Seven Seas of Rhye: song of imaginary land brought to life by Ionian and Mixolydian modes
Queen CD cover
Music Period: 1970s
Seven Seas of Rhye first appeared as an instrumental track on Queen's 1973 self-titled debut album and later released as a song with the same title on their 1974 sophomore album Queen II. The music was presumably composed by the bandleader Freddie Mercury in collaboration with guitarist Brian May, although the latter does not appear on the song's credits.
Little is known about the kingdom of Rhye and, according to Mercury, it was a "figment of his imagination." Apart from Seven Seas of Rhye, it also appears in the lyrics of Lily of the Valley, a ballad released on Queen's third album. Many fans say that the only thing known of the kingdom is the titular seven seas that exist in Rhye, though another strong theory suggests that the three queens—White Queen, Black Queen, and Killer Queen—who appear in the lyrics of the band's early albums reside in this fictional land.
Compositionally, Seven Seas of Rhye follows an advanced song structure known in music theory as the AABA musical form where the B middle section creates the contrast between the sections by creating the expectation for the upcoming A section to complete the piece. In the song, two opening verses are performed with the same chord progression, whereas the closing verse varies slightly. Two bridges and the guitar solo in the middle section switch the musical mode and employ new melodies, as is typical of a contrast section.
Listen to Seven Seas Of Rhye by Queen:
In the harmonic analysis of the song's verse chains, the scale degrees (denoted with Roman numerals) show the following progressions in D Ionian mode, also called the major mode:
- D–G–D–Em–A–D or I–IV–I–ii–V–I for the opening verses
- D–G–D–Em–F♯m–Gm–A–D or I–IV–I–ii–iii–iv–V–I for the ending verse
Marked in red, the Gm chord does not belong to the Ionian mode and reveals the classical technique of applying the harmonic major scale which imbues the major song with a subtle minority.
The middle section of Seven Seas Of Rhye is based on the following chord progressions written in Mixolydian and Ionian modes:
- D–C–G or I–VII–IV in Mixolydian mode
- D–Em–F♯m–G–F♯m–Em–D or I–ii–iii–V–iii–ii–I in Ionian mode
- G–C–G–Am–D or IV–VII–IV–v–I in Mixolydian mode
Learn more about the structure of these diatonic musical modes explained through the harmonic analysis of popular songs in the following articles:
- 6 songs to unpack Ionian mode and the major scale
- 9 Beatles songs that combine harmonic major with Ionian mode
- 7 songs featuring Mixolydian mode
- Mixolydian mode: famous examples of the Mixolydian major scale in classical and pop music