This article reexamines modal techniques in rock music, using the “problematic” Lydian mode as a test case. I argue that the Lydian scale plays a larger role in rock music than has been previously acknowledged, particularly in songs of the 1970s and ’80s. First, I outline a hierarchy of pitches and chords in the scale, which will aid in recognition of Lydian patterns in rock. Then, I address existing controversies surrounding Lydian interpretations of chord progressions, which will be viewed in light of three “tonal stability rules” necessary for convincing Lydian centricity. This will lead to a general theory of “modal tonicization” in rock music, also relevant to the remaining diatonic modes. Finally, I offer a series of analyses of songs by Todd Rundgren, Tears for Fears, and Steely Dan, which will demonstrate some of the musical and expressive potential of Lydian tonality.

Included in

Music Theory Commons