Ostinato

The election: last week I was happy because it seemed like the Emperor had no clothes, but this is only hilarious for the first few minutes. Then the crowd stops giggling and it’s more like “wait, isn’t he getting cold? What’s he OH MY GOD WHAT IS HE, KIDS DON’T LOOK -”

The Emperor is the political process and the media. Apparently Bob Katter told off some journalist at the NPC and wow did Twitter love that, but then Twitter is too young to remember Joh Bjelke-Petersen and seems to get a bit weak in the knees for “outspoken” cow-cockies.

But enough of that, I’m really here to pose a music question. The way the melody in the verse of Janelle Monáe’s “Tightrope” is mostly on a single note while the chords change around it put me in mind of the Thelonious Monk number ‘Thelonious’  –

and I’m curious to know whether there are any other examples, and if this has a name. In Baroque music there’s something similar called a pedal point but that’s the bass, not the melody.

(They’ve disabled embedding on “Tightrope” and you now have to sit through a little Samsung ad but it’s worth it.)

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2 responses to “Ostinato

  1. I don’t know of a single word to describe this (I’d be inclined to say ‘static melody, shifting harmony’), but I can think of some other examples, long and short:
    Richard Rodgers likes to do it near the climax of his Hammerstein-era ballads:
    “I never knew how to make money, but I’ll try, by God, I’ll tryyyyyyyyyy”
    and
    “… walk on, with hope in your heart, and you’ll neeee-veeeeer waaaaaalk aaaaaa-looooooooooone …”
    The whole opening verse of I Dreamed a Dream (“There was a time when men were kind, when their words were soft …”) is a single note over chords that climb up the major scale.
    There’s a vaudeville number called “I Got a Note”, which is pretty much about its own static melody (while the chords vamp away underneath).
    And Shannon’s suggestion, above, is the first jazz standard that comes to mind.
    You could probably argue that the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7th symphony is an early example. The melody isn’t static, but it’s darn close, and those chords still blow me away.

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