The “Danger” Chord

While in quarantine, I’ve been posting home videos of TV themes on my socials. Yesterday I put up Henry Mancini’s theme from The Pink Panther. (I did this in a single take without practicing first, which is why it sounds so good, of course.)

A little discussion ensued on Twitter: Elias Muhanna pointed out that the last chord is unusually thick, and correctly identified it as B7 over E minor. Spelled out, it goes up in thirds, E G B D# F# A.

That isn’t really my chord, I got that from Mancini, although probably Henry would stop at five notes, not seeing the need to go to all the way to six.

William Kenlon chimed in, noting that the chord appears in the James Bond theme and associated cues by Marty Norman and John Barry. Indeed! There’s a whole genre of noir and espionage “jazz” that features “shocking” minor-major seventh chords, often with flamboyant guitar.

Noah Berman then really kind of blew my mind by citing Tony Mottola’s soundtrack to Danger in 1950.

Berman also included a clip of a short Mottola interview where he says that for a while people called this major-minor seventh chord, especially on guitar, the “Danger” chord or the “Mottola” chord.

Berman directed us to a website, The Exotica Project, especially a page about “The Lonely Beat.” Wow! This is an amazing essay by Dan Shiman.

Kenlon brought it full circle: “Guitarist Bob Bain (who Tony mentions in the interview) is the guitarist on the first two Pink Panther soundtracks.”

Truly, Twitter at its best!

I have recorded only one piece of noir exotica, with Tootie Heath and Ben Street on Tootie’s Tempo. “Danube Incident” was composed by Lalo Schifrin and later sampled by Portishead. Plastic cutlery was placed inside the piano to get a period “strumming” quality. Naturally, our performance ends with a “Danger” chord.