Harry Styles released his second solo album, “Fine Line” in 2019. The opening track, “Golden”, was released as a single in October 2020, and has received significant radio airplay. The song was written by Styles, Mitch Rowland, Thomas Hull and Tyler Johnson, with the latter also handling production duty. What struck me about this tune was its subtle use of the C Lydian mode in both its chord progression and in some parts of its vocal melody. So, with that in mind, this blog post will be more of a music theory lesson rather than a guitar lesson, and will look at an analysis of “Golden” from a music theory perspective.
To start off with, let’s have a look at the chord progression to “Golden.”
Harry Styles “Golden” Chords
This 8 bear chord progression repeats throughout the song. Normally, I would say that this song is in the key of G major, which is still correct. This is because the chords fit perfectly into this key signature. Furthermore, the vocal melody contains only one sharp, which is F#, completely characteristic of the G major scale. Speaking of which, here is the scale of G major scale, harmonised into 3 and 4 note chords for your reference:
Looking at the chord progression to “Golden”, you would correct in analysing this song as a IV, VI, V, iii progression in the key of G Major. However, I tend to look at this song from the perspective of C Lydian, which is the 4th mode of G Major. To put that in simpler terms, if you play the same notes as the G Major scale, but start and end on C instead of G, treating C as your tonic, then you get C Lydian. Here is the harmonised mode of C Lydian:
What Makes “Golden” Lydian?
As you can see, we still have the same chords and the same notes, whether we call this song G Major or C Lydian. However, in my opinion, the key difference is that, in this song, C Major “feels” like the tonic, which is why it is a Lydian chord progression. The song certainly feels like C is the home key, no doubt aided by the absence of any type of G Major chord to pin down the harmony.
The second key Lydian component of this tune is the prominence of the F# note in the vocal melody. F# is the characteristic note of C Lydian, as it is the #4. Without it, the scale is simply just C major, as you can see below in this comparison of both scales:
Although most of the melody is made up of chord tones, there are a few instances in the chorus where the F# is used against the C Major chord. These occur in the chorus, and give a clear #4 tonality against the C chord, further emphasising the song’s Lydian leanings. Check out this piano video of “Golden” – you can clearly see the notes played, watch out for those F#s in the chorus against C major!
Using The Lydian Mode In Your Songwriting
Although the four songwriters of “Golden” may not have set out to write a song in C Lydian (it may have just been an accident because it sounded good) you can still use this concept in your own songwriting. Whether you write avant garde film scores or light pop music, the Lydian mode is a useful tool at your disposal. It has a dreamy, floaty sound, and is particularly effective when alternating between the first two major chords that appear in the mode. To use it yourself, treat chord IV of any major key as your new home, and make your chord progressions resolve to this new tonic instead. Make sure to make a big deal of that #4 in your melodies too, it has a very strong tonality to it.
If you want to take this concept further, then try a similar approach with the other six modes of the major scale. Treat it’s chord as your new tonic, and compose your piece from there. There are some great examples of Dorian, Phrygian, Mixolydian and Aeolian (not so much Locrian) being used for pop songs and other famous compositions.
I hope you have enjoyed this pop music theory lesson. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to see more of this kind of stuff in the future. As always, have fun, and I’ll see you next time.