Foo Fighters: “Rope” (2011)

This happens when the drummer writes for guitar…

Apart from interesting metrical “fake-outs” in the intro of this song has some unusual chords and chord progressions. It’s as modal as it can get. (Listen below).

0:00(4+4) + (4+4)A' + AIntro
0:28(4+4) + (4+4)A + AVerse
1:09(4+4+2+2) + 4BChorus
2:19(4+4+2+2) + 4BChorus
2:472+2+2+2C' + C'Break
3:07123x CSolo
3:28(4+4+4+2+2) + 4B'Chorus
4:034+4A' + AOutro


In an interview (starts at 3:38) with Guitar World Magazine Dave Grohl explains how he came upon the unusual chords for the A section. He stumbled upon a nice voicing (xx7750 = pitches a, d, e) and moved it up and down the neck until he found other positions where this shape sounded nice when combined with open strings. Out came this riff:


The sonorities seem to be Asus4 (add9), Esus4 and Csus4.
“And then I had to find the root”, Grohl continues. But weird roots he chose! Instead of playing a, e and c in the bass accompaniment he plays b, f# and d:


Thus, the sonorities need to be reinterpreted as b7add11 / f#7add11 / d7add11 / d7add11: Four minor seventh chords with added fourths.
The pitches heard seem to be based on a b aeolian scale, apart from the f natural in the d minor chord. (In the vocal melody Grohl sings f# (“got”) over the f#7add11 chord and f (“climbing”) over d7add11 as well.) C# is featured as a passing tone in the vocal melody (over the b chord) , while c natural is used as a flat seventh in the d chord and in the vocals at this point.

This is how the bands’ guitar players understand it in a different Guitar World interview:

CHRIS SHIFLETT: The verse chords in “Rope” are really interesting to me. What my guitar is doing over the bass makes no sense in a way. It does, but you don’t know how. A flat seventh, a fourth and a minor third; those seem like weird notes to put together in a chord and put in those places. I remember when we were learning that I was like, “What the fuck? This is nuts.” I don’t know if people will interpret it as “out there” compared with what the band normally does. But it’s a crazy kind of sophisticated thing that’s happening.
GUITAR WORLD: The third chord in the intro is the one that throws me. What is that chord?
CHRIS SHIFLETT: They’re all minor sevenths with a sus four. But it’s in B minor, and then you move to a D, which is also a minor sus four. So that’s kind of illogical, in a way, to your ear.
PATSMEAR: [to Grohl] Do you understand anything of what they’re talking about? [laughter]
DAVEGROHL: I wish I did.


The chords in the chorus are G5 / e7 / badd11 / A. The e7 chord keeps the d from the previous G chord, the badd11 keeps the e from e7. All in all, the seven pitches make up a diatonic scale again – this time without any misfits. But where’s the tonal center?
When the chorus first starts I hear G as a long awaited tonic although the preceding d chord is minor and thus not functioning as a dominant. B aeolian shares the same pitches with G lydian and it is anything but rare that songs have verses in a minor key and choruses in major key.
But in the course of the chorus nothing confirms this perception. When the band repeats the harmonic loop, I’ve lost any orientation as to what the tonal center might be. Maybe b minor again? But adding the fourth doesn’t exactly help to confirm a tonic function. Anyway, the band obviously avoids a dominant and, thus, any clear tonal relationships.

In the last four bars of the chorus, however, there’s a chromatic climb from G to B using (kind of) secondary dominants:

G / (V/3) / A / (V/3) / b

Metrical Ambiguity

There are two metrically interesting things happening in the intro. First, the delay in bars 1-4 is set to c. 290ms within a tempo of 133 bpm, resulting in 6 repeats per bar. When first listening to this song you might therefore expect a ternary meter. But bars 5-8 in which the second guitar comes in with straight eighth notes proves otherwise.
Second, at the end of the four-bar riff that defines section A all instruments anticipate the downbeat by an eighth note and play nothing on the ‘one’. So instead of starting the riff with a strong downbeat there’s just a weird gap that might irritate you on first listening.



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