While Senator Hillary Clinton’s speech tonight at the Democratic National Convention in Denver struck an energetic, unifying tone, the music used in her tribute video and walk-on offered an interesting counterpoint. The video, narrated by Chelsea and played before her speech, kicked off brightly and energetically, with a couple of rock tracks that were considered edgy when they first came out but have since settled into the classic-rock pantheon. First we heard The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” which is based entirely around rising, pulsing major chords, in the upbeat “Louie Louie” style of the time. Then we segued into Lenny Kravitz’ “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” a track whose funky minor chords in the verses give way to celebratory major chords in the chorus. Next up, Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” whose chorus kicks off with major chords but then steps briefly into melancholy territory, with a few minor chords expressing a certain nostalgia.
Then the music stepped down another notch. Halfway through the video, the images were accompanied by a dramatic orchestral arrangement based almost entirely around minor keys, somewhere between CBS’ “Cold Case” theme and The Killers’ “Somebody Told Me.” It was a surprisingly fierce choice for a moment that could have relied on cheesy balladry.
Finally, Hillary took the stage to a track she used often on the campaign trail (after that whole Celine Dion debacle): Big Head Todd and the Monsters’ “Blue Sky.” While its refrain of “we can change the world” couldn’t be more optimistic, the chorus returns again and again to a minor chord that gives the song a tone that touches on regret as much as hope. The song has an odd resemblance to Graham Nash’s “Chicago,” another minor-chord tune which may bring up uneasy reminders of another fractious Democratic convention. Whatever the night’s narrative, Hillary’s musical metanarrative touched only briefly on celebratory chords, veering quickly into nostalgia and even daringly intense fervor before settling on a reflective minor-chord wistfulness. While the speech electrified the crowd, the music seemed to seep into the subconscious and ask, “What if?”