The 15 greatest key changes in pop history, ranked

11 September 2023, 14:51

Key changes
Picture: YouTube

By Tom Eames

Key changes have been given a hard time by music purists over the years, mainly thanks to X Factor winner's singles and the like.

But we reckon they are an underrated and powerful tool for any classic pop (or even rock) tune, and some of the finest songs ever have contained a cheeky key change or two.

Here are the absolute greatest key changes ever made, and the exact timings in all their glory:

  1. Pretty much every Westlife song

    Westlife - Queen Of My Heart (Official Video)

    Key change at: 3.15

    We could have gone for any Westlife banger ('You Raise Me Up' and 'What Makes a Man' are also great examples), but we've gone for this underrated number one from 2001.

    It's a paint-by-numbers Westlife power ballad, but that's what makes it so good. The song slows down a bit, bells start chiming, and then the boys get off their stools and go hell for leather.

  2. Bros - 'When Will I Be Famous?'

    Bros - When Will I Be Famous?

    Key change at: 3:34

    This one comes out of nowhere.

    After a breakdown in the dance-pop track, Matt Goss totally slows down the vocals, it goes all over the place, and then into a quite inspired key change.

  3. Cliff Richard - 'Saviour's Day'

    Cliff Richard - Saviour's Day (Official Video)

    Key change at: 2:34 / 2:53

    Christmas AND key changes. It doesn't get more festive than that.

    And TWO key changes at that. Bravo, Cliff.

  4. Mr Big - 'To Be With You'

    Mr. Big - To Be With You (MV)

    Key change at: 2:31

    It's a song that doesn't necessarily need a key change, but we're so glad it's there.

  5. The Beatles - 'Penny Lane'

    The Beatles - Penny Lane

    Key change at: 2:36

    Even the Fab Four couldn't help but try out a cheeky key change. And it's so subtle and short-lived that you might have missed it.

    But it totally completes the song and gives it a perfect ending.

    See also: 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'

  6. Genesis - 'Invisible Touch'

    Genesis - Invisible Touch (Official Music Video)

    Key change at: 3:07

    Genesis and Phil Collins knew had to turn a great track into a worldwide hit that could fill stadiums.

    The simple key change towards the song's conclusion perfectly brings it all home and sticks in our heads all day long.

  7. Backstreet Boys - 'I Want It That Way'

    Backstreet Boys - I Want It That Way (Official Music Video)

    Key change at: 2:32

    Essentially, you weren't a proper boyband if you didn't dabble in key changes in the 1990s.

    The Backstreet Boys used it perfectly, coupling it with a powerhouse of a vocal on "I want to hear you saaaaaaayyyyyyyy!".

  8. Michael Bolton - 'How Can We Be Lovers?'

    Michael Bolton - How Can We Be Lovers (Official Video)

    Key change at: 2:39

    Michael Bolton is the king when it comes to OTT power ballads, and he really went for it on this one.

    Not only does he go for a killer key change in this excellent tune, but he does it a couple of beats earlier than you'd expect, after exclaiming 'WE CAN WORK IT OUT!'.

    The master.

  9. Michael Jackson - 'Earth Song'

    Michael Jackson - Earth Song (Official Video)

    Key change at: 3:45

    'Earth Song' is as epic as songs can be while still sounding like they fit on the radio.

    Yet, halfway through the power ballad, Michael decided that it needed to be EVEN BIGGER GOSHDARNIT.

    So, he turned it up a notch and threw in a key change that totally completes the song.

  10. Whitney Houston - 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody'

    Whitney Houston - I Wanna Dance With Somebody

    Key change at: 3:37

    Whitney is another legend when it comes to a good key change. See also: 'I Have Nothing'.

    But for sheer joy and wedding party fun, it has to go to this '80s favourite.

  11. Diana Ross - 'Chain Reaction'

    Diana Ross - Chain Reaction (Official Video)

    Key changes at: 2:30 / 2:59 / 3:13 / 3:28

    This pop classic from Diana Ross is already so catchy, but it builds and builds before co-writers the Bee Gees join in the chorus.

    So not only can you hear Barry Gibb go full pelt on the falsetto vocals, but then there's the gorgeous key change. And then another one!

    Barry then throws a curveball with the final key changes, as he does it halfway through the sentence. It's hard to explain, but it's ace.

  12. Beyoncé - 'Love on Top'

    Beyoncé - Love On Top (Video Edit)

    Key changes at: 1:44 / 2:04 / 2:25 / 2:45

    This might well win the prize for the most key changes in one song without it being too silly (somehow).

    Beyoncé must have leant on the key-change dial, as one kicks in after another as the song reaches its climax.

    Just when you think she can't possibly go any higher, she does.

  13. Michael Jackson - 'Man in the Mirror'

    Michael Jackson - Man In The Mirror (Official Video)

    Key change at: 2:53

    "Make that change", as Michael once said.

    And change it, he did. He stops everything, literally shouts "CHANGE!", and the song becomes a legend.

  14. Celine Dion - 'My Heart Will Go On'

    Céline Dion - My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme from 'Titanic')

    Key change at: 3:25

    A key change so good, a whole meme has been built around it.

    This power ballad made for Titanic needed an extra gut punch to make it even more emotional. How do you do that? KEY CHANGE.

  15. Bon Jovi - 'Livin' on a Prayer'

    Bon Jovi - Livin' On A Prayer

    Key change at: 3:24

    This Bon Jovi rock classic already has one of the greatest choruses ever, and the only way to make it even more epic was to chuck in a key change.

    A key change that has made us lose our voices at countless karaoke and '80s cheese nights ever since.