If you grew up in the UK in the 1970s, you’ll be familiar with the children’s programme Mr Benn. What you might not know is that the theme tune was written by the great Scots jazz tenor sax player, Duncan Lamont, who died recently. He wrote the tune under a pseudonym, Don Warren.
It is a classic piece of line writing over a classic chord progression. Let’s take the chords first, in Bb, of course. The form is a song of two halves, ABAC (4-4-4-4). I’m using ‘%’ to mean repeat previous bar. Passing chords are in parentheses.
A: Bb | % | % | F-7 Bb7 ||
1) B: Eb Ab7 | Bb/F (F#o) G-7 / | C7 | F7 :||
2) C: Eb Eo7 | Bb/F (Ab7) G7 / | C-7 F7 | Bb ||
The analysis is really simple. The A section starts at home and then heads to IV. The B section ‘Yaks’ back arriving at chord I and then drops back to a slow launcher (II7 V7) in the last two bars of the B section, telling the ear we are half way through the form. The A section repeats, giving the ear some relief in familiar material. Section C is a ‘Pennies Ending’ using the classic way back from IV to chord I via #IVo7.
The melody is a brilliant lesson in using the chord notes to build a tune connected together with approach tones.
In the A section, the melody emphasises E natural over the Bb chords on strong beats 3 of bars 1 and 2. This is the #11 of Bb, which is the ‘go to’ 11 in a tonic major chord. It could be voiced as a V7 of V chord, C7, if you were bored of comping straight Bb. But this is the Lydian sound on Bb (#11) and predates the Simpson’s Theme (1989), which also majors on the Lydian, by almost a couple decades (1970).
Bar 3 has a classic enclosure of the third of the Bb chord (semitone below): D, Eb, Db, D.
The C section starts with lots of chromatic approach from below and ends with two bars alternating Bb and C triads which emphasises the #11 again as in the A section but also sounding like the tune is outside the key to great comic effect.
If you want to know what the terms ‘Yak’ and ‘Pennies Ending’ are all about, check out my book about memorising chord progressions.