"We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun And the truck changing gears was just music to our ears" "Goodbye papa, it's hard to die Three semitones means singing way too high..."
—A conversation on Facebook parodying one of the worst offenders.
The Truck Driver's Gear Change is a modulation near the end of a song, shifting upwards by some relatively small pitch increment — usually by one semitone (half step) or whole tone (whole step), but occasionally by other intervals. It is so widespread in popular music that the term "modulation" is sometimes considered synonymous with it, despite technically having a broader meaning. It typically occurs after a chorus or as part of a bridge, and is followed by a repeat of the chorus and often a Fade Out.
The term Truck Driver's Gear Change was apparently coined by this site, which compares the technique to a tired, overworked truck driver performing an unartistic, mechanical function. It's becoming something of a Discredited Trope these days, although it still shows up with some frequency in certain genres.
The Truck Driver's Gear Change is most often associated with uplifting ballads.
Older tropes include:
Verse (or A-section) in a minor key, chorus (or B-section) in the relative major key (or vice-versa).
Switching between tonic and dominant for the various parts of the song (almost ubiquitous in songs from about 1700 to 1950)
Please note that this is not a trope about modulation in general - that has its own page. This is about "shifting gears" for what is arguably called "dramatic effect" but what has devolved into a musical cliché: sliding up a step and remaining there for the rest of the song.
Compare Last Chorus Slow Down.
Michael Bolton's song "How Can We Be Lovers (If We Can't Be Friends)" has two. One near the beginning, and the other near the end.
"The Night Hank Williams Came To Town" starts in E major, then before the second verse goes up to G major, where it stays for the rest of the song.
"The Old Account Was Settled Long Ago" is, at least in the San Quentin album version, in Eb major for the first two verses, but modulates up to F major for the last verse and chorus.
"Oney" uses both the traditional semitone variation and then the minor-third version: from A-flat to A to C.
"I Walk the Line" goes E-A-D-A-E. By the end, he's an octave lower than he started.
"In the Sweet By and By" is in E-flat at the beginning, then modulates up a semitone after the second chorus.
"Lida Rose/Will I Ever Tell You" from The Music Man. the quartet haltingly sings "Lida Rose" to make it sound improvised, then they end by going up a half-tone for Marian's "Will I Ever Tell You", then the two (out of 76) trombones hit the counterpoint.
Happens twice in "Give A Little" by Hanson. It starts in C, moves up to D after the first chorus, and to E after the bridge.
ABBA used the technique in their song "Hasta Manana", supposed to be used for Eurovision. Their manager, Stig Andersson, thought that a good pop song HAD to go up one half tone somewhere near the end. They even wrote a birthday song to him that says "We think you'll like it if we raise the song one half-tone..." in the bridge before raising it one half-tone for the final chorus.
In the musical oeuvre of everyone's favourite Vulcan, Leonard Nimoy, we are treated in his masterwork "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" to a shift from C major to C# major with neither warning nor reason. The work remains in C# major for the remaining two minutes of... experience.
In the song "Take My Time" by Junior Senior, it occurs once, ends, then fades back in and shifts up again. Honestly, it's quite exciting.
Almost required in Eurovision Song Contest entries, to the extent that this trope could be alternatively titled "Eurovision Key Change".
It has become more prominent in recent years; in The Eighties, by contrast, you might find this trope on only half the entries. Norway's entry in 1979, "Oliver" by Anita Skorgan, gets bonus points for modulating a full fifth.
"I Drive Myself Crazy" by *NSYNC goes up a minor third from A to C for the bridge, then back down mid-sentence before going up a major second to B for the last chorus. Straighter examples include "U Drive Me Crazy" and "This I Promise You".
The Backstreet Boys. Full stop. Notable offenders include "I Want It That Way", "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely", and "Shape of My Heart".
Kiss's "Crazy Crazy Nights" is supposed to be the worst offender of the lot.
The Beach Boys' "I Get Around" does this. The song begins in the key of G major, then the bridge is played in the key of A, and then the rest of the song is played in G# major.
Anita Baker is very fond of this trope. The album "Rhythm Of Love" especially uses this quite liberally.
The Mr. T Experience's unbelievably Pop Punk "Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba".
Another arguably good gear-change occurs in Brian May's "Driven By You," a shamelessly upbeat rock song kicked up one more notch before it reaches its end.
"#1 Crush" by Garbage, where the pitch change in the middle only makes the song scarier.
Done several times in the song "The Christmas Shoes", in an attempt to add to the sappy sentiment. This song shifts up by whole tones, starting in G, going to A, and ending in B - although it doesn't shift up by semitones, the gear-change effect is still there. It ends up almost too high for the main singer to sing, so they had to add a children's chorus at the end.
The 60s song "Love of The Common People" (recorded by lots of people, but never really a hit) has each verse in a different key.
"Danke Schoen", made famous by Wayne Newton and now popularly known as the "Ferris Bueller Parade Song", shifts up a semitone each verse. Because the song has no chorus, it's especially noticeable.
"The Beast and the Harlot" by Avenged Sevenfold has one at the refrain at the end of the song that almost makes it sound like a Hillbilly Hoedown.
Even Stratovarius' "Eagleheart" manages to sneak one of these in! After the last of the lyrics, the intro riff - which is the "Heart of the eagle, he flies through the rainbow..." refrain transcribed to guitar - is played four times, the last two being played on a higher string as the song fades out.
Used at the end of "Through the Looking Glass" by Symphony X. Given the epic chorus, it arguably makes the already awesome song way more badass.
Although the song changes key frequently throughout, this can be heard at the end of Symphony X's song Revelation (Divus Pennae Ex Tragoedia), where the chorus is played twice in a row but the second time it is modulated down a minor third.
Celestial Wish are a fan of this trope, 'Our Creation', 'Crossing The River' and 'Dear Beloved' all have very sudden gear changes on the final chorus.
"My Generation", by The Who...multiple times. "You Better, You Bet" also does this near the end.
