When I wrote the song, The One (featured on my album Change Coming), I was reflecting on the aspect of finding a solid relationship. Here's a deep dive into the song.
After the introduction (which uses the chords from the upcoming chorus), established with piano as the lead instrument along with guitar, electric bass and drums, the first verse starts out from a deeply sad place:
Never planned to be alone at this point in my life
Lost track of all the times I've blown it
Thinking I could have it better by moving on
Instead of stepping up to own it
Do you notice there's a pause after each line? I could have left the pause out, but I wanted a few seconds to keep focus there, give a sense of space to reflect. A skillful producer/songwriter I met at a conference told me I could take those pauses out to move things along faster--unless I really want them. I really want them! :)
I should probably point out the song key is G and the chords in the verse are G, C, followed by G major 7 with a D in the bass (GMA7/D). It's not an unusual progression, but the expectation for the 3rd chord is for it to be a D7 (think Twist and Shout). Here, I wanted a more open and less resolved feeling, thus the major 7th.
There's a sense of vulnerability in that last line. Did I break up with the person too soon, before I gave it a real chance?
Then there's a short 1st pre-chorus that asks the question:
Is it too late for a chance at love?
The pre-chorus chords are Ami9 (ii) and then holding on FMA9 (the VII of the key), giving a feeling of anticipation, setting up for the 1st chorus:
Maybe you’ll be the one who won’t break my heart
Maybe you’ll be the one who can make me whole
Maybe you’ll be the one to take me from my fears
Maybe you’ll be the one to save me
Can you sense the shift? From the sadness of the verse, to the pre-chorus questioning “is it too late?” and then the chorus hits with the idea maybe I can love again, maybe you will make me feel safe, and perhaps save me from an unsatisfied existence. There is hope. A friend told me once that he interpreted the songs as a gospel song, that the One is God. Though that wasn’t my intention, I like the idea that people can have their own interpretation of the song. And I so love the soulfulness Jeanie Tracy brought to the 3-part backing vocals which I doubled.
The 2nd verse digs more into the sense of difficulty, trying to find a relationship that’s stable. And then there’s a surprise moment, a confession that there’s a dreaming aspect in past relationships, perhaps seeing things that weren’t there, or not realizing that something was missing and that it wasn’t working.
It's been a rocky road
Looking for a solid groove
Every time I end up
Losing myself to a fantasy
Stuck in a rut unable to move
The 2nd pre-chorus asks again, but with a stronger plea, tell me it’s not too late.
Following the 2nd chorus, we’re into a bridge to give a break from the vocals and take a different direction with harmony. The bridge chords are:
Bmi7 - F#mi7 - GMA7 - Bmi - F#mi7 - Emi7 (relative minor to the earlier GMA7)
What? We were in G major and now we’re in B minor, with no V chord to set it up, no preparation at all. For me, this represents that life is full of surprises. We don’t always get the setup.
Continuing, there’s a set of diminished chords that resolve up, one by one. Tension, resolution, pulling upward.
A#dim7-Bmi7, Cdim7-C#mi7, Ddim7-Ebmi7 ...then we hangout with a suspended feeling with GbMA7 with Ab bass (acting as a ii) continuing to a suspended V with CbMA7 with Db bass and lifting up finally to C with D bass, the suspended V of our original key of G. The melody over the bridge is first played by a Glockenspiel doubled in the piano part, and then a Chinese Ruan Moon Guitar begins to double for added texture and warmth. Following the bridge, there’s another bridge using the chords of the chorus, where Dan Nieckarz plays a written solo (which he wrote for himself) on electric guitar. Of all the songs on the album, The One has no improvised solos. To me, that’s how I felt the song, needing a sense of structure and stability against the wandering journey of the lyric.
Dan helps set up the suspended V and we’re back into the chorus, which is then repeated without the lead vocal. I wanted to let the background vocals have a more prominent feature there. The lead returns at the end with “Maybe you’ll be the one to save me” and we finish on an open D (with no third). Ending this way is open, somewhat resolved, full of possibilities, hopeful.
Incidentally, I asked TAXI for a critique on the song and recording. The screener wrote, “The effort has some solid singing and overall musicianship. You've got a really nice chorus here. Those chorus backing vocals have an cool, unexpected Motown influence.” TAXI gave me 8’s and 9’s:
If you read this far, that’s great! I hope you've enjoyed getting an in-depth look at The One. I’d love to know your thoughts on the song. Leave your comments below. Thanks.