14 Songs That Don’t Resolve. Warning: This Will Be Frustrating

It’s summer! So, today I have a really quick and fun post for you.

In tonal music, by definition, songs are always seeking the I chord (the tonic).

But some songs never quite make it there!

Today, we will check out 14 songs that never resolve.

Warning: Reading this post may make you feel extremely frustrated. Consider yourself warned.


1. Ed Sheeran – “Tenerife Sea”

Ed Sheeran – Tenerife Sea

There are many ways you can end a song.

It is very common to end a studio recording by simply looping a section and fading out.

It is also very common to end a song by resolving the chord progression to the tonic (the I chord). This is common because all tonal music, by definition, is moving towards the I chord.

However, some songs – like this one – simply don’t resolve. Ed Sheeran abruptly leaves us hanging on the four chord.


2. Jason Mraz – “Did You Get My Message?”

Jason Mraz – Did You Get My Message?

Some musicians (my brother, for example) just simply can’t handle when a song doesn’t resolve.

These affected individuals often resort to singing or playing the resolution themselves, simply to avoid going insane.

If you are feeling a little frustrated after this example, just play an F-major chord on your instrument and the tension should begin to fade.


3. Edward Maya, Vika Jigulina – “Stereo Love”

Edward Maya, Vika Jigulina – Stereo Love

Really? The G-sharp minor chord? We’re really gonna end with that??

Well, to be frank, this song is annoying anyways. So, who cares?


4. Weezer – “Jacked Up”

Weezer – Jacked Up

The heartless members of Weezer could have just played that last chord… It would have been so easy. But they didn’t.


5. Counting Crows – “Mr. Jones”

Counting Crows – Mr. Jones

This song is in the key of C-major.

So, one would figure that you would finish the song the normal way… by playing a C-major chord.

Instead, why not just end on the dominant chord, the chord which makes you want to resolve to the I the most!

Is Adam Duritz trying to make us go crazy on purpose?


6. Coldplay – “Yellow”

Coldplay – Yellow

The Coldplay album “Parachutes” is notorious for not resolving final chord progressions.

Song after song, they upset OCD musicians the world over by ending songs without resolving. WHY!?!?


7. Coldplay – “Don’t Panic”

Coldplay – Don’t Panic

Another song from “Parachutes” which ends by just hanging on the IV chord (actually I am hearing an E, so that would make this a IV7 chord.)


8. Green Day – “Basket Case”

Green Day – Basket Case

Do you have the time to listen to me whine? About how all these songs keep ending on the V?


9. AC/DC – “You Shook Me All Night Long”

AC/DC – You Shook Me All Night Long

Ummmm…. Hello. Seriously? That’s it!?

Just like the Counting Crows and the Green Day example, this song also ends on the dominant (the V chord).


10. Weezer – “Buddy Holly”

Weezer – Buddy Holly

This Weezer song ends on the submediant chord. Thanks Weezer. Thanks.


11. Led Zeppelin – “Stairway to Heaven”

Led Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven

If you’ve been following the news, apparently Stairway to Heaven may be “the biggest ripoff in history” which could cost Zeppelin millions.

Perhaps the bigger tragedy is that the final chord progression doesn’t resolve, ending on the F-chord. This is also the submediant chord, just like our previous example.

On the other hand, the vocal melody gives a sense of resolution by ending on the first scale degree.

Maybe the jury could weigh in on this issue as well? :-)


12. The Band – “The Weight”

The Band – The Weight

This song is in A major. But, it ends on D major, which is the IV chord. I love this song though, so all is forgiven.


13. A Perfect Circle – “The Hollow”

A Perfect Circle – The Hollow

This one ends on the subtonic (VII♭ chord).

Feeling overwhelmed with frustration? Hang in there. Only one more example.


14. Sonic Youth – “Incinerate”

Sonic Youth – Incinerate

This Sonic Youth song is in the key of E♭ Major.

The vocal melody ends on the note D, which is the seventh scale degree and the leading tone.

This note has an extremely strong affinity to move towards the tonic. So, why not make this the last note of the song? Simply cruel.


That’s all folks.

Big thanks to my brother – Dana Strom – for inspiring this post and helping to collect the examples below. Thanks bro!

If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe below for more fun and educational music theory articles!

Also, can you think of any songs to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.

LIKE WHAT YOU'VE READ?
If so, sign up for FREE music theory lessons:

29 Comments

Leave a comment
  • #11 Led Zeppelin isn’t actually a good example. the instrumental ends in the middle of the harmonic sequence, so the the listeners may focus on the punchline, which is obviously a return to the closing of the first theme. also Robert Plant ends the vocals on the tonic. that’s why not only have we an ending to the phrase, but also to the song as a whole.