Ditto "Old Before I Die" by Robbie Williams, who apparently decided that just naming the song after a "My Generation" lyric wasn't enough. GearChange.org notes the similarity.
"Americana" by The Offspring. The song is played mostly in standard E tuning, but shifts to the key of F for its final verse and then abruptly ends.
Kelly Clarkson plays this straight on several of her big hits — just see "A Moment Like This" and "Because of You".
Also present on the very 80's sounding "Don't Rush", a duet with Vince Gill.
Very oddly inverted with the song "Yeah," where the song abruptly pauses and then plays its final chorus a half-step lower (D minor) than the rest of the song (which is in Eb minor). It makes the otherwise upbeat song seem a lot spookier, but maybe that was the point, in keeping with the darker theme of the "My December" album.
"Elvira" by The Oak Ridge Boys repeats the chorus several times at the end, with each repeat being a semitone higher. Bass singer Richard Sterban (who does the song's "oom papa mow mow") makes the key change along with everyone else, but the fact that it's in a higher key allows him to then drop it an octave.
Inverted by Conway Twitty on "I'd Love to Lay You Down", where the last few repetitions of the chorus are actually much lower.
Several country songs have the chorus set in a higher key than the verses. Among them: "Sittin' on Go" by Bryan White, "Little Red Rodeo" by Collin Raye, "I Was" by Neal McCoy. The latter two were both written by Phil Vassar.
"The Way You Love Me" by Faith Hill takes it a step further. The chorus is set a whole-step higher than the verses — except for the last line of the chorus, which modulates up another whole-step for the last before dropping back down to C Major in the verse.
"On Broadway" by The Drifters has one at the end of each verse.
"It's America" by Rodney Atkins does half of the chorus, modulates up a whole-step, then does the chorus again.
"Love Story" by Taylor Swift also does the same thing, going up from D to E major.
"The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" by Reba McEntire also does its whole-step modulation halfway through the last chorus. Unlike the above two examples, though, it doesn't use the "chorus-and-a-half" trick.
Another Reba song, "Is There Life Out There?" does the gear change, then goes through an instrumental bridge between that chorus and the last chorus. (The bridge is usually omitted in radio airplay.)
Clay Walker's "What's It to You" does half of the chorus, goes up a half-step, does the rest of the chorus in the higher key, then repeats the entire chorus in the higher key.
Songs written by Dennis Linde do this now and then:
"The Talkin' Song Repair Blues" by Alan Jackson goes up a half-step before each new verse.
"Ten Pound Hammer" by Aaron Tippin (also recorded by Barbara Mandrell) key-changes before the third verse.
"Bubba Shot the Jukebox" by Mark Chesnutt also goes up a half-step for each successive verse, and then another half-step for the fiddle riff at the end.
The Jeannie C. Riley song "Harper Valley PTA" does this twice as the story the song tells progresses.
Written by Tom T. Hall, who loved the "mid-song key change to emphasize a plot twist" trope. Examples from his discography include "Homecoming" (in the verse where we learn that the narrator missed his mother's funeral) and "Salute To a Switchblade" (when a character pulls out a knife).
Notably he does it twice in that song, the first being slightly incongruous both in how early it appears (at the start of the second chorus) and in its positioning (between verse and chorus); the other appears in a more traditional position between the second and third choruses.
"Go West" by the Pet Shop Boys. Not sure if it occurred in the original Village People version.
Bobby Darin's version of "Mack The Knife".
"Paper Shoes" by Incubus, right after a fake ending. Also "Pendulous Threads"
Rascal Flatts' "Summer Nights" modulates upward twice. By the end it's way too high for lead singer Gary LeVox to sing, making his nasal squawk even more of a fingernails-on-blackboard moment than usual.
Incidentally, the "Summer Nights" of the "Grease" sound track also modulates up twice by semitones.
Rascal Flatts also do this on "Easy" in a particularly odd variant: the key jumps up a minor third (E to G) halfway through the second verse.
Carlene Carter's "Love Like This" (also recorded by Blackhawk) has a very odd example. It transposes up after the final chorus, so only the ending solo is in a higher key.
Dreamgirls does this with the R&B ballad-style songs "I Want You, Baby" and "I Am Changing."
Also common in duets, where the key change happens when the other person takes over. A notable example is Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood's "Squeeze Me In" (C for Garth and in D for Trisha).
Ty Herndon and Stephanie Bentley's "Heart Half Empty" starts in E-flat, jumps down to B-flat on Bentley's verse and chorus, then back up to F for the last chorus, where they sing together.
Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton's "Islands in the Stream" starts in C for Kenny, then goes down to A-flat for Dolly.
David Frizzell and Shelly West's "You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma" also starts in C for David and D for Shelly, which is rather interesting, as Shelly has a much lower voice.
When Brooks & Dunn recorded "Cowgirls Don't Cry," it was originally in A all the way through. Later on, they re-recorded it with Reba McEntire, who goes up a fifth to E. As if the sudden jump upward isn't jarring enough (the remixed version has a dead-stop before the key change, which isn't in the original), the backing track on the Reba version sounds like it was artificially pitched up for this chorus.
"Dream Boy/Dream Girl" by Cynthia and Johnny O. goes down a minor third for Johnny's verse, then back up afterwards.
Speaking of Garth, his original album version of "The River" has the gear shift, but he omits it when he does it live.
Leon Ashley's "Laura (What's He Got That I Ain't Got)" transposes upward as the tone of the song becomes somewhat darker.
Sting's "I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying" goes up a semitone (E-flat to E) as the tone of the song changes from cynical to happy.
Yes's "I've Seen All Good People" goes through the entire gearbox at the end.
Latin-Jazz singer Basia's song "Blame It on the Summer" does the gearshift for the final chorus, then gears back down to its original key for the outro.
"Yakko's World", the AnimaniacsList Song, shifts up a semitone after each verse, ending up a minor third higher than it started.
The show's theme song itself goes through four changes (A-flat to C to E-flat to G to B-flat). When the show was aired in reruns on Nickelodeon, they abbreviated the intro and sped up the part that was in A-flat.
