What is this chord progression?

When I played (drums) in a band, I wrote songs by humming the melodies/riffs to the guitar player, who’d play it 'til he got the sound I wanted. He would always laugh, though, because he said all my songs had the same chord progression (the one time I wrote a song that had a different chord progression, he told me it was my standard one backwards and laughed even more), which he illustrated with (if I remember correctly) “Walking On Sunshine”, “Louie, Louie”, “You Really Got Me”, “Wild Thing”, etc. Now, these songs don’t really sound so similar to me, but then I’m not a guitarist - are chord progressions (which I only vaguely understand the concept of) more important in making songs sound alike than the actual chords being played? And what exactly is this chord progression (I take it it’s a pretty standard one for rock)?

Amateur musician opinion:

Unless you have perfect pitch, you won’t be able to tell the actual chords being played in a song just by hearing it. So yes, the chord progression is basically what matters.

Walking on Sunshine is I-IV-V-IV, in other words you play the root chord of the key you’re in, then the fourth, then the fifth, the the fourth again (ex: A D E D). This progression is indeed very standard in rock and pop music. I believe Louie Louie and Wild Thing are I-IV-v, same thing except the fifth is a minor (might be wrong on those, just sounds like it to me).

You Really Got Me doesn’t sound that similar to me, but I think the other 3 are pretty similar.

I - IV - V

This is the most common progression in rock/pop/blues music.

Start with the first chord, count 4 whole steps to the next, then 5 whole steps from the 1st chord for the last.

So, if your root (first) chord is A, the 4th is D and the 5th is E.

ETA: variations on this prolly make up like 60% of pop/rock music. Another 30% are the hated I - III - IV progression, characterized by Frank Zappa as “bad white people music”.

I should add here–if you’re talking about “the actual chords” in terms of how you play them on the guitar (open vs. barre chord, for example), then that can make a difference in sound. But if you’re asking whether two songs played identically, but one transposed to a different key, will sound different, then to me at least the answer is no, they’ll sound identical.

(assuming I don’t hear them side-by-side so I could pick out the obvious transposition)

My apologies… once I posted that I knew it was wrong, so I looked it up, and it was the II - V - I progression that Frank characterized as “the essence of bad ‘white people music.’”

To expand, this would actually be i-III-IV or I-flat III-IV, depending on how you’re interpreting the tonality (this progression is usually played with power chords, which, since they leave out the third, are harmonically ambiguous. “Smoke on the Water” would be the cliche example of this progression.) I don’t think it’s quite that common, though.

As for the OP …

Everything except for “You Really Got Me” is pretty similar. “Wild Thing” and “Walking on Sunshine” are both I-IV-V-IV, and “Louie Louie” is similar with I-IV-v-IV. (Lowercase indicates minor chords; uppercase is major.)

Are you calling me a liar?

I never exaggerate!


Sorry–is that II-V-I or ii-V-I (which is more usual)? It’s kind of the harmonic hallmark of jazz; much of it is based around that progression. I wouldn’t necessarily call it “white people music”, even though I sure as hell am bored of it.

edit: To your response above, I posted before I saw your update.

No, I just meant that, as a listener, “Walking On Sunshine”, “Louie, Louie” and “Wild Thing” sound different enough (to me) that I wouldn’t know (not being a guitarist/keyboardist/whatever) they were based on the same chord progression, so why all the mockery for me using it for every song? I mean, I could understand if everything I wrote sounded like a copy of each other, but the arrangements/number of notes are what make a song different to the average listener, right? I was just a bit baffled because the actual riffs weren’t the same, so the songs didn’t sound all that similar to me. Thanks for the info, guys!

Snowboarder Bo, can you give me a couple examples of the dreaded I-III-IV progression? I’m intrigued.

ETA: Oops, make that II-V-I progression. I type slowly.

Like my esteemed colleague, Professor Pulykamell, mentioned, prolly the best known I-III-IV song is Deep Purple’s Smoke On the Water (coincidentally, written about something that happened at a Frank Zappa show).

FTR, I don’t have a problem with it as a progression, but I have heard more than one musician sneer at it as “blues light” or somesuch.

ETA: Here is a good example of the I-III-IV being abused.

OK, “Walking on Sunshine” may be a little harder to catch, but try out “Louie, Louie” and “Wild Thing.” Sing “Louie, Louie” over “Wild Thing.” Or vice versa (although I think it’s a little easier the other way around.) See how the chords behind the melody move very similarly (although they are not identical due to the minor chord in “Louis Louis.”) “Walking on Sunshine” has that same movement to it. You can easily sing these two songs over it (although at a substantially increased tempo) and feel the same harmonic movement behind it.

Really? How oddly coincidental. What’s the story behind the song? I really don’t know much about Zappa (or Deep Purple, for that matter, but I’m more familiar with them.)

Sure. Let’s see… I think Got To Get You Into My Life by the Beatles, Layla by Eric Clapton, lots of Beach Boys songs, if I remember correctly.

Sorry, I really don’t mean to be nitpicky (but since it’s the Dope, I have to be), but that’s I-V-flat VII. I do understand what you mean, but the tonic is that first and last chord of that riff, so it’s I-I-V-flat VII:repeat instead of IV-IV-I-flat III:repeat.)

Well, just look at the lyrics:

That’s pretty much what happened. DP was in town with the Rolling Stones mobile recording studio to do some recording, and the night before they were set to start, FZ had a show in the theatre of the Montreux Casino (where DP was going to set up and record). During the keyboard solo of King Kong, some idiot fired a flare gun straight up into the ceiling, setting the place on fire. The whole casino burned down, and Zappa & Co. lost all their equipment.

DP had to find a new place to record, eventually settling into the Grand Hotel, where they recorded most of the tracks for Machine Head.

Zappa wrote about it in The Real Frank Zappa Book, and wiki actually has a decent write up of it, too.

Where’s the embarrassed smiley? Shows you how much I pay attention to lyrics. I think about the only lyrics I could sing from that is “Smoke on the water, fire in the sky.” Had no clue Zappa was name-checked in there.

I bow to your obviously superior ear and knowledge; I’m just a simple snowboarder who enjoys flailing the strings.

I know there was some obnoxious pop/dance tune from around that time that was a I-III-IV tho… my friend Jiggs (bass player) used to make fun of it all the time. Maybe it was that Dee-Lite song or something?

Dammit, I like that song. Am I supposed to be contemptuous for it for some reason?

No, no, you quite got the chords right, just the wrong sequence. I-flat III- IV is the same as I-V-flat VII, depdning on where you feel the tonic (I chord) is. So, C-E flat-F is I-flat III-IV in the key of C, but V-flat VII-I in the key of F. It all depends on where you feel that “finality” (tonic), for lack of better description.

Hmm…I don’t know. “Groove is in the Heart” is basically I-V over and over. Different era, but “Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)” is I-flat III- IV.

edit: Crap, no, it’s I-flat III-flat VII (I’m not that good at playing progressions in my head. The piano set me straight.) This is going to bug me now. What the hell songs fit that progression?