The RiffTrax Blog header image 1

C, G, Am, F

March 27th, 2009 by Bill Corbett · 32 Comments

Disclaimers up front:

1) Many of the songs covered here are quite enjoyable. No snobbery intended.

2) The songs I’ve written have never been all that complex or sophisticated, musically. Though I hope someday to master the Hungarian minor scale, I’m not quite there yet.

Still, great fun to see a pop music pattern laid bare:

From funny young Aussie lads The Axis of Awesome, brought to my attention thanks to Jeff Horwich.

Tags: RiffTrax

32 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Chris D. on Mar 27, 2009 at 7:52 am

    There’s also G D Em C—a chord progression so overused it’s now starting to become ironically acceptable. As someone who’s played in a number of church worship bands I can attest to it’s ubiquity.

  • 2 andrew t. on Mar 27, 2009 at 7:56 am

    Technically, that’s the exact same progression, just transposed up a fifth.

    And I haven’t watched the video yet (at work, y’know?) but is the girl in the screenshot holding an invisible flute?

  • 3 Bill Corbett on Mar 27, 2009 at 8:03 am

    What andrew t said: Same musical progression in different key.

    Invisible flute, hm? I imagined invisible bazooka.

  • 4 Kris on Mar 27, 2009 at 8:05 am

    Are we all familiar with the Pachelbel Rant?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdxkVQy7QLM

  • 5 Laura on Mar 27, 2009 at 8:15 am

    Clearly, it is a clarinet.

  • 6 Laura on Mar 27, 2009 at 8:27 am

    I found this a few months ago. It’s kind of like that, but made in the way that the Star Wars song was. It’s a kid playing classical guitar with (I think) a piccolo and violin. Kind of cool.

    http://www.pown.it/2108

    I don’t have much to add since I play by ear, and I don’t even know what the notes of the first scale are called SO! I’ll just I now love these guys. Thanks for passing it along to all Bill :) .

  • 7 Bill Corbett on Mar 27, 2009 at 8:28 am

    Thanks, that’s great. Embedded below:

    That reminds me that Kevin once observed the same thing when we heard this song (and it starts right out of the gate):

  • 8 Bill Corbett on Mar 27, 2009 at 8:30 am

    That reminds me that Kevin once observed the same thing when we heard this song (and it starts right out of the gate):

  • 9 DT on Mar 27, 2009 at 8:53 am

    Great Video!

    I think it shows how much of what makes a pop song unique is the dressing around the chord progression: The hook, the intro, the beat, the singers voice and inflections, etc.

    Just like every house has a door, windows, and a roof, but there’s a huge difference between Monticello and a condo in the burbs.

    As you said Bill, no snobbery intended. There are some pop songs that do a great job dressing up this progression. Others just feel like a condo in the burbs.

  • 10 Amanda on Mar 27, 2009 at 9:18 am

    This is wildly inappropriate to the discussion at hand, so to try to tie it together, I’ll just say that this report is coming FROM a musician:
    Bacon.
    http://cosmos.bcst.yahoo.com/up/player/popup/?rn=3906861&cl=12673504&ch=4226713&src=news

  • 11 Chris D. on Mar 27, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Wow—you’re right that’s obviously the same progression! Shows what a musical genius I am. Although I’m pretty sure people are literally using that exact same key over and over again.

  • 12 Wesley Stamper on Mar 27, 2009 at 10:32 am

    In spite of the “no snobbery intended” disclaimer, I found myself taken aback and choking on my laughter by the inclusion of A-Ha in the AoA video. Skewer the Beatles to your heart’s content, but, damn, A-Ha deserves better treatment than to be soiled by the tiny minds of plebeian riff-raff.
    You guys wouldn’t know a true pioneer if Thor Heyerdahl bit you on your ass.
    Who’s next on your hit-list of hatred, Pseudo Echo?

    And when are they going to fix that pothole on 4th and Elm?

  • 13 Derek on Mar 27, 2009 at 10:39 am

    In the 60’s, it was reversed a bit …

    G – Em – C – D

    Hang on Sloopy, Double Shot of My Baby’s Love, Monster Mash, etc … drop the Em and go up to key of A) and you’ve got Louie Louie, Summer Nights (from Grease) most blues songs … drop the D from the A-D-E progression and you get that wonderful musical monstrosity, Achy Breaky Heart.

