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Payphone

by Maroon 5
feat. Wiz Khalifa

Maroon 5 appear to have the Midas touch at the moment, with another big hit following hot on the heels of their global smash 'Moves Like Jagger'. My first impression is that the snare has a lovely crunch to it here, and its super-wide processed ghost-note details provide a sense of horizontal dimension to the verses without dramatically undermining the stereo impact of the chorus’s wide-panned lead vocals. However, it’s the harmonic ramifications of the main hook line that ended up catching my ear the most.

The unprepared 6-5 motion over E-major on “payphone” already has a bit of character to it, but the following suspended fourth over B-major on “call home” is even better because of the way that it isn’t satisfactorily resolved, that same E forming the basis of a second 6-5 motion over the next bar’s G-sharp minor. One weakness of a lot of rookie songwriters, as I see it, is their reluctance to indulge in any melodic dissonance at all, but even comparatively experienced songwriters normally tend to resolve lead-line suspensions during the same chord. So it’s a mark of the harmonic confidence of the Maroon 5 team that this specimen not only defers its resolution beyond its own chord, but doesn’t even resolve it properly until part of the way through the following bar. I’m not suggesting that such a scheme is particularly difficult to design, it’s just that it tends to fall outside a lot of writers' comfort zones, so it’s a trick that’s a good bet if you’re looking to set your own songs apart from the herd.

I quite like songs like this, that contrast uplifting music with distinctly downbeat lyrics. It’s very easy to get into the habit as a songwriter of always pairing a given lyric up with a certain type of key, tempo, or instrumentation by default, so this is another aspect of ‘Payphone’ that acts as a welcome reminder of the potential of the path less travelled. And what’s the betting that the live shows feature Adam Levine strategically inserting a couple of additional consonants for the line “all those fairytales are full of it”…