“The House the Street the Room” Gentle Giant bass transcription (updated with chords)

A few weeks ago, after I learned Gentle Giant bassist Ray Shulman had died, I posted this YouTube video:

The video featured a transcription of Ray’s bass part from “The House the Street the Room,” a song on Gentle Giant’s 1971 sophomore album, Acquiring the Taste. The transcription was one I had made in a music notebook shortly after graduating from college in 1996.

In the video, I pointed out a few errors I had made in the transcription, and then I proceeded to play along with the recording, correcting those mistakes.

A commenter on the video asked me to post my corrected transcription, so this morning I decided to do just that! Of course, not being willing (or able) to just leave it at fixing a careless time signature error and a few inaccurate rhythms (plus actually counting the number of times the vamps are repeated), I probed the original recording deeper, with the greater (though still limited) music theory knowledge I possess today. There were two things that bothered me that I really wanted to address:

  1. Chords. Yes, there are long stretches of the main (A) section where the instruments are playing a unison line and chords are only implied, but then there are some chord hits. And the B section definitely has chords and generally a more “functional harmony” kind of feeling. So I wanted to determine what all of those chords were.
  2. Time signatures. Yes, there’s that one odd 3/4 measure, but when I listen to it, there’s a bit in the middle where it feels like there’s an awkward beat thrown in occasionally. Then when I worked out the chords, I realized that one of those keyboard hits comes decisively on beat 4 of a 4/4 measure… and the result is that it feels more like a measure of 3/4 and a measure of 5/4. That also makes the transition into the B section a bit more logical, in that it’s returning to 4/4 on the 2nd ending, rather than throwing in a single odd measure of 3/4.

I also added tablature because, why not? (It’s really easy in MuseScore.) Note that I have no idea of these tabs are correct to what Ray played; it’s just how I played it when I recorded the video.

I’ve posted the score file on Musescore.org, and here’s a PDF version:

I want to talk more about those chords, because they’re very interesting. When the actual chords do hit in the A section, they perfectly match the notes the bass is outlining. You could think of the B diminished 7 chord as an F diminished 7 — they contain the exact same notes, and the piano/vocal parts really do feel like they’re just descending by a half step, but since the bass hits B on the downbeat, I went with that. (Plus, it’s kinda-sorta almost functional?)

Those C minor-major 7th chords — definitely just implied — arise from a double harmonic minor (Hungarian minor) scale. It’s a minor scale with both the 4th and 7th degrees raised, creating leading tones to both the root and the 5th. It’s a mysterious, yearning kind of sound, which fits well with the somewhat (?) ambiguous lyrics about a house where people go to safely engage in activities that would be frowned upon in public.

Anyway… that B diminished 7 chord really feels like it’s hitting on a downbeat… which is why I decided to switch from 4/4 to a measure of 3/4 and a measure of 5/4.

Now I just wonder if I’ll look back on this new version after another 27-year break (when I’m… yeesh 76 years old) and find just as much to criticize as I do in the original today. Maybe I’ll even finally transcribe the fugue section.