2-4-6-8 Motorway and triad inversions
In 1977, The Tom Robinson Band (TRB) released a song called “2-4-6-8 Motorway”, it reached number 5 in the UK charts. It is a straightforward rock song, but has a great rhythm guitar part and solo. Tom wrote the song in 1976.
The guitarist was Danny Kustow, who is definitely underrated and had an easily recognisable soloing style. He is well worth checking out for his inventive playing. Sadly he died in March 2019
Here is a performance from Top of The Pops from October 1977. The sound is from the original recording.
The song itself follows the same chord progression throughout, Tom Robinson has said this this is because he thinks simple songs are the best. However at the time he did not have a permanent band lineup, but despite that he had organised a series of gigs. Consequently, he played with whoever was available on the night – so he needed songs that the musicians could learn at the soundcheck!
When I first learnt this song off the record – I worked out the main chords, but was not aware of the inversions used. This didn’t really matter at the time as our singer sang it in the key of E (The original is in A). What I did realise was that the E chords were not played in the same place, but it took me a couple of years before I was able to work out the shapes used. The point being, when you are working out songs from recordings pay attention to where the chord is played if you want to reproduce an authentic sound. Open strings can provide useful clues.
The main sort of riff of the song sounds great and this is partly due to the use of triad inversions and a ringing open high E string. Realising this opened up a whole new world.
Triads & Inversions
A triad is a chord formed by 3 notes – the root, the 3rd and the 5th of the scale.
- Major Triad = 1, 3, 5
- Minor Triad = 1, b3, 5
- Augmented Triad = 1 ,3, #5
- Diminished Triad = 1, b3, b5
Obviously when we play these triads on the guitar the notes can be stacked in any order. As we change the order of the intervals, then this gives the chord a slightly different sound. There are three basic arrangements of the 3 notes called “inversions“.
Let’s just look at the inversions of a major triad – the same idea holds true for all the triads:
- Root Inversion 1, 3, 5
- First inversion 3, 5, 1 (3rd on the bottom of the chord, root is an octave up)
- Second inversion 5, 1, 3 (5th is on the bottom of the chord)
Free pdf of Triad inversions on the top 3 strings here: Triads
Triads are useful for a few reasons – firstly each of the different inversions sound slightly different. Secondly, we can play the triads in positions all over the neck and thirdly playing triads close together allows for voice leading – that is when we change chords, the common tones (notes common to both chords) remain the same and the other notes move as short a distance as possible, which gives a sort of internal melody to the chord changes.
In 2-4-6-8 Motorway, the inversions allow us to make use of a high E string drone if we wish.
The song starts off with an A chord where a sort of Am shape is hammered on to the Barre – this has the feeling of the basic rock and roll riff:
The A chord is played with a barre at the second fret – the 6 and 4 are hammered on with the second and third fingers. If you listen to the track you will soon get the rhythm.
|A |E |D / E / |A |
The chords used are in the same order as shown.
The 2 can be hammered on when playing the first E chord – again a listen to the track will show you when. There is also a slight push on the first E chord – it is played slightly early to propel the song along.
Some alternative voicings are used in the verses in the electric rhythm guitar parts. For the first E chord the two notes are hammered on the same as the introduction. In the second E chord – the notes are used to play a fill.
Guitar Solo 1
The guitar solo uses an A major pentatonic shape (see below). The solo is quite straightforward and I encourage you to work it out for yourself. However here are a couple of clues – The major bent note is on the 4th fret on the G string, this is sometimes followed by the note on the 5th fret of the B string. The solo ends in the top 4 notes position, the end note is the root on the 5th fret on the high E string.
Uses the same chords and inversions, but just strummed once each (listen to the track) – there is a bent chord at the end of the first time through, just after the first position A. These notes are bent up 1/2 a tone – up towards the A triad which is the next chord:
Uses A and E – finally moving to D – before going back into the Chorus. There is a little rock and roll riff on the A and E chords – using the open root note then the notes as indicated. Again listen to the track and it will be obvious. 🙂
There is another guitar solo at the end, this is just more or less the same solo, but an octave up.
Phew lots of fun stuff in such a simple song – so enjoy!