Rock & Pop Critiques For Geeks

“I have no idea what aeolian cadences are........they sound like exotic birds”    John Lennon


BLOG 21:  In My Sleep - The Lost Boys’ perfect indie ballad  

Along with their driving indie rock and twangy Mod pop that we introduced in our last blog, The Lost Boys do a fine line in ballads, the pick of which is this exceptional offering from their debut EP. It’s a worthy case study for budding songwriters for the construction of harmony, melody and rhythm – and the way they semantically reinforce the lyrical theme.

Guitarists will be immediately drawn to the edgy opening arpeggio figures with its menacing diminished chord (see tab below). It’s the kind of dark art you expect from an Ozzy Osbourne ballad (think Diary Of A Madman), rather than a perfect pop song, but the motif alone expertly captures the light and shade so central to the title.       

Meanwhile, the pretty melody starts with a soaring isolated octave interval (think Over The Rainbow, Starman, etc) before developing over one of The Lost Boys’ favourite chord schemes: a bold opening move to a mediant secondary dominant I-III7 (D-F7 on “sing out loud”). This primes the relative minor (Bm, “early”) before ‘drifting away’ with a suitably somnambulistic IV-iv ‘Cole Porter’ cadence (G-Gm-D at 0.28).

“I'm a big sucker for major to minor and the emotions that can trigger, so that tends to pop up a lot in our music,” explains Ash.

The chorus (or rather refrain) offers a textbook example of the songwriting principle of ‘harmonic acceleration to a cadence’: hanging back on a static D chord for a full four chords (starting at 0.55) before the descending bassline heads for home (at 1.06). But only via a rather special twist we’ll mention in a minute. But first here’s some background from Daniel Ash himself:

“In My Sleep was written in the early hours of a summer morning when I couldn’t sleep. It’s basically just another of my unrequited love songs about preferring to be asleep rather than awake. Musically, The Beatles have been a primary influence from day one, and after we released Flowers I wanted to follow up with something as strong melodically but with a more dream-like feel.....something that wouldn’t sound out of place as one of the more mellow tracks on Rubber Soul or Revolver.”

Of course, the similarity is disguised by their unique melodies, but here’s a summary of the slick songwriting ploy they share, chordwise, starting with The Lost Boys’ “keep” and The Beatles’ “living” ahead of their swooning cadences.

* In terms of actually playing the shapes in practice, the chords are best named with reference to their fourth-string roots: D, F dim, Em7b5. But geeks analyzing their theoretical function might want to rename them as D, Ddim, Gm6, with the latter clearly the first example of the minor subdominant (IVm) heard in various contexts throughout the song in the key of D major.

Rather more cerebrally challenging, the Ddim can be seen as a tense coloration of the tonic, containing an Ab note that leads into the Gm6 through slick, single semitone voice leading.

But, hey, never mind the musicology, just sit back and enjoy this beautiful ballad.

F dim (or D dim*) Em7b5 (or Gm6*)

D major

Finally, talking of the songwriter’s trick of delaying cadences, In My Sleep slots in a mini guitar solo in the middle of the same line on the last hearing. This is in the style of, say, Oasis’ Don’t Back In Anger, and subliminally makes that final payoff phrase (when it eventually comes at 3.04) all the more satisfying.

“One day I might go down in history for a song I write,” sings Daniel Ash, tongue-in-cheek in another of his fine songs, The Karaoke Age.

For the sublime twists and turns of In My Sleep alone, he deserves to.

PS. As a bonus for guitarists, here’s my tab for In My Sleep’s cool theme riff:-



Apart from the shared words of the title, both songs employ the brilliant device, at the climax of their respective refrains, of targeting a powerful secondary dominant II chord that creates an immediately ear-catching reference point before relaxing with a soft minor subdominant cadence (iv-I). 

John Lennon himself, of course, wrote his own sleep-themed gems, including I’m Only Sleeping (Revolver) and I’m So Tired (White album). Meanwhile, talking of Rubber Soul, there’s one very special twist on In My Sleep that would surely have impressed the late Beatle himself given the powerful songwriting connection with the Fab Four’s great ballad, In My Life.  Have a close listen to these two clips:-

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Another high-profile reference for this type of bold II chord would be The Eagles’ Lyin’ Eyes: “I thought by now you’d reali-ise (A at 2.03) ahead of (in that case) a familiar ii-V-I cadence.