Perpetual Chord Progressions and the Man-made Isle of Geese

It was last February, some Thursday night, when I first attended a show at Goose Island Brewpub in Chicago. It is the only brewpub I’ve been to in Chicago serving indigenous beer, though I must say I was sad to hear of Budweiser’s acquisition of the brewery some years ago.

Anyhow, I had a quick chat with the booker there before I made a pivotal walk across the street to Slugger’s and started playing some dueling gigs there. And now tonight is my first show at Goose Island. As far as promotion goes, I’ve made more effort for this show than any other I’ve done – at least, the most effective effort.

I didn’t make posters

Thus, I didn’t have anything to post all over DePaul, Roosevelt, Loyola, Lincoln Square, Lincoln Park, Andersonville and Edgewater, as I have done in the past.

I didn’t contact any press (like that would do any good anyhow).

I also didn’t get a chance to plug the show at any open mics – just other gigs I do like Live Music Trivia.

All I did was bug people incessantly – in person, on facebook, via email and with my mailing list.

It works for pop music, right? It’s the repeated listenings that start to hook people into liking pop music. If the label says that the radio has to play it (cuz what power does a DJ have nowadays?), they will play it….Over, and over, and over, and over…

Even if the song sucks, we are conditioned to like it because we can’t escape it, and we’re too lazy as a society  to look for great music on our own. I know I am!

But there’s a trend I’ve noticed that will soon stop, I hope. It’s not autotune. It’s not how everyone repeats words three to six times (tonight we’re going hard, hard, ha, ha, ha hard).

It’s the perpetual chord progression. What makes it perpetual? The fact that the progression rarely, and very often NEVER plays the one (I) chord. Think of the opening arpeggio of “Twist and Shout”. What if the whole song revolved around that arpeggiated chord and never moved on to the next chord? It would feel unresolved – it would never feel finished – the song could seemingly go on forever. Many current songs play this trick on us. They center the song around the V chord (which typically resolves to the I chord), but instead of the I chord, they play the IV and the vi chord.

Listen to Teenage Dream. The major 3rd interval played over and over by the guitar in the beginning sound like the I chord, until the bass comes in when Katy Perry sings “before you met me…”. The bass note is a half step above the guitar’s top note, which implies that the chord is actually a IV chord with a major 7th. That intro is the only time you hear anything resembling the I chord. The rest of the song pulses between the IV, vi, and V chord. It’s what every popular party song sounds like right now. Here are some other examples:

Tik Tok
Last Friday Night
Domino (try singing “T.G.I.F.” over the instrumental part in Domino and then tell me that this music is truly “new”)

Some songs  follow this pattern but still resolve to the I chord..sometimes. Wanna know what songs those are?

Call Me Maybe
Raise Your Glass
We Are Who We Are
California Gurls

It’s a way of manipulating music and using music theory to create a sound that seems like it will go on forever. The party will never stop, the DJ will be playing all night, and we can stay young forever. Songwriters and producers have discovered this and have flooded the airwaves with this sound, and its time for it to go.

Do you know any other songs like this, with the perpetual chord progression? Also, why are all of these songs by girls? Your thoughts….

One response to “Perpetual Chord Progressions and the Man-made Isle of Geese

  1. I think you’re right — dance music is intended to give the illusion that it will go on forever, that you can party forever, and that you’ll be young forever.

    “Raise Your Glass” was co-written by Pink, and her brand is “in your face.” So she’s not afraid of the one chord.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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