Harmony SpaceAnalysing Songs
Printable Version of this PageHome PageRecent ChangesSearchSign In

Sultans of Swing Dire Straits

sultans of swing closeup.jpg
The harmonic structure begins with a typical downward modal motion from the Aeolian centre. This lends the beginning a somewhat rootless, somewhat sad feel.
Given the Aeolean style of motion, it is perhaps a little surprising that on hitting the fourth chord, a dominant shape is used instead of the expected minor shape. This seems to indicate a potential turn into more goal-oriented, purposeful tonal (albeit minor) territory.
Indeed, we drop down from there in the tonal as opposed to modal direction back down onto the Aeolian centre (or is it the minor centre?) to repeat the same four chords.
The contrast between the modal direction of motion followed by the dominant chord shape and short tonal movement may suggest a turning into slightly more optimistic territory.
But on the second time around, rather than falling to the minor centre, we press on to the relative major centre and then move in a confident tonal direction as follows I V IV. The song sounds more confident here.
Perhaps surprisingly, instead of falling back to major i, the song pauses for a while at the minor tonal centre. Compared with the confident major territory, this sounds somewhat muted and uncertain, but interestingly other.
Now in a wonderfully economical move, the song reveals that without moving our position at all, the role of the position has changed back finally into the aoelian centre . This is revealed by a distinctive repeated aeolian ending movement IV VII - VI VII - VII I, with various aeolian movement flourishes.

Clearly the melody and arrangement could be altered to shade these harmonic mood changes in different ways.
But the harmonic framework is nonetheless a minature masterpiece
diffident, depressed
  • flipping to the possibility of new things
  • flipping to some clear certainties
  • flipping back to an area of doubt
  • then a motor rhythm driving savagely back to a higher energy version of the uncertain, disadvantaged beginning