Musicology

So you’ve ventured here to the musicology page, good work! Feel free to read ahead if you like but don’t feel like you have to complete/read this entire page in one go. It’s important to pace yourself. From here we’ll be analysing ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ so that by the end, you will have a much deeper understanding of the song than what you may have already. Let’s get started.

Musicology Lesson

If you happened to miss the song on the previous page and haven’t heard it, here it is again:

Now having watched the video and heard the song, I’d like you to put a question to you to think about for a moment – do you recognise any samples or melodies from other songs being used in the first minute of ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’?

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Ideas? Well, if you thought ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’, you would be correct. The main melody is almost entirely the same as the old English nursery rhyme! Gotye sampled this and used it very effectively and based the harmonies and other melodies of the song around it. Have a listen to the isolated xylophone track below of the main melody/Baa Baa Black Sheep and follow along with the score beneath it.

It’s strange how well it fits into the context of the song. Now, there’s another song that Gotye has sampled for use in ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’, I don’t expect you to recognise it though as it isn’t as easy as ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’. Watch the video below for the song ‘Seville’ by Luiz Bonfa and I guarantee that you’ll recognise the first couple of bars almost instantly. Hint: the score beneath the video is for guitar.

So as you can probably see, the song is largely built around small samples from pre-existing, and in the case of ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’, well-known songs. This song demonstrates that by using and manipulating the concepts of music, coupled with sampling, it’s quite simple to create a catchy pop song. Whether or not it goes #1 is another story!

Fast Facts

  • Gotye (aka. Wally De Backer) almost threw this song away because he struggled with it constantly and couldn’t quite finish it. This is how the song became a duet.
  • Kimbra wasn’t originally the female singer to be featured in ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’. Another well-known female Australian singer was scheduled to record the female vocal but pulled out at the last minute. Gotye, being an eternally nice guy, won’t confirm who it was but says that she has expressed much regret about cancelling the recording.
  • As mentioned above, the guitar introduction is sampled from the Luiz Bonfa song ‘Seville’ and the xylophone melody used in the introduction is from the nursery rhyme ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’.
  • The song is sung from a male and female perspective on the breakdown of a romantic relationship. Gotye has said that it is about a number of relationships that he has had personally but the chorus is solely about one particular ex-girlfriend.

There you have it – some background information regarding the composition of the song and the techniques behind particular elements of it. Bonus – watch the live video below and take note of the different devices Gotye uses in his performance. It may provide ideas of devices you would like to use in future performances and also gives some insight into ways that you can manipulate the concepts of music in a song.

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