It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!
I had a recent online discussion with a chap who insists suspended chords cannot exist in isolation. It's the first I've heard of it, and it prompted this bit of writing. There's a few on here whose opinion I respect, it would be nice to have a discussion about this.
Tales of suspense - the haunting intro to Don’t Dream It’s Over
It’s a sign of musical genius that it can embody complex concepts in a throwaway handful of chords, leaving a wake of discussion over chord theory even before the verse has arrived.
Neil Finn’s gorgeous, Chorus-tinted intro to Crowded House’s 1986 hit Don’t Dream It’s Over is a case in point. The chords in question feature melodic movement over an Eb pedal, and are commonly termed suspensions: Ebsus2 (x68866), Eb7sus2 (x68666), Eb7sus4 (x68696). Given suspensions’ “hanging" quality, the atmosphere of the whole section is one of expectation, possibly even a touch of desperation, to find the resolution. But that resolution never comes.
Indeed the introduction of the 7th along with the suspended 2nd adds even more tension. Finally we have a 7sus4 chord, arguably even more unresolved than the rest - and then back to the first sus2. No 3rds, no change in the pedal note, no resolution, no escape from a delicate state of discombobulation. And then we do it all again. Even the first two chords of the verse, while mimicking a conventional I-vi cadence, still feature no 3rds; it’s not until the third chord, the IV major, that the key signature is hinted at, and then instantly thrown into confusion again with the use of the III major, eventually resolving back to the I by way of a passing vi in ambiguous sus2 form again.
Despite the suspenseful power of this progression, we must consider the assertion, held in some academic circles, that suspensions cannot be suspensions without resolution - that is, followed by a move to the root or the 3rd. Perhaps the origin of this idea is classical theory which describes a suspension as a continuation of one note of the previous chord of a cadence - the 5th or 7th of a I, for example, which then resolves to the 3rd or root of the IV. The consequence of such thinking would mean that none of the chords here could be thought of as suspensions, even though they sound suspended even without resolution. And their names would have to be changed, of course. Ebsus2 becomes something like Eb5add9, Eb7sus2 becomes Eb7/5add9, Eb7sus4 becomes Eb7/5add11. I will leave it to the reader to consider whether this convention is useful or simply adds confusion.
Musically, it is clear that suspensions in this case are arguably even more suspenseful when left unresolved. A resolution to the major 3rd would sound trite and saccharine-sweet. Theoretically, if whether a chord is a suspension or not depends upon its context, would mean 4ths could be paired with 3rds as sus4 chords - as long as the 4th disappears in the following chord. This would also break the convention that chords only have odd-numbered extensions unless the 4th or 2nd replaces the 3rd. As above, sus4s without 3rds couldn’t be sus4s if they aren’t followed by an obvious resolution - they would be 5th with added 9ths. Sus chords in isolation would expire; cease to be; they would be ex-chords. And what a shame it would be if songwriting experts were to have one less tool of suspense at their disposal.