Has a York band just recorded ‘the greatest key change of all time’? Judge for yourself!

Photograph: Richard McDougall
30 Sep 2020 @ 7.28 pm
| Entertainment

The new single from York band Bull has sparked a fierce debate among music fans.

Does their new single, Disco Living, feature the best key change of all time?

YorkMix caught up with Tom Beer, lead singer, to investigate this hot topic.

Tom says: “It started in the studio with our producer Remko Schouten. He said he wanted to spice up the sound, give it something that really kicks, so we kicked it up a notch with this key change.

“It’s a roller-coaster, it’s slightly unnerving, it’s had the nation diving for the sick bag whilst screaming ‘faster I want to go faster!’ 

“Key changes usually happen towards the end of a number, when all other tactics have failed. 

“But Remko broke all the rules. He warps the tape in a crazy way to get our key change going before we’ve even played for a minute. It must be the earliest key change in pop music history!” 

The reaction among music fans has been positive, with listeners reporting that the distortion trick just makes them want the music to go ever faster and more frenetic.

Disco Living: Bull

The single has already chalked up more than 41,000 plays on Spotify, hot on the heels of Green, their brilliant early summer release, which has racked up 78,000 plays. 

You can hear it below.

Now Tom kindly asks music fans to suggest which other pop hits have outrageous key changes… and to let him know if you think he’s missed any. 

Here are Tom’s Top 10 suggestions (and no prizes for guessing who he puts at Number 1):

10. Bon Jovi – Living on a Prayer [1986]

Tom says: “This, classic is a  real banger all the way through. These guys have lovely skin and nice big bums! And just when you thought they couldn’t take it any higher, around the 03:24 mark Bon Jovi blow off the roof. For me, this brings back ecstatic memories of dancing in the late Willow Club in York. I would scream myself hoarse to this number and I blame the key change. This song is a masterclass in the pre-chorus double chorus phenomenon. Just when you think they’ve hit you with the chorus (‘we gotta hold on’), Bam! The real chorus hits, and when this is paired with the soaring power of the key change the results are, quite simply, breathtaking. The call and response. The Whoah! Yes.”

9. The Ramones – Bonzo Goes To Bitburg [1986]

Tom says: “I love this song. It features in The School of Rock, the film that inspired a generation to stick it to the man. Political and personal lyrics from Joey Ramone about President Reagan’s shocking visit to an SS military cemetery in 1985. He means it – and never as much as when the key change hits around the 02’40” mark.” 

If the School of Rock did homework, tonight’s required reading would be this.

8. Whitney Houston –  I Wanna Dance With Somebody [1987]

Tom says: “Have you seen the movie I Am Legend? Good. Well, imagine Whitney Houston is Will Smith, the last human being in a post-apocalyptic Manhattan. Now listen to the song. She wants to dance with somebody. She wants to feel the heat with somebody. Of course she does. This makes you wanna boogie. Huge big clapping snare sound and synth bass freaking out all over the place – that’s your feet. Another late key change at 03’36”, now you really wanna dance with somebody. Pure soul, pure passion. I want to dance.”

7. S Club 7 – Bring It All Back [1999]

Tom says: “This is a big kids disco sensation. That could be my age. For some this might have been a club anthem or a rave song. And yes, it has a key change (at 02’41”) of the typical kind, they bring it up, they take it higher, they push the limit and they bring it all back to you.The late 90s were a big time for key changes. Girl groups and boy bands took to performing seated, on bar stools, only standing up and showing the audience their full height and legs towards the end of the song. The key change became a useful signifier and tool for the young boys and girls, almost a cue, letting them know that now was the time to stand up and to continue singing.”

6. Sisqo – Thong Song [2000]

Tom says: “What can I say about this, so much has already been written about it. It’s outrageous! The key change lifts it all at 03’08”

5. The Roches – Hammond Song [1979]

Tom says: “Produced by Robert Fripp and featuring mad guitar from the Frippanator (nutter that Fripp) – Three sisters sing a song about three sisters. The two older sisters don’t want the youngest sister to ‘throw herself away’ by leaving them to go to go ‘with that fella’ down to Hammond. The key change comes at 02’12” when the youngest sister sings, ‘Well I went down to Hammond’. The shift up accommodates her higher, more innocent voice. This song has very nice harmonies and is a hidden gem.” 

4. Mr Big – To Be With You [1991]

Tom says: “This is the proof that boybands were the natural progression from hair metal. These are the stunted confused masculine children of a greater era, when musicians could play their instruments. When men were men. When hair was long, and key changes were invented. This one, at 02’52” is a masterclass. Take notes.”

3. Natalie Cole – This Will Be (An Everlasting Love) [1975]

Here Tom hands over to Bull band pal, guitarist  Dan Lucas. Dan says:  “Released in 1975, this debut single put the daughter of Nat King Cole on the musical map. It charted here and reached No 1 in the US. It also saw her win a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, knocking Aretha Franklin off her proverbial throne. The key change comes at an impressive 63 seconds, one of the earliest in our list. She wastes no time in taking us up a gear and for that we thank her. Making the decision to move early from the B Flat to D Flat allows the full range of her voice to really shine through for the majority of the song and hit notes that would be sure to make King Cole proud. This will be – an everlasting song in the annals of key change history.”  

2. Beyonce – Love On Top [2011]

Tom says: “Bring the beat in!  Yes, after 12 seconds, that is what Beyonce says – and bring it in they do. This song makes you feel like you’re at the end of your movie. Everything makes sense, you kiss your hand, raise it to the sky, look out of the window, shake your head and smile. You made it. Through what? It doesn’t matter. The first key change comes in at an extremely early (but not the earliest) 01’43” and the whole song is one big series of key change from there on (02’04” and 02’25” for starters). Suddenly you’re on a dancefloor spinning faster and faster and stuff is getting exponentially and manically better and better forever and ever! She’s Queen B. What makes this one special is that it changes key incrementally up one semi-tone at the end of each chorus. The effect is extraordinary and dizzying, leaving you an absolute mess afterwards. Nice.”

Tom gives honourable mentions for Backstreet Boys: I Want It That Way (‘classic funny key change’), and Celine Dion: My Heart Will Go On, (‘an absolute classic, and great chops on the tin whistle, Celine’). And just about everything ever recorded by Westlife!

So what does Tom reckon is the one to top his list?

1. Bull – Disco Living

Tom says: “Okay, we’re biased, but here it is, the greatest key change of all time. This has got to be one of the wackiest and earliest key changes in pop music history. The crazy shift happens just after 55 seconds have played. Magic!

“Play us out, lads…”

Can any YorkMix readers suggest tracks that might rival it for title of Pop’s Weirdest Key Change?