distant keys — they're known as mediants, and they share only one chord note (E). Even with the temporary key set up by its dominant, the change is still quite jarring and unexpected both times it occurs. The subsequent return to A Major through its own dominant for the chorus a few measures later feels comparatively like a relief and release, as the song returns to something more familiar for its title-including refrain.

However, the chorus also contains a slightly less usual chord, though not nearly as unusual as C Major. On "tonight" the first time through the progression and "go" the second, Eric Carmen sings an F natural, a note outside the key of A Major. This note makes the chord the band is playing D minor rather than D Major — a technique called "modal interchange," in which the quality of a chord that would otherwise be within the main key is changed by altering its third note. It's a small but noticeable shift that adds a bit of character to the section. There's something slightly wistful about that particular minor third when it's first heard, and it makes the tryst the song discusses more complex in its longing. More than anything, I hear the note as fitting the move back to the aforementioned C Major for the second verse, but I also hear it as a much better fit for the chorus than its in-key option of F-sharp. There's just something about a small change, even of a single note, that gives a section something more to latch onto.

What I particularly like about how the Raspberries treat those less obvious note and chord choices is that they don't just leave them in one section. When the song reaches its bridge, both the F natural note and C Major chord are used again in appropriate places. F natural is used in an F Major chord that sets up the "come on"-laden second half of the bridge, while C Major is used to set up a move back to the main key of A through E, similarly to the transition from the verse to the chorus. These decisions, while short in duration, demonstrate a real understanding by the group of their own songwriting choices, and they help tie the different sections of the song together in a more cerebral way. The casual listener may not know exactly what note and chord choices make "Go All the Way" so cohesive, but they certainly feel it, as I did before I more closely examined the tune. Ultimately, it's this feeling of the music and the particular decisions a songwriter and/or musician makes from which a piece draws its power and memorability.


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