Hammer To Fall

Composer: Brian May
Meter: 4/4 (occassional 6/8 meter)
Key: A-major, C-major
Form of the album version:

  | Intro (Verse) | Verse - Chorus || Verse - Chorus || Bridge |
 | Break - Solo 1 | pre-Solo 2 | Solo 2 (Chorus-ext.) || Tag (Verses) - Outro |

|| : Spacer (Verse riff)

Single version drops the Break, Solo 1 and pre-Solo 2 sections.
Extended version adds pre-Intro (pre-Solo 2') section, Solo 3 section.

"Hammer To Fall" is one of Brian's rather simple hard rock songs with just a few chords, catchy melodies, a famous riff, and really artistic lyrics with more than one possible interpretation. In terms of style, close "relatives" of this song are "Put Out The Fire" and "Tear It Up", plus "I Go Crazy" the latter having been left off The Works probably because of the stylistic similarity with this song.
For his Another World tour (1998) Brian May re-arranged the song for only one clean guitar and slowed down the tempo drastically to fit the "ballad" interpretation better.
The form is a non-unusual variant of the One-Bridge model. The short length of the Verse and the way the Chorus and the Verse have two similar phrases (half-phrases) make these two closely related. Each Verse and Chorus section has different lyrics, except the title phrase that closes every Chorus.
The single version (available on GH2) drops two instrumental sections to give the song a shorter and more radio-friendly shape.
The tune and the guitar riffs are shot through with off-beat accents. The home key is A-major and most of the time only the three basic chords (A, D, E) are used. The middle part has a bit more interesting harmony. The way some parts of the song can be described with riff- rather than chord-progression shows a metal influence.
The whole track is slightly pitched down.

Walkthrough

Intro, Spacers
The Intro is the instrumental version of the Verse: two iterations of the four-measure main riff. The first one features the double-tracked hard rocking rhythm guitars with drum hits on the 4th beats. Second phrase adds bass and hi-hats. The main riff uses accents with 3+5 pattern of eighths, and the famous May-favorite guitar lick: A - D/A chord change (see also in "It's Late"). Second phrase features guitar pedal bass A. The I > IV > V progression with pedal bass is also found in the intro of "Las Palabras De Amor" (1982, D-major). Intros with chord progression based on parallel-sixth motion over pedal bass were kind of a Brian trademark ("Doing Alright", "One Vision").
The spacers consist of the guitar riff only.

Verse
Like the Intro, the eighth-measure Verse has two phrases with the same backing track. The lead melody has ABCB' form (half-phrases). The backing track has a (AAAB) x 2 form; the harmony of the phrases is closed at both ends.

A:
/--------------- 2x ---------------\\
| A  D/A | A  D/A | A  D/A | E  A  |
| I   IV | I   IV | I   IV | V  I  |

The lead vocal is pentatonic. The "B" half-phrase is arch-shaped. The range is only one octave (A-A'), still we can find octave-steps in the lead vocal.
Second Verse adds chordal synth track. During the last Verse the synth is mixed down, the guitar is played in a muted style, while the bass stays throughout on the pedal A. This subdued arrangement makes the last Chorus "explode".

Chorus
The square eight-measure Chorus is almost like the second half of the Verse. Different articulation includes: vocal harmonies, "legato" guitar chords contrasting with some "staccato" D/A chords in the Verses.
The phrasing is AA where the lead vocal of the second half-phrase is varied for the second time. The "half-phrasing" is ABAB', and the "B" half-phrase comes from the Verses.

A:
/---------------- 2x --------------\\
| A  E/A | D/A  A | A  D/A | (E) A |
| I   V  | IV   I | I  IV  |  V  I |

The second half-phrase mirrors the chord progression of the first. The three-part vocal harmony is pretty simple: it strictly follows the chord progression, and the lead part is in the middle. Off-beat accents during first two measures:

1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
** * * *  **

The last Chorus is followed by a Tag-section where the backing track (with little modification) repeats the Verse progression five times. The last of these features that characteristic quick stop on "2-and".
During measure 3-4 Freddie sings falsetto (reaching an A note), and the guitar riff plays also one octave (12 frets) higher than before. The last chord is let ring throughout with feedback. Some drum fills, bass runs, and Freddie-shouts close the song.

Bridge
The phrasing is AA'B (6+5+3). The second half of the A phrases is sung in harmonies. "Fingerpicked" guitar can be heard in the first half-phrases. With the 'vi' we now have four chords on the palette.

| E    | F#m7 | E/G#  | A  (D)| A   (G) | D    |
| V    | vi   |  V    | I (IV)| I (IV-of) IV   |

| E    | F#m7 | E/G#  | A  (D)| E    |
| V    | vi   |  V    | I (IV)| V    |

| E/G# | A    | E/D   |
| V    | I    | V     |

The harmony is open at both ends in each phrase. The gravity-center of the lead vocal shifts to a higher level. Note the seventh in the bass in the last measure. The chords are played in eighths before the downbeats; moreover the harmony singing has a disorienting off-beat rhythm. "Oh no":

 * *     * *_..
3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4


Break - Solo 1
The phrasing of the backing track is AAA (4+4+4). The two-measure solo enters on the downbeat of the second phrase. The chord progression drives the harmony towards a modally inflected B or E-major. The pitch set of the solo is A-major with occasional feature of the modal flat-7th (G).

A:
/-------------- 2x -------------\\
| B   | E   | B  E1 F#1| G5..A5 |
|V-of-V V   V-of-V     |bVII I  |

The tonic-role of A is very weak due to the short air-time it gets and the way it seems to be a transition chord between G5 and B(5). The rhythm uses 3+5 patterned and off-beat accents.
Note the last notes of this segment of the solo where the C# gets a "clean"-C ornament.

Pre-Solo 2
This eight-measure section hijacks the harmony from A-major to C-major. Pumping pedal-point on C is played throughout the whole section without chordal support. The guitar in the live version (and also in the pre-Intro of the long version) plays I-IV-V progression over the pedal point. The tone set of the lead guitar part is mostly Mixolydian C-major, but we can find occasional flat-3rd degree too. The pre-solo (which is not melodic enough to be a real solo) is ascending in flavor except the descending ending. I collected the notes where the rise is interrupted even for a moment: F, A, A#, D, D#, F, A, E. Except the last E, which marks is the peak of the arch, every note is an appoggiatura in the context of the basal C chord, and this is what creates the unresolved feeling that motivates the solo to move on higher and higher. Roger spices this section with some asymmetric patterns (eg. 3+3+2).

/------ 4x -------\\
| C(1)  |(F/C G/C)|   (live version)
| I     |( IV  V )|


Solo 2
The solo section is an instrumental Chorus added a tag-like extension of four measures. The ending of the solo is reminiscent of the original lead vocal melody. The first of the four additional measures repeats the previous one. The second one is in 6/8 (3+3). The last two leave the section open on IV (D).
Compared to the other Choruses, the backing vocals are modified in the second phrase. The guitar solo itself is different between the single and the album version (at microscopic details). The single version also adds vocal harmony parts.

Solo 3 (only in long version)
The section is six measures long, and the solo itself starts in measure two, stops for a moment at the end of measure four to continue for the rest of the section. The tune features variants of short motifs taken from Solo 2.