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Gridiron Bluegrass


In this entry of “What the Punch?!?”, I take a look at the novelty song “Omahallelujah.” This song was recorded live from the Feb. 7, 2015 taping of "A Prairie Home Companion" and joining the Punch Brothers (minus Noam Pikelny on banjo) on the song were Sarah Jarocz, Richard Dworsky, and Ted Poor. The transcription can be found at the bottom of the page.

The song is a humorous tribute to Peyton Manning and his upcoming Super Bowl 50 (or L?) appearance. While Chris Thile and the gang could have easily mailed it in and written a competent but musically uninteresting song, they of course didn't. Even with this trifle of a song (I mean, what is the mass commercial appeal of this song outside of Colorado?) the Punch Brothers find a way of creating music that is still smart, fun, and musically rich. On a side note, it was after using this song as a musical example for a Theory IV class that I decided to start transcribing other Punch Brothers songs.

Before getting to the nitty-gritty, here are some of the Manning references and clever musical quotes crammed into this song:

Peyton Manning references:

  • Manning played quarterback at the University of Tennessee (Volunteers) where he achieved god-like status. Peyton is apparently still a popular baby name in Tennessee.

  • Manning's NFL career spanning stops in Indianapolis and Denver.

  • Manning's famous audible "Omaha!"

  • Endorsement deals with Papa Johnʼs and Nationwide Insurance.

  • Super Bowl MVP performance in 2007.

  • Allegations of HGH use following an injury rehabilitation and a jab at the New England Patriots, Manningʼs most consistent rival.

  • According to the song, Manning will celebrate touchdowns by doing the “dab” - Cam Newtonʼs signature touchdown celebration move (unfortunately, Newton has recently declared the dab to be dead).

Musical quotes/allusions:

  • Following the line “Now I watch the news”, the Sportscenter theme is sung (m. 35).

  • Sarah Jarocz sings the Nationwide Insurance jingle on the line “Nationwide Iʼm on your side" (mm. 46-47).

  • The song ends on a religiously-tinged Plagal cadence with the expected “amen” substituted with “a-Manning”.

The intro consists of a little mandolin riff that moves from an A chord to an F#M chord. While seemingly innocuous, this riff actually plays an important role in forecasting the large-scale harmonic movement in the song.

Meter. The entire song is in 4/4 except for a 2/4 bar that closes each verse. After the second verse, the song predictably moves to the chorus. While the chorus is in 4/4, the preceding 2/4 measure of the verse combined with the finger snaps on beats 2 and 4 on the first measure of the chorus create a brief sense of metric ambiguity - beat 3 all of a sudden sounds like beat 1.However, the meter is not the only interesting part of this chorus.

Harmony. The first measure of the chorus introduces two pitches foreign to F# major - A and E natural. These pitches imply F# minor...but also A major! While the vocal duet (a good example of oblique motion: one voice moves while the other stays the same) and the ascending bassline begin centered on F#, by the end of the first four-bar phrase, the tonal center appears to slide up to A. This tonal shift is verified immediately by the following four-bar phrase that repeats the same musical material from the previous phrase but transposed up to A major. Once again we see the Punch Brothers seamlessly moving to keys a chromatic mediant away (F# to A). Speaking of F# and A, those are the two chords in the introduction riff - musical foreshadowing??

Following the second time through the chorus, the song makes a quick jump up yet another minor third to C major. The song then ends with a tag that repeats the vi-ii-V-I progression found at the end of the chorus, first in A and then followed immediately in the key of F# major - our original home key. The quick phrase modulations are aided by Gabe Witcher's on-point bass vocal solo that leads to each new key area. At this point, itʼs good to remind ourselves that this is a novelty song, not a multi-movement work with a grand overarching harmonic scheme. Nevertheless, the fact that this song moves effortlessly through three keys over its final eight measures attests to the Punch Brothers musical chops and harmonic sophistication. I also think one could make a strong case that "Omahallelujah" surpasses the 1985 Bears' "Super Bowl Shuffle" as the greatest Super Bowl-themed song in music history.

One last thing, a reason why this song is so fun to listen to is because of it's clever use of word-play, namely internal rhyming and assonance. Verse four is a good example:

On the eve of what could well be your last ride

Listen to me, oh Peyton just like Nationwide I'm on your side

So's everyone outside of the Carolines

Sorry Cam Newton, Peyton's gonna do the dab this time

Here's the complete lead-sheet transcription: Omahallelujah

#PunchBrothers #ChrisThile #PeytonManning #chromaticmediant #SarahJarocz #PrairieHomeCompanion

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© 2016 by Paul David Thomas