  • 14 Derek on Mar 27, 2009 at 10:49 am

    One other great bit of musical “recycling” … in church one day they were singing “Here I Am Lord” and in my head I’m hearing the incidental music to The Brady Bunch .. like the sad walk when the dog ran away, or when Jan wasn’t invited to the slumber party. It’s pretty much a mellow version of the theme song.

    I figure, “THAT DAMN SHERWOOD SCHWARTZ! Ripping off an old hymn etc … ” then I try to find out more about it on line and come to find out, the song ripped off The Brady Bunch!! “Here I Am Lord” wasn’t written and copywritten until the late 70’s.

    The “chorus” is totally ripped from a 60’s TV show!

    It’s about 1:10 into the clip.

  • 15 Wesley Stamper on Mar 27, 2009 at 11:04 am

    You think a hymn ripping off a TV theme is bad?
    L. Ron Hubbard based the entirety of his new religion Scientology on a few stray bits of dialogue spoken by the beloved character Ernest T. Bass on the Andy Griffith Show.

  • 16 chrismartindeed on Mar 27, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Surely there must be other applicable songs. MTV has been on the air for more than two decades!

    Tusk!

  • 17 Rob III on Mar 27, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Jeff Horwich is a machine!

    I’ve been to a few of his MPR shows, and he does EVERYTHING — writes, hosts, joins the band as backup singer, saxaphone solo, backup guitar.

    Does everyone in showbiz have to be such a polymath!?

  • 18 Mike Finley on Mar 27, 2009 at 11:46 am

    I’m guilty of this myself :(
    Check out “Die Trying” on http://www.myspace.com/mikefinley for another of the many examples.

  • 19 Rob III on Mar 27, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Derek –

    Adding to the list of G -Em -C -D: You forgot the timeless classic, “Heart and Soul”.

    I wonder how many time the cord progression of “Chopsticks” has been duplicated. . .

  • 20 Darth Chimay on Mar 27, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Hmm… maybe there should’ve been a different song that led the humans and Cylons to Earth?

    God, I’ll never know the touch of a woman again after that, will I…

  • 21 C.G. on Mar 27, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Just add a “C” chord to the end of that progression and one ends up with the into melody to Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl”.

  • 22 C.G. on Mar 27, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    I might also add that this prgression is easily played on the guitar using just bar chords!!

  • 23 ShutterBun on Mar 27, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    A band I was in in college used to do a super-cheesy medly of “With or Without You” and “I We’re Alone Now” both of which would have fit well in A of O’s video (in fact they did include the former)

  • 24 Earl Fando on Mar 27, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    I was thinking of Pachabel’s canon, myself, but it’s in D.

    Let’s see… D, A, B, G? A minor? In the neighboorhood.

    I think Ligeti used it a few times too, carefully hidden of course. Ives did as well, but in several keys at ones, the sly fox.

    Good on the blokes from A of A for a mash up of glorious monotony. However, now I’m going to self-consciously examine every song I’ve ever written for that pattern.

    There… done. (Sigh)

  • 25 Earl Fando on Mar 27, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    And not even the good bits from that episode.

  • 26 Earl Fando on Mar 27, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    Sure, if you have ginormous, freakish, mutant hands.

    Sorry about that, I have wee, stout fingers. Never have enjoyed bar chords, at least on the acoustic. Painful.

  • 27 Brooke on Mar 28, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    About at the high note of Aha’s land down under… i think i fell in love. Not sure what with. I’m probably fairly impressionalbe right now. Now to avoid banner ads and infomercials.

  • 28 Eddie Colton on Mar 28, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    See, it’s all about arrangement. That’s why Take On Me is so much better than all those other songs.

    This is now my new favorite band because of “Birdplane.”

  • 29 Darth Chimay on Mar 29, 2009 at 12:49 am

    Oh, by the by, the chords are E-B-Cm-A for the Journey song, yet the progression remains the same, even though some of those start on C as you posted.