Four chords

A little while ago I saw a live performance by Sydney comedy band Axis of Awesome, perhaps best known for their satirical “Election Rap Battle 07″ and “Election Song 2: It’s Time To Go For Growth” music video clips during the 2007 Australian election campaign.

Some of my friends were particularly amazed by the song “Four Chords”, which proposes that most contemporary pop songs are based on the same four chords, demonstrating the point using a 35-song medley:

James Blunt – You’re Beautiful / Richard Marx – Right Here Waiting / Alicia Keys – No One / Mika – Happy Ending / Amiel – Lovesong / Black Eyed Peas – Where Is The Love / Alex Lloyd – Amazing / The Calling – Wherever You Will Go / Bush – Glycerine / Thirsty Merc – 20 Good Reasons / Lighthouse Family – High / Red Hot Chili Peppers – Soul To Squeeze / Bic Runga – Stay / Ben Lee – Cigarettes Will Kill You / Maroon 5 – She Will Be Loved / U2 – With Or Without You / Crowded House – Fall At Your Feet / Kasey Chambers – Not Pretty Enough / The Beatles – Let It Be / Red Hot Chili Peppers – Under The Bridge / Michael Jackson – Man In The Mirror / Elton John – Can You Feel The Love Tonight / Men At Work – Down Under / Waltzing Matilda / Kasey Chambers – Not Pretty Enough [repeat] / A-Ha – Take On Me / Eagle Eye Cherry – Save Tonight / Toto – Africa / The Offspring – Self-Esteem / Blink-182 – Dammit / OneRepublic – Apologize / Tim Minchin – Canvas Bags / Natalie Imbruglia – Torn / Axis of Awesome – Bird Plane / Missy Higgins – Scar

Indeed, four-chord progressions are commonly used in music writing and “Four Chords” seems to demonstrate a I–V–vi–IV progression (E–B/D#–C#m7–A/C#) by transposing the medley songs to E. I suspect that the successful harmonics of chord progressions can be explained by thinking of them as a series of cadences, e.g. the strong I–V imperfect cadence and IV–I plagal cadence in this particular progression.

Overall, regardless of your appreciation of music theory, Axis of Awesome have produced a well-executed and entertaining piece.

One thought on “Four chords

  1. