Bit of fun this week. I’m not down on pop music at all, but I can be forgiven (I hope) for noting that a lot of it sounds suspiciously similar. Well there you go, some harmonic progressions just work and… well… they’re popular. Which is the object of the exercise, after all.
Nor is this new. Renaissance troubadours used a handful of progressions over and over (check out the passamezzo antico*, moderno and romanesca). Classical music spent centuries basically hinged around the same three chords as the blues, I, IV and V. Cuban soneros relied on the same. Even some quite adventurous folk and blues musicians do much the same, and much of various folk styles was modal for centuries before So What. Funk musicians can solo for several weeks on just one 9th chord…
And lest jazz musicians get a bit snotty about harmonic limitation, remember those hundreds of standards that pretty much just cycle a single turnaround forever.
There are maybe eight or so basic harmonic clichés in popular music, but here’s Aussie band Axis of Awesome extensively demonstrating one of the most (over?)used – I V vi IV (C G Am F). Love Bob Marley and the Beatles but can’t stand Lady Gaga and James Blunt? Well, they have more in common than you’d like to think… Enjoy.
By the way, it’s also used a lot in a pseudo minor version by just starting halfway through. And if you switch the V chord into last place you get the classic doowop progression (and the reason pianos in schools have locks on them – the kiddie white-note favourite Heart & Soul).
*Which you’ll probably know as Greensleeves.