Weekly Billboard Theory — Too Good At Goodbyes

I’m not particularly a fan of Sam Smith. Realistically, I’m not a fan of most singers. HOWEVER, I have to admit that “Too Good At Goodbyes” isn’t a bad song and might even be a ~good~ song. I’ll explain what all of my feelings after the jump.

It’s wild what a little facial hair can do

Too Good At Goodbyes

Sam Smith

Key: D Minor/F Major (I’ll explain why I have both)

Tempo: 92 BPM

Let’s unpack the easy stuff of the song first. The progression throughout the entirety is i-III-VII-iv. If you like to think it major (I do), then it’s vi-I-V-ii. Either way, this isn’t a progression that we see every day. I might as well get it tattooed across my forehead that the relationship between the IV and I is super common in pop music but what’s that. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little surprised to hear that iv chord sound instead of a V or a v. So yeah, it’s always a pleasure to be surprised in a scenario like this and I especially appreciate it since we’re getting these four for the remainder of the song. I know that last sentence probably sounded like a dig but trust me, it isn’t. As a matter of fact, this song remains interesting despite the lack of harmonic changes.

Ya know how I just wrote out the minor and major equivalents of the chords above? Well, there’s even more of a reason for this. It’s pretty easy to think of this song in minor as the very first chord is a D minor. H O W E V E R ! The melody of this song largely focuses around F, the relative major key to D minor. “Aren’t they the same thing?” Not quite. Both D Minor and F Major consist of the same pitches, however the way in which those pitches function is different. Many of the phrases will begin or end on an F and I think only two times throughout the song does a line finish with a D. I’m not going to bother writing out the melody (I’ll explain why later) but trust me when I say the that “Too Good At Goodbyes” is largely pentatonic (only uses five pitches). We get a sixth pitch every now and then in the verses and then we even get a final seventh pitch in the choruses. That seventh pitch helps solve this mystery of whether we should call it D minor or F major but first I have to discuss why I’m not crazy about Sam Smith: Riffing.

The notes of D minor on the left and F Major on the right

Riffing is adding all of those extra notes around a melody that tricks us into thinking singers are good. I personally think that riffing is super obnoxious the majority of the time and is much more offensive to the American flag than kneeling (please note that I love Ariana). There are VERY few times when I believe it adds anything to the music and it’s usually because it’s done in a unique way. I believe that a strong, catchy melody is much more impressive than a cascade of pitches. Lot’s of people disagree with me. Big whoop. Why do I bring this up? Sam Smith needs to chill with the riffing. We get it, you’re a great singer. The problem is that if you start a song and you’re riffing like crazy how are you supposed to build the structure and tell a story? Riff even more? Get outta here. This is why I like “Latch” more than any other Sam Smith song. It shows that he can be restrained AND nasty. Real talk, it also makes it much harder to notate a song since the melody is clouded with extraneous stuff. I definitely feel like the riffing is a little much in “Too Good At Goodbye” but it kind of gives us an answer to a question that we’ve been looking for.

That seventh pitch of the chorus riffing is an E. That E could either function as the leading tone up to F making it F major or the supertonic (the second scale degree) of D minor. So how does it work in his riffing? You can hear it at about 1:07 for the first time. It doesn’t lead up to the F. It DOES go down to the D but then CONTINUES down to a C. What does this mean? Well, that specific riff on “Goodbye” at 1:07 goes G-E-D-C. The D functions as a passing tone (it isn’t part of the chord) and we have a broken up C major. Where does the C major lie in all of this? It serves as the V to the I of F major. Yes, I know that I could have just said that the melody centers around F mainly so we’ll call it F major but it’s rare that we get non-pentatonic stuff so I’m making a note of it gosh let me live my life.

One last thing. The dynamic progression of this song is pretty masterful. Essentially we get to the chorus and the entirety of the song repeats. The first time through we get a slight build up, things drop down a little as we get back to the beginning and then we have an increased build up. It’s so simple but that’s all you really need. Also, because it is so simple it allows me to forgive all of the extra stuff that Sam Smith is doing. He truly is the focus of the song and the accompaniment carries the emotional arc of “Too Good At Goodbyes”. This is now probably my second favorite song of his after “Latch”.

Hang loose, buddy

What do we got next week? Post is still number one, Cardi is number two, Taylor dropped six spots, life is weird. The first new song we have is at number 5 with “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons. Did they put out another super corny song? Of course they did. We’ll go over it next week. See ya then.

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