ITT: deceptively complex pop songs
For example, This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us by Sparks has some pretty unexpected chord changes and time signature changes practically every bar, yet it was a huge hit in the mainstream and practically everyone will have heard it at some point in their lives.
Radiohead - Just
The chord progression consists mostly of major chords whose root notes are almost entirely derived from the C diminished scale (a Bb and G break the pattern), which is practically unheard of in rock music aside from progressive stuff like some of King Crimson's albums. To hear something like that in an alternative rock song, especially one as catchy and popular as this is quite startling.
Blur - Coffee & TV
The vocal melody in the verses clearly implies a tonality of A major with only a couple of notes outside the scale, yet all but one of the accompanying chords are incongruous with this, up until the final resolution to A at the end of the verse leading into the modulation to C# minor in the chorus. Really great pop song, one of the best of the 90s.
Also, is it just me in this thread?
Their early work was a little too new wave for my tastes, but when Sports came out in '83, I think they really came into their own, commercially and artistically. The whole album has a clear, crisp sound, and a new sheen of consummate professionalism that really gives the songs a big boost. He's been compared to Elvis Costello, but I think Huey has a far more bitter, cynical sense of humor.
I thought of another one.
Scissor Sisters - I Can't Decide
Mostly for the same reason as the Sparks song. An unpredictable harmonic progression coupled with a lot of syncopation in the instrumental parts makes for a really memorable song. I also love that isolated 5/4 measure just before the refrain, and something about the phrasing in the chorus pleases me although I'm not sure exactly what it is.
The instrumentation in this song is a little annoying but the composition is solid. I have a feeling Scissor Sisters are underrated because of the gay association. I'll have to relisten to pic related or one of their earlier albums and find out.
Happiness is a Warm Gun by the Beatles is a pretty good example of this. In addition to time signature changes, there's one part where Ringo is playing in a different time signature from the rest of the band.
I think one of their earlier songs like She Loves You or Yesterday would be a better choice.
Their later albums are already seen as being groundbreaking masterpieces by the general public, whereas the early material is often disregarded as being simplistic pop music, despite being compositionally quite impressive.
But yeah, The Beatles are a given.
Let's Get It Started - Black Eyed Peas
The chord progression consists mostly of major chords whose root notes are almost entirely derived from the C diminished scale (a Bb and G break the pattern), which is practically unheard of in hip hop. To hear something like that on the radio, especially one as catchy and popular as this is quite startling.
The chorus to Single Ladies by Beyonce features a bass line that slides up from B to C. This is weird, considering the fact the the melody for this part of the song is in the key of E major, which does not contain a C natural. The song essentially mixes major and minor modes.
Arcade Fire - In the Backseat
I've seen a lot of people hate on Arcade Fire on /mu/ for being basic indie pop, but their debut album is pretty great, especially the closing track. The chord progression is nice by itself, but what I really like about this song is the irregular phrasing in the chorus. It uses a five-measure phrase which repeats twice, as opposed to the four or eight-measure phrases you'd find in most pop music. It's really effective because it sounds like it's leading into another section but then it just repeats, which really adds to the sense of desolation the song possesses. I also find the lyrics really powerful but I don't have much to say about that.