    • Very well put! I agree with your analysis. I began to explore this in my comments in the article, but you really brought it home. Thank you for taking the time to share this with your fellow readers.

  • I got interested in this topic after listening/playing a couple of Chopin’s works: Mazurka No. 13 and “Revolutionary” etude.

    A couple of modern music examples I know of:
    * Queen – We Are The Champions
    * Daft Punk – Touch

    I’ll leave to you the nature of the last chord.

    • Oh my goodness, We are the Champions is pretty much the best example ever! I will check out the Chopin pieces as well as the Daft Punk song.

      Thanks for contributing these examples Jose.

    • Just happened to stumble upon this on a Google search.

      I have always found the unresolved chord at the end of “We are the Champions” to be fascinating, and maybe very much intentional. It leaves the entire song a little ambiguous. Are we REALLY the champions? Because the end of that song isn’t exactly triumphant. Then again, maybe Queen didn’t want to end the song in an overly grandiose manner (but that doesn’t make much sense based on how grandiose most of their music was).

      Anyway, happy to find this post. Great stuff!

  • As someone else said, Queen’s “We are the champions” is the most obvious example. So much so that when it’s played (as it very often is) at sporting events, the crowd invariably sings the missing last line!

  • I think the fact that you are talking about this says that the songwriters did their job – they made their song stand out from what most people do. What makes music interesting is when you set up expectations and then violate them – get the listeners comfortable and then shake them up.

    I enjoy it when songs end with a deceptive cadence – it leaves you wanting more. Not everything in life gets resolved!

    • I like your perspective. I have two things to say in response to your comment.

      #1 I agree with your point about expectations. I would go even further and say the cycle of setting up expectations and breaking them is one of the fundamental mechanisms that makes music enjoyable.

      #2 Another related point is thinking of a song within the larger context of it’s album. I didn’t write about this in the article, but I found at least one example of a song which didn’t resolve — but this lead into the next song on the album which resolved the phrase. An example of this are the first two songs on the “The Get Up Kids” album “Guilt Show”:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_idrU-rtyt4&index=1&list=PL1B9833F85FF9DEDA

      Thanks for your thoughts Robert!

  • Hi Eric :)
    This was a fun article. Thanks, I enjoyed feeling frustrated because that just demonstrated the power of music for me :)
    Hey, I had an idea, I’ve been fascinated now for many years with the 30s close harmony music (The Andrew Sisters, The Boswell Sisters, and nowadays The Puppini Sisters). Do you think you could make an article analyzing this style of music and how one should go about composing close harmony melodies, and if there are any principles to take into account. This subject just seems to me.
    Thanks for your work :)

    • Jaanis – Always love seeing your comments, thanks for taking the time. And glad you liked the article and feeling of frustration :-)

      I’ve added your idea to my list of post ideas for upcoming articles. I am not as familiar with those artists you mentioned as I should be -although I’ve stumbled across them in the past. I will look into it and see if I can put something together. Thanks again for taking the time to write!

    • Hey James,

      I just read Anthony’s article and I thought it was great. He is right on the money. In my article, the songwriting technique, if you want to call it that, is almost like the “music theory version” of his lyrical technique that he points out in his article. The unresolved chord progression might leave you wanting more, which may make someone listen to your song again—hence becoming “addicted” to it!

      Thanks for the comment James!

      Eric

  • The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Didn’t Want to Have to Do It” is in E-flat major but at no time do we ever hear an E-flat major chord. Rather fitting in that it’s about a guy who doesn’t want to break off a troubled relationship.

    Hall and Oates’ “Sara Smile” is in F but never resolves to F. Mark Spicer has written about that one.

    • Dr. Kevin Holm-Hudson –

      Thanks for taking the time to share these tunes. “Sara Smile” is one of my all time favs! The song chills so hard. Top notch chord progression to boot.

  • I love this site, i always enjoy the articles, i don’t find it frustrating to end off tonic. I actually think it’s a device used by the artist/composer/band to produce variation and avoid sounding too common. This has been done since the barroque era in the form of non perfect cadences which are simply variations of the more stablished and balanced I-V-I cadence or progression.

  • First time I saw Rodrigo y Gabriela live, they did it all the time! Frustrating indeed haha, but sometimes it works well

  • I wonder if sometimes songs end like this as a way to make you wanting to hear another song.

    Oddly, Counting Crows – “Mr. Jones” resolves for me. Maybe because I grew up used to the song ending like that?

  • I just found your blog through Jessielovestorun… I’m from Ann Arbor too!! I moved to Brighton in middle school actually, but my grandparents always lived there and my family is back in A2 now. My sister is in med school at U of M, so when I go home to visit that’s where I go. I miss the art fair- thanks for the pics!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Copyright © 2016 Eric Strom

/* ]]> */
Simple Share Buttons
Simple Share Buttons