A staple of Richard Stone's work; he did this with the theme for Freakazoid! as well.
Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's version of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."
The Beatles did this multiple times, most famously in the last chorus of "Penny Lane."
"Penny Lane" is an interesting example. The chorus is a full tone lower than the verses; the gear shift at the end returns the song to its original key.
"Good Day, Sunshine" only shifts up at the very last moment during the fade-out. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise)" modulates from F to G in order to blend in with the following song, "A Day in the Life".
"And I Love Her" uniquely shifts up a half tone to start the solo.
Happens in Rob Zombie's "Superbeast," of all places.
And in the most clichéd manner possible; as the website above says, it's basically an admission that the song should have ended before those two last unneccessary repeats of the chorus just put in to show off the fact that Josh Groban is, yes, a tenor.
"Winterdreams", the Power Ballad from the 1984 album Balls to the Wall by Accept, has three verses, and goes up a key at the beginning of the second verse and again at the third verse.
Buddy Rich's version of the song "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" does this twice.
Lionel Richie's "Dancing on the Ceiling."
He did this first on "Easy" with his old band, the Commodores.
"I Just Can't Wait to be King" from The Lion King starts in F# and shifts into G near the end. In this case it's not played for emotional effect, but rather to make the song even more jolly and cheerful.
Bobby Hebb's "Sunny"...three times.
Trooper's song "We're Here For A Good Time (Not A Long Time)" does this twice.
"There's a Light", the song written by Gregory Charles for the Olympic torch's relay across Canada, has a couple of gear changes.
"I Believe," the "anthem" of the 2010 Winter Olympics, also abuses this trope.
She Moves's "Breaking All The Rules", like many boy and girl band songs, shifts up a whole tone from the bridge to the final chorus.
"Down with the Sickness" by Disturbed does this during its final chorus. Once when the guitarist was giving lessons on YouTube, he said plainly "Just play the main riff I just taught you and move up two strings."
This is a common technique used by worship leaders in the Church of Christ, where, in an effort to emphasize a theme or message, the final chorus is raised by, presumably, a half step. However, the proliferation of worship leaders with no formal musical training has led to the idea that you have to do this, completely ruining the effect altogether. Also, they tend to miss the half step and send everyone with any sort of trained ear in the audience into crying fits.
Quite a lot of Christian music falls victim to this. It's astoundingly common in Contemporary Christian Music, Praise and Worship, and most forms of Gospel music. Some hymnals even contain pre-written modulations for each hymn, which organists can use to raise the final verse up that semitone. To be fair, it can be very tempting for a church musician to reach for this trick, cliché though it can be, since their job is to sustain musical interest while playing the same melody for several stanzas. And when it's done in African American Gospel music, it can be a reminder that Tropes Are Not Bad.
Cheap Trick's "Surrender" modulates right after the intro. And then again just before the last verse.
"Sleepless Night" from the Slayers OST.
"Where Everybody Knows Your Name", the theme song of Cheers.
A* Teens' pop gem "Bouncing off the Ceiling (Upside Down)" features this in the last choruses.
USA for Africa's "We Are the World."
Cher's "Strong Enough" does this first at the first chorus, then again at the final chorus.
"If I Could Turn Back Time" shifts up a minor third from B to D in the middle of the last chorus.
In the middle of a sentence, no less.
Back when she was with Sonny Bono, Cher asked him to write a song for her with a key change. His gift to her was, "I Got You Babe".
The 30-second theme played during the Final Jeopardy! round does this halfway through, though it goes up a minor third instead of the more-standard-for-this-trope minor second.
When the same melody became the theme song for the 1984 version, this trope was turned Up to Eleven: the song starts in B, goes up to C, then F, A-flat, B, D, F, then ends in A-flat. Every other rearrangement used afterwards has kept most of the key changes.
Westlife invariably have this in their songs. And if they are sat during the performance, they will simultaneously stand up and step forward as it happens.
Mitch Benn's "Boybands" lampshades this with "Off the stools!"
Janet Jackson's "Doesn't Really Matter" does this twice in its final choruses.
"Together Again", by a third.
Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know" does a gear change a third down.
And her super-hit "I will always love you" does a memorable gear up change before the end (...I wish you love... (hold your breath...) AND IIIIIIII...!).
Another Whitney Houston power ballad, "I Have Nothing", similarly combines this with dramatic pauses at the start of the final chorus ("... don't... make... me... CLOSE! one more door...")
Jesse McCartney - "Because You Live" transposes up a minor third for the final choruses.
This is fairly common in the spacesynth/synthdance genre. Haggeman (Thomas Hagfors)'s songs "Digital Clearing Service (formerly Intimate Shaver)" and "Botte's Vernal Dance" both have a gear change downward during their bridge sections. The former changes back afterwards, the latter stays there. "Space Relations" has a standard upward major second gear change.
Another spacesynth/dance example: Myvoice - Alertia, from D minor to F minor. Myvoice's "Nosmo King" changes upward a minor second, then ends with a literal bang shortly after. "Far From Home" goes up from G minor to A minor for the bridge, then changes back.
Mindxpander - Star Runner (major second), Windchaser (minor third), and Town Circus (up twice, then down once). In fact, almost ever one of his songs does this in some form.
Laserdance's "The Lost Battle", "No Escape"(up a perfect fifth, back down, then up a second, then a minor third), "Voyage of Discovery", and "Fly Over The New Territory", all from the Laserdance Strikes Back album.
Anders Lundqvist's "The Ordeal" and "Hyperspace".
Everdune has too many examples to list here.
The Communards' cover of Thelma Houston's "Don't Leave Me This Way (itself a cover of Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes) starts a step lower than Houston's version, then changes to that version's key.
"MacArthur Park", at least Donna Summer's version, modulates its last refrain a step down.
At the end of "Weird Al" Yankovic's abridged parody "Jurassic Park", the chorus goes up a perfect fourth, from C to F.
"Do I Have To Say The Words?" by Bryan Adams shifts up a semitone in the middle of each verse.
