I’m sure that everyone, at one stage or another, has listened to a song and thought, “that sounds like my favorite song!” but how different are our favorite songs?
What if I told you that ‘Psychosocial’ by Slipknot and ‘Baby’ by Justin Bieber are, on effect, the same song but with different lyrics? What if I told you that most of your favorite songs are all the same?
This sounds like the start of a bad conspiracy theory but believe me when I say that this is no conspiracy and I can explain everything. But first, we need to go back in time.
A Little History
In the 1950s, songs like “Earth Angel” and “Oh Donna” were incredibly popular. It was the age that many rock and roll fans refer to as “The Manufactured Age”, called such because most songs from this age used the “50s Chord Progression” so they only needed to change the lyrics and kept the same chords.
That’s not to say that this chord progression was invented in the 50s, but it was popularized in that age so that is the common name for it (It is also sometimes called ‘The Ice Cream Chord Progression’ as popularised by YouTube celebrity Hank Green).
Here’s a short video clip explaining the whole thing:
The layout of this progression is ‘I vi IV V’, this is often looped to give it a constant perfect cadence (V-I) and sometimes the 5th is replaced with the 7th version of it to “pull” the ear towards the 1st note. There is something about this particular sound that makes it sound smooth and seamless to our ears.
Despite this, the age of rock saw artists trying to move away from this style so there were very few songs used this progression during that era.
When the 80s arrived the ice cream progression started to fall back into favor as the younger generation reacted against the older, rock following, one. The hit by Sting and the Police called ‘Every Breath You Take’ is a key example of this pattern becoming popular again, granted that this was the first song to change the beats per chord change but still….it was in effect the same song as before but faster and with different words.
When the 90s arrived the beats changed again to one chord per beat with “She Has a Girlfriend Now” by Reel Big Fish. In the 2000s the smash hit “Baby” by Justin Bieber along with “Psychosocial” by Slipknot arrived.
Soon after that, a Comedy band called “The Axis of Awesome” wrote “The 4 Chord Song” to educate everyone on just how many songs there were that used the 50s progression and to highlight the unoriginality of a lot of popular music.
So, next time you hear a song and think, “I know that from somewhere,” what you are most likely listening to is:
- Earth Angel
- No Woman No Cry
- Can You Feel The Love Tonight
- Man In The Mirror
- you get the picture!