At first I was struck by the harmonic similarities between this song and another funk-disco workout, The Weeknd’s ‘Sacrifice’, because both have oscillating i-vi verse chord progressions and elsewhere feature a prominent falling 1-b7-6-b6 bass line ( B-A-G#-G in ‘Sacrifice’, D-C-B-Bb here). And is it only me, or does the chorus melody remind you of the chorus of the Hall & Oates song ‘Maneater’?
But any such discussion is burying the lead, because ‘Standing Next To You’ has one of the boldest chorus progressions I’ve ever come across in a pop production. Just the first three bars of it (starting at 1:03) are ear-catching enough, powering through a Dm-C-G/B-Bb-Gm-Am progression over the aforementioned falling bass line, and honestly if the chorus coda section (which arrives at 1:21) had just followed on directly from there it would already have been a nice turnaround. Have a listen. play_arrow | get_app But then we get the first really unexpected bass note, the leading-note C# underpinning the first-inversion A chord at 1:10, a note that creates a jarring false relation with the previous Am chord’s C. Again, though, when that leading note resolves onto the following tonic chord, the song could easily have dovetailed into the chorus coda at that point too, like this. play_arrow | get_app
You ain’t heard nothing yet, though, because the real doozy is the third-inversion Bb9 chord that arrives at 1:12, over which the lead vocal repeatedly intones dissonant A and G notes – a sonority so rare and wonderful within the context of modern chart pop that I actually gasped when I first heard it! But what impresses me even more is that the production manages to make such a weird-sounding chord feel like it actually makes some sense musically. To be frank, I reckon good old chutzpah probably has a good deal to do with this! They don’t try to just slip in that chord in passing, where some listeners might have thought it was some kind of mistake – no, they hammer it home over two full bars, leaving you in no doubt that the chord’s thrilling strangeness is an intentional act of musical bravura. I think it also helps that the song’s introduction has already showcased the progression (although crucially without those strident lead-vocal dissonances), so the chords already aren’t entirely alien when the first chorus arrives, and that the chord’s seventh (the Ab in the bass) falls a semitone to G, as you’d expect in traditional harmonic voice-leading.
Now by this point in the chorus, the production has generated plenty of fabulous shock value, but this also presents something of a production problem: now that the listener has been left not quite knowing what to expect harmonically, how are you going to build anticipation for the arrival of the following chorus coda section? Well, the answer is ’not by harmonic means’! Firstly, I think the use of eight-bar song-section lengths throughout helps here, because that does mean that there remains an expectation that a new section will arrive eight bars after the start of the chorus, no matter what the harmony’s doing. And the second major tactic is the powerful scalar bass riff in the chorus’s final bar, one of the most basic means of building expectation and momentum melodically rather than harmonically.
What a glorious stunt!