Occurs frequently in MOD and Demo Scene music. "Ethnomagic" by NHP goes up a whole tone in mid-riff halfway through the song. Purple Motion's "World of Plastic" goes up a minor third at the first refrain, and up another third at the second. "Shadowrun" also modulates by a minor third. "Satellite One", also by PM, changes keys four times before looping. "Control" by The Loop does a more conventional half-step up near the end.
Zager & Evans's "In the Year 2525" does this twice.
Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" goes up a major third (from E to A-flat) for the last refrain. "That's the Way it Is" goes up a perfect fourth to A.
Céline Dion is a repeat offender with this one. "Because You Loved Me" also features the same thing.
"Sisters and Brothers" by the Voices of East Harlem, and "When We Grow Up" by Diana Ross, both from the children's songbook and album Free to Be You and Me The former's key change arrives with a crescendo after a Subdued Section, making it potential Nightmare Fuel.
Sheb Wooley's "Purple People Eater" starts in D and gear-changes every subsequent verse except for the fourth, ending in F.
Power Metal bands in general tend to be fans of this trope.
Terry Jacks's "Seasons in the Sun" does this three times — once midway through the song, and twice towards the end.
"All These Things That I've Done" by The Killers has the bridge rather than the chorus shifting up four times, which is likely why the title is often mistaken to be some permutation of "I got soul, but I'm not a soldier."
"Jump (For My Love)" by The Pointer Sisters jumps up a minor sixth, from Bb to Gb, in the middle of the last chorus to boot.
"Thousandfold" by Eluveitie.
Also, "Inis Mona"
Deborah Cox's "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here" and "I Never Knew". Both key changes are rather awkward, the former does it between the second bridge and second chorus.
Raffi's cover of "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands."
The Sandpipers version changes key four times from D to E to F to G.
Happens in the final verse of "Weird Al" Yankovic's country-and-western parody entitled (oddly enough) "Truck Driving Song". Considering Al doesn't use this trope in his other original songs, this probably counts as a lampshade hanging.
"When You Believe" by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston gear-changes twice, from D to E at the second chorus, then from E to F# at the final chorus.
The final chorus of Never Shout Never's "Can't Stand It" shifts up a semitone.
"Someone Else's Story" from Chess modulates upward at the end of the bridge.
"Song of Love" from Once Upon a Mattress modulates up a semitone at the beginning of every verse after the first one.
Almost every song by Onitsuka Chihiro has a key change like this toward the end.
The same can be said for Ayumi Hamasaki.
Many Disney Animated Canon songs. From Aladdin, "A Whole New World", which goes up a minor third for Jasmine's half of the song. Even better, it changes keys three times (minor third, down a step, up another third) in the Rewritten Pop Version and stage adaptation. The stage version of "Arabian Nights" also has a gear change.
Disney songs do this, full stop. "Prince Ali" does it about six times! Including a massive one near the end that could pop a lung. It's so bad that Robin Williams, despite his impressive vocal range, can't keep up as the song finishes.
DragonForce's "Fury of the Storm" and "Heart of a Dragon".
Sisqo's "Thong Song".
A handful of tracks from the game Playstation game Jumping Flash! transpose up a semitone at certain points, e.g. the first level and the last level.
The second theme (1988-2001) to PBS's Nightly Business Report changed keys around the "circle of fifths", eventually coming back to C. The other theme songs also use this trope aplenty.
Wings for Marie/10000 Days (Wings Pt. 2) by Tool use this to great (and dramatic) effect towards the end of each song. Wings is A minor throughout most of the song, but at one point near the end, the guitar just decides to change the key to B minor. The effect is rather subtle and the song stays in this key until the climax, at which it reverts back to A for the outro. 10000 Days, as a continuation to the first part, is in A minor through the entire song, all the way up through the instrumental breakdown. The key change to B is much more dramatic as it happens right at the moment of climax and reverts back to A for the outro exactly the same way as in Wings, bringing it into a sort of reprise.
Mariah Carey's cover of Foreigner's "I Wanna Know What Love Is" gear-shifts a half-step down.
She does this in some of her other songs, too. Such as "Mine Again."
"Wings" by Galneryus goes up a major third at the end (4 semitones or 2 whole steps), which is fairly uncommon.
Less common in Eurobeat than other genres, but "Goin' On" by Lolita goes from B to C at the last chorus. An unusual example is "Send Me an Angel"(no relation to the Real Life song) by Momo, which modulates the synthesizer riff a step down after the first chorus, but the rest of the song remains in the normal key. Later, the synth goes back up to its original key in mid-riff.
Happens in countless musical songs. "The Lambeth Walk" from Me & My Girl changes keys for every one of its fatiguing repetitions.
Most songs in Vanities: A New Musical have at least one gear change. "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" shifts up a step in the middle of the bridge, then up a half-step afterwards. "Setting Your Sights (Reflections)" goes from F to G (again mid-bridge), then down a minor third to E. "I Can't Imagine" goes up a step at the second verse, and up a another step in the usual place at the last chorus. The Cut Song"We're Gonna Be Okay" shifts a step down at the second verse, along with a standard last chorus half-step up key change.
Can't We Try by Dan Hill & Vonda Shepard does this by a half-step in mid-bridge. Then it goes up another half step for the fade-out coda, in mid-sentence.
Edyta Gorniak's "One and One" and "Perfect Moment" (better known from being Covered Up by Robert Miles f/Maria Nayler, and Martine McCutcheon, respectively)
Live's "Run To The Water" modulates up a full step (C to D) for the final chorus and coda. Lampshaded in the video by the sky opening up and raining on the band and the drought-stricken futuristic Police State they’ve found themselves in.
Amusingly enough, Drive-By Truckers do this twice in "I Do Believe".
From Mega Man 4, Bright Man's theme goes up a full step after the first twenty seconds, an NES example.
Berlin's "Take My Breath Away."
