Monday Notes

Che cosa c’è, Gino Paoli and the turnaround

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[Monday Notes no.165] Many of Gino Paoli's songs are based on a chord sequence that is known in harmony as a turnaround. This is the case for example in Il cielo in una stanza, Sapore di sale and La gatta, probably his most famous songs. Che cosa c'è also employs the turnaround, but in a very ingenious way. I tried to analyse it.

The turnaround is a formula implicitly contained in the major scale itself. In extreme synthesis: within the scale there are seven chords, just as there are seven notes, and four of these chords fit particularly well together. These chords are in order the first, sixth, second and fifth. In harmony, it is customary to indicate them with Roman numerals, thus I VI II V.

In the C scale, these chords are C, Am, Dm, G7. The same thing can happen on other scales. The formula is overused in American 1950s music, for example songs such as Diana, Oh Carol and many others employ it. In Italy, too, the turnaround has been used for hundreds of songs, even very recent ones such as Mille, a hit of a couple of summers ago performed by Fedez and Orietta Berti.

Gino Paoli made really excessive use of it, building up practically all his hits. In Che cosa c'è, however, the turnaround is employed in a much more interesting way, changing key three times.

The key of the song is F major, so the four chords we expect are F, Dm7, Gm7 and C7, i.e. I VI II and V degree of the major scale.

Che cosa c'è - Spartito frase 1

We can see that the chords on which the song opens are precisely these. The only one absent is the Dm chord, which is implied in the second part of the first measure.

The song then continues with a modulation to the key of A flat major, and here are the four chords again in the new key: Ab Fm Bbm Eb7. In this case the sequence starts with the last two, but the substance does not change, it is still the same four chords, in the new key.

Che cosa c'è - Spartito frase 2

In the second part the piece modulates again, this time to the key of B flat major. And here again is the turnaround, built in this new key: Bb Gm Cm and F7. The piece then returns to the initial key, F major.

Che cosa c'è - Spartito frase 3

Che cosa c’è is therefore an ingenious song, which uses an extremely common chord sequence but by changing tonality confuses the listener, somehow hiding this typical cliché.

The success of Gino Paoli's songs is based precisely on simplicity, as well as on his personal charisma and a certain originality of the lyrics. The music, on the other hand, is not particularly interesting, evidently, since it employs familiar and well-worn formulas.

If the turnaround is therefore an enemy of originality, it is, however, a friend to those who are learning to play and with just a few chords can have fun playing their first simple songs.

And can you play any songs that employ the turnaround? Leaving aside the repertoire of the 50s and 60s, which is chock-full of them, can you point me to any recent songs that reuse this very formula? Write the title in the comments!

Until next Monday, thank you.

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