Meshuggah's "Spasm" features guitars tuned down an octave and a half from standard. That's ridiculously low by any standards, but apparently it wasn't good enough for them, because the last repetition of the main riff goes down another half-step. So instead of showing off how high they can sing, the change shows off how low they can tune their guitars.
Buckcherry's "For The Movies" modulates up halfway through the final chorus.
A "Visit Seoul" campaign had a song by both SNSD and Super Junior called S.E.O.U.L., which featured one of these. This makes the song sound quite bone-chilling.
Westlife's cover of Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" (the original by the latter doesn't have it). Interestingly, the Westlife cover begins with a lower key than the original, then steps it up to the original's key at the end.
"Adelaide's Lament" modulates up a semitone for the third part ("And furthermore..."). This was added to the show sometime after the original cast album had been recorded.
"A Bushel and a Peck" goes up a semitone at the second chorus.
"Luck Be A Lady" subverts this, being an AABA song where the second A section (but not the third) is a semitone higher.
"No one Mourns The Wicked" from Wicked goes up a minor third to G, then back down to E at the very end. More typical examples are "What Is This Feeling" and "Wonderful," both of which shift keys from F to G for the last chorus, and "One Short Day" which goes up from F-sharp to G (though with a change in beat for the "Wizomania" counterpoint).
"How the World Fell Under Darkness" by The Protomen features several modulations towards the end of the song.
The Black Eyed Peas started to do this on "Imma Be"... and then on the next album had two more, that even warn it's gonna change abruptly ("DIRTY BIT!" in "The Time (Dirty Bit)" and "MEGA SWITCH UP!" in "Just Can't Get Enough").
In Godspell, "We Beseech Thee" goes up a whole tone after the "boom chick" interlude.
"I'm Still Here" modulates up a half-step at the end of the last bridge with a brass flourish.
"Losing My Mind" ascends to B major from its original key of A-flat major, the modulation being accompanied by a sweeping crescendo.
Oasis' "All Around the World" begins with several verses and choruses in B, hops up to C for a couple of choruses (but only one in the music video), and then concludes in D for the final twenty- or thirty-ish chorus repetitions. (Some sheet music transcriptions of the song also notate a few bars as being in A: the "It's gonna be OK" repeats between the C and D choruses.) Noel Gallagher commented, possibly with tongue in cheek: "Imagine how much better 'Hey Jude' would have been with three key changes towards the end!"
Radiohead's "Sulk" ascends from G to A for its guitar solo and final chorus.
In Leisure Suit Larry 5, the music in the Herman/Harmon Hollerith room shifts up a step when Larry and Michelle engage in you-know-what.
A Eurodance example is "Shocking The Dancefloor" by BPM. Other Eurodance examples include "Feel The Beat" by Beat Society, "Táncolj!" by Magic Kefir, "Let Me Love You" by Da Buzz, "Life" by E-Type, and "Love Me" by Magic Nation.
Maarja's song What in This World starts in C, but goes up to D right before the chorus plays the first time, and stays in D until it goes up to E right before the chorus plays the second time, where it stays for the rest of the song.
"Snoopy's Christmas (Christmas Bells)" by the Royal Guardsmen transposes up a semitone each verse — four times in all. The song starts in F and ends in A-flat. The original "Snoopy vs The Red Baron" also does this, but three times.
"Back on the Chain Gang" by The Pretenders (full step)
Genesis did this with "Invisible Touch".
Genesis also added successive whole-tone shifts up in the fadeouts of "A Place to Call My Own" and "Time Table."
Edge of Dawn's "Save My Soul" is another genre-atypical(Futurepop) example, going from G minor to A minor for the last repetition of the chorus.
"Up The Junction" by Squeeze starts out in E, then drops to C# minor for the bridge, then goes up to D on the next verse, and finishes in the original key. What makes this interesting is that it’s setting us up for a happy ending to the story the song’s been telling, but the lyrics after the final key change turn out to be about how the singer’s life completely went to crap.
Touhou songs are full of key changes, but an exemplary example would be Scarlet Symphony ~ Scarlet Phoneme, the theme song of Kurumi from PC-98-exclusive Lotus Land Story, which is nothing but key changes on a fourteen-second motif.
Dyce, a one-album Swedish Eurotrance group featuring Sofia Lovgren of Domino, did this with their obligatory ballad "Colors".
Taco did this in "After Eight" by a whole step at the second verse, and in "Puttin' On the Ritz" by a whole step at the tap-dancing break.
"Sun of Jamaica", the biggest hit of Germany's Goombay Dance Band, goes up a whole step for the final repetition of the chorus, which then fades out.
Happens in Bocelli's "Con Te Partirò," a shift that usually provokes rapturous applause (see: the concert DVD A Night in Tuscany). Donna Summer's Translated Cover Version, "I Will Go With You", also does it.
Les Misérables actually has a couple of songs that have key changes. "I Dreamed a Dream" happens to be all over the place - the main verses are in Eb, the bridges are in a minor key, and the last part is in F major. "Stars" is in E until the last verse, which is in G major. "At the End of the Day" has F minor and F major parts.
The "Trololo" song by Eduard Khil does this a couple times.
Happens in almost every song in the musical Cabaret.
In another Kander and Ebb example, "Mr. Cellophane" from "Chicago" features one on the final repetition of the chorus.
Angels Brought Me Here by Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian has one when it goes from verse to chorus. It's a little jarring, but effective.
"Storm of Light" by Thomas Petersen f/ Franca Morgano, at least the original mix, modulates from F to G towards the end.
Little Boots' "Love Kills" moves up a step for the final chorus, then up a minor third from there for the ending instrumental.
E-Type's "Life", by way of a bridge passage before the final repeat of the chorus.
"I Try" by Macy Gray does it mid-sentence in the last pre-chorus.
"Around The World (La La La La La)" by ATC.
"Only Yesterday" by the Carpenters, when they repeat the final chorus to fade out.
Moskau by Dschinghis Khan waits until the last 20 seconds to go up a semitone.
"A Dream World In The Clouds" by Matthew Villani does this a total of twelve times in the first half before settling on F for the remainder of the song, yes it goes from F to the F an octave higher. Justified in this case, however because it's meant to signify floating upwards into the clouds.
Appropriately enough, "Under My Wheels" by Alice Cooper has one of these just before the final verse.
"Whatever Mattered" by mind.in.a.box, one of their obligatory power ballads, shifts up a minor third from C minor to Eb minor for the final two choruses, after the instrumental bridge. "Doubt" downshifts from D minor to A minor between the verse and chorus, then modulates to C minor for its instrumental coda and fade-out. "Unknown" shifts its B-section a step higher than the rest of the song.
Bobby Bare's "500 Miles Away from Home" drops down from G to D halfway through.
Hall And Oates' "She's Gone" contains a series of steps in its final bridge that are not so much a gear change as the driver working through the gears after joining the highway.
Both the TV and full versions of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic's theme song subvert this trope, appearing to gear change (the rising "Ahhhh~") when transitioning from the original version of the theme to the more upbeat rest of the song, but not actually changing keys. Straight examples:
"At The Gala" from the Season 1 finale modulates up a semitone twice, before and after Twilight's verse.
In the same episode, "Pony Pokey", as with the original "Hokey Pokey", upshifts on every verse after the first; a total of four times.
"Find a Pet" drops down by a whole tone in the middle of the bridge.
"Call Upon The Sea Ponies'' from the G1 series also has a semitone gear change mid-bridge.
"You'll Play Your Part", the Award Bait Song from Part 1 of the Season 4 finale, modulates up a fourth at the first chorus, then it shifts up a step from there for the final chorus.
Pinkie Pie's "Smile Song" from A Friend in Deed moves up a semitone midway through the choral finale.
"Generosity" goes up a full step from the bridge to the last verse.
EVERY. SINGLE. DAMN. American Idol/X-factor winner's song.
"Marathon" by Rush has an amazing one before the final chorus.
In Cirque du Soleil's Amaluna, "O Ma Ley" has a key change near the very end. The show version also starts a key lower than the soundtrack version, which lacks the gear change. The soundtrack version of "Run" changes by a major third.
"The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers, First verse and chorus are in D, the Second verse and chorus are in E. This was lampshaded by Mike Doughty the first several times he covered the song live.
"Don't Rain On My Parade" from Funny Girl modulates up a whole tone just before the final cadence.
Travis Tritt and Lari White's "Helping Me Get Over You" starts in F for Travis, then goes down to B-flat for Lari.
Mr. Big's "To Be With You" very blatantly does this on the final chorus. The brief pause before the change almost makes it sound like they're a little embarrassed about using the trope, and arguably might be considered a subtle bit of Lampshade Hanging.
The Motörhead song "Damage Case" is an example of this trope being used in a good way. The song starts in the key of Eb but then, after the solo, it shifts to the key of F for the final chorus. It's actually pretty awesome!
Very poorly implemented in several songs from the 1990's arcade racing game San Francisco Rush. For example, "Blue Fog" and "Rave Rush", which begin with a single song and then repeat the exact same song a semitone higher. It's very annoying!
The Queen song "Breakthru." After the intro, the song is played in the key of F minor. However, after the solo, the song shifts keys to F# minor.
In Lil Abner, "Jubilation T. Cornpone" begins in B-flat major, then modulates to B major between verses. For the final verse (excluding encore), it modulates up another half step to C major.
Australian folk singer Butterfly Boucher's single "Another White Dash" modulates up a step in the final chorus, and then stays there for a modulated reprisal of the opening verse.
Michael W. Smith's "Place in This World," a 1991 Christian pop hit that crossed over into the top 20 mainstream charts.
"I Met A Girl" from Bells Are Ringing modulates up half a step when the chorus comes in at the end of the refrain. More modulations follow, but the final key is a half step lower than the starting key, because the song was written for an actor without a strong singing voice.
"Hey Little Devil", from F major to G-flat (or F-sharp) major at the end.
In Tony Christie's version of "Amarillo", the last chorus goes from A major to B-flat major.
Ronnie Milsap's "Turn That Radio On" is mostly in G, but goes up to A on the choruses. Oddly, the key goes back down in the middle of the last line of the chorus ("hold me close"), instead of waiting until the start of the next verse.
The Silly Race music from Marble Madness periodically increases in pitch by a half-step.
"Underground"(Stage 3b) from Gradius III upshifts by a semitone twice before dropping back down to loop.
In Paint Your Wagon, "There's A Coach Comin' In" modulates from D to E-flat to F, and the choral reprise of "Wand'rin' Star" modulates from E-flat to F.
Sally Shapiro's "All My Life" modulates from A-flat minor to B-flat minor at the ending synth solo and fade-out. Similarly, the last refrain of "What Can I Do"? shifts from C to D. "Architectured Love" has a B minor verse, an E minor bridge, and a D minor chorus, with the coda alternating between the latter two.
Electronic dance music is not immune, with Swedish singer September and her highly-formulaic "Can't Get Over" (2007) featuring a typical example on the last repeat of the chorus.
Three Dog Night's 1971 hit "Joy to the World" shifts up a whole step from D major to E major for a bridge—and then back to the original D major for another chorus.
"Oklahoma Swing" by Vince Gill and Reba McEntire starts off with Vince singing in B-flat, then goes down to E-flat for Reba's verse. It remains in E-flat for the both of them, going back up to B-flat only for an instrumental break.
Probably best exemplified by "Title of the Song" by Da Vinci's Notebook (perhaps better known as "The A Cappella Act Paul and Storm Used To Be In") which actually points out that it's doing this: "Modulation and I hold a high no-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ote..."
Subverted in Denmark's 1982 Eurovision Song Contest Entry, "Video Video" by Brixx ...the song goes into the bridge leading up to the final chorus ... there is tension in the air ... are we going up? - Nope, the orchestra HAMMERS THE ROOT NOTE HOME and we return to the original key, sing the last chorus and leave the stage.
Interestingly, Power Metal band Nocturnal Rites frequently puts at least one modulation in most of their songs, but rarely use this trope.
Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" contains a gear change, even being quite highly regarded by the gearchange.org site which is critical of the technique in general. It occurs on the word "change", which combines a lampshading with a "Funny Aneurysm" Moment, considering what was happening to Michael at the time.
REM's "Stand". Twice. It also uses other effects, like a wah-wah pedal, in order to be as intentionally cheesy as possibl.
Lampshaded by "The Song That Goes Like This", which is a dramatic ballad about everything that occurs in dramatic ballads. It starts in F major: The key change occurs upon the lyrics "And then we change the key", and the song modulates up a full step to G major. The vocalists spend the first part of the next verse complaining the added difficulty of having to sing higher. Then the key goes up a full step to A major for the next verse, with the singers complaining about the song's seemingly endless length. For the last verse, with the song modulating a last full step to B, they are swearing when they hear the final one coming.
The live version of "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" has the lead singer point out the key change.
"He is Not Yet Dead" has three key changes. The song is played in C major from the start up until Sir Robin and Sir Lancelot are singing a counterpoint duet, at which the song modulates up a semitone. The song then modulates to A for the next verse, and G for the last verse.
"Find Your Grail" has two key changes after Arthur's lines. The version that is performed starts in E major, then goes down to C major, then back up to F# for the final part.
Subverted in Motion City Soundtrack's "Fell In Love Without You": The key changes for a final repetition of the chorus, and it sounds as if the song is going to end immediately after. Instead, the song switches back to the original key and repeats the chorus one last time, giving the ending a slightly unnerving effect.
Lampshaded again in "Show Off," from the musical The Drowsy Chaperone, a song about how much the character wants to retire from show business and stop doing everything she's doing: "Iiiiiiiiii don't wanna change KEYS no more!"
Occurs, complete with a nice lampshade attached, in Mitch Benn's "Everything Sounds Like Coldplay Now", an Affectionate Parody of the tropes of post-Britpop British rock as exemplified by Coldplay: "And if you can doooo/A high bit in the middle eight, then yoooou/Have almost solved the riddle of just how/To sound like Coldplay now..."
This is the great big opening song The kind that Lloyd-Webber writes and arranges It's actually very tricky to sing It's got lots of unnecessary key changes There, did you spot it? That was one there We stared in C, now we're in D Major...
Occurs in the song "Haben Sie Gehoert Das Deutsche Band?" in The Producers. Franz Liebkind shouts out "Key change!" before the coda.
This is a Shout-Out to Mel Brooks' High Anxiety, where Dr. Thorndyke (played by Brooks) yells the same thing while singing the title song.
Occurs in the song "Two Nobodies In New York" from [title of show]. Like The Producers, Hunter yells "Key change!" before the song changes keys.
Done in this piano segment from The Muppet Show. Rowlf tells Fozzie, "Modulate!" and, when met with confusion, gets him to do it by shoving him to the right.
Marvin Suggs, while performing "Witch Doctor", shouts the command "Modulate!" to his Muppaphones, who all comply by moving down one space so that Suggs doesn't even have to play them differently.note These were both inside jokes, since Jim Henson would always shout "Modulate!" during between-take singalongs on The Muppet Show set.
As mentioned above, Barry Manilow is so identified with this that when Ray Stevens recorded the parody "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow", he made sure to include it. It can also be heard just a few seconds into the Not The Nine O'Clock News parody, Wet And Lonely.
Also Lampshaded in Stevens' cover of the theme from The Monkees, which he performs as an Austrian singing duo, both characters voiced by him. Come the key change, the characters get into an argument about going too high.
Inverted in the Forbidden Broadway parody I Couldn't Hit The Note, spoofing how Julie Andrews can't hit high notes anymore, the song keeps modulating down.
Done somewhat unintentionally during a performance of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" in The Polar Express. Because of an overcrank, the recording slows down a bit and thus drops into a lower key. Seriously, an overcrank DURING A SONG?!?
In the movie Blast from the Past, the two main characters are listening to a Perry Como song on the car stereo, and Adam gets all excited over a slight key change towards the end.
Both: I don't want to harmonize with you With me Al: Change keeeeeeeeey! Kate:Make him stop!
The game show Wheel of Fortune, between 1983 and the mid-2000s, used a theme song called "Changing Keys", a pretty obvious lampshading of this trope. The theme was remixed several times, with the last two remixes having few to no key changes.
Me First and the Gimme Gimme's have an unintentional parody of this during their cover of "Heart of Glass." The bad modulates higher with every chorus, and eventually the lead singer has to scream into the mike to make the band stop, explaining that he can't hit a note that high. The drummer then quips back "Dude, it's only three modulations."
In MC Lars' "True Player For Real", it would be played straight, were it not for him upright announcing at the shift, "Key change!".
Subverted beautifully by Placebo in "Bright Lights", one of their most cheerful songs, which features a very characteristic keyboard riff over the chorus. After the second chorus ends in C major, the songs builds up and the riff starts in D... but D minor, it turns out after a few notes, and they never actually changed key.
Parodied and lampshaded in Truck Driving Song from the Swedish comedy show Macken, where a truck driver sings about his occupation. The last words in the chorus translates to "And if the song gets too boring, then I keep it cool. I change the key and shift it half a step", which then continues to happen throughout the song. Then he does it about ten times straight right at the end.
"Supernatural" by Wild Orchid. "Lift me up higher, higher and higher!" at the point of key change.
"This Is The Chorus" by Morris Minor And The Majors has the line, "this is the keychange, this is the keychange, it's just a standard device to stop us sounding mundane."
"Map Ref. 41ºN 93ºW" by Wire hangs a lampshade on this by announcing the dramatic chord change from the verse to the chorus with Colin Newman shouting, "CHORUS!" Also, "Being Sucked In Again", in which the entire verse part is made up of dramatic chord changes, and "Indirect Enquiries", where it's the whole freaking song.
Exaggerated - In Britain's Got The Pop Factor and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly on Ice, the deliberately cringeworthy "The Winner's Song" does this, and then does it again two measures later.
Subverted by the Kaiser Chiefs in "I Predict A Riot" and in various other songs. Towards the end of the song they start shouting in a gradually rising pitch, as if building up to a modulation, but instead they remain in the same key.
Inverted and then played straight in the theme song of The Half Broken Music Box: The song's verse is in C major, but it unexpectedly shifts down to B major to start the refrain. Then for the second sentence of the refrain, it shifts back up to the original key of C major.
Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music" indulges in a cry of "Gonna take it higher now!" and proceeds to shift up one semitone with all the finesse the trope name implies.
Kylie Minogue's "Your Disco Needs You". The song plays it straight at first by modulating up in the lead up to the final chorus. Once "Cure a lonely heart" is reached (where the title of the song is sung repeatedly), the song modulates back to the original key.
"I Just Had Sex", by the Lonely Island and featuring Akon, features a upshift towards its conclusion, as everyone joins in.
In The Brave Little Toaster, many of the songs include an instance of this. Most notably is near the end "Like a B-Movie". This bit is even amplified on the soundtrack version. It hurts a little.
Played with in a tiny piano piece by Leoš Janáček called ''Cekám Te!'' (Czech: I Am Waiting For You!) which consists of four four-bar phrases, arranged in a song-like AABA form. The piece is entirely in A major until the last two bars, which abruptly shift to D-flat. However, instead of going on to play the A section again in the new key, the piece just stops abruptly (on the dominant chord!) — hence the title: it's "waiting for" a phrase in the new key which will never come.
Lampshaded In Disney's "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat", which says, "Let's take this to another key, modulate, and wait for me ..."
Axis of Awesome's "How To Write A Love Song", which dissects generic '90s R&B love songs, naturally includes a couple of gratuitous key changes, and accompanying lyrics explaining their role in the song.
"When you change the key in a love song/It means you're singing passionately."
Markoolio and Linda Bengtzing's "Värsta Schlagern" lampshades the hell out of every single music cliché to ever plague the Eurovision Song Contest, including this one ("Här kommer höjningen till slut!"note "here comes the upward shift at last") as they go into the final chorus.
Beyoncé's "Love On Top" features a 4x combo gear change at the end.
They Might Be Giants' song "Birdhouse In Your Soul" employs this in much the same way as the above Beyoncé song, once between verses and several in a row during the ending repeat
Breaking Benjamin's "Forget It" is made of this trope; starting at a D#, the verse structure shifts up a semitone with each verse until it winds up at a G# for the last verse.
Lacuna Coil's "Fragments of Faith" zig-zags the hell out of this trope - the home key is G# minor, but pre-choruses are in A minor and both the first chorus and the first half of the second chorus is in F# minor. The "offending" gear change during the second chorus is actually a return to the original key.
The Idolmaster has a lot of music so having a lot of examples of this trope is not a surprise. That said, one song stands out in having no fewer than ten of these modulations, both up and down: "Inferno", one of Chihaya Kisaragi's songs.
In Marshall Crenshaw's "Monday Morning Rock," he shouts, "Ohhh.....key change!" just before the guitar solo.
Fellowship!The Musical parody of The Fellowship of the Ring has "The Lament of the Ring", which does this for visual comedy: each time Frodo changes to a higher key, he correspondingly stands up higher to prevent Boromir from taking the ring - while Boromir starts singing about how the key is getting too high for him to sing comfortably. Eventually Frodo is standing on tiptoes on a chair, and singing in falsetto.
Subverted in the Manhattans' "Shining Star"; after the first chorus the song goes up from B Major to C Major on "loooooone", but goes back down to B Major on "ly". This is played straight later on.
Inverted in "Tonight" from West Side Story, which moves down a half-step with each successive chorus so the final one can end calmly and quietly.
Lampshaded in "I Believe In God" from Leonard Bernstein's Mass, as the song reaches its climax:
(In G major—fortissimo) I believe in F-sharp. I believe in G. But does it mean a thing to you, Or should I change my key? (In A-flat major—still louder) How do you like A-flat? Do you believe in C?
The Tornados' instrumental "Telstar" shifts from A Major to D Major after the bridge.
The Megadeth song "A Tout Le Monde" subverts this. The song is played in F-minor, briefly shifts to G-minor for its final verse but then returns to F-minor for the final chorus.
Another metal subversion: "Liar" by Helloween. The song's verses are played in Ab minor, while its chorus is played in Eb minor. Two lines from the final rendition of the chorus, however, are played in E minor. The chorus returns to Eb minor for its other two lines, and then the song ends in Ab minor.
P.D.Q Bach's "Song to Celia" (a parody of Ben Johnson's eponymous poem and the song based on it, "Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes"), has a none-too-steady chorus attempting modulations in various places and picking fights over the key with the accompanist. The last verse modulates 6 times, 4 of them on a single syllable, and the last 2 painfully scooped down and up.
Some of the music Giorgio Moroder composed for American Gigolo, including a part of the title song "Call Me" by Blondie, is made so that it sounds like shifting one note up at every repetition. It doesn't: the motif ends one note lower than it starts.
Punk band Tijuana Sweetheart lampshaded this in their song Tattooed Women by shouting "KEY CHANGE!"
The Last Five Years: Composer Jason Robert Brown plays the trope straight a couple of times in the musical—several key changes in a row towards the end of "Movin' Too Fast," the finale "Goodbye Until Tomorrow"—but subverts it in "Nobody Needs To Know." The song is in A-flat for its entirety up until the last six measures, when it modulates down a half-step into G major. This happens over the very last note that Jamie (the character) sings, meaning that he completely misses the note the audience was expecting to hear.
The Kinsey Sicks incorrectly call it a modulation in their version of "The Rose" which takes place at the final major key change.
In Pippa Evans's parody of a typical Eurovision song (see above) on The Now Show, she also yells "KEY CHANGE!" halfway through.
Morris Minor and the Majors' "This Is The Chorus". They even comment upon it - 'This is a key change, our fabulous key change. It's a standard device to stop us sounding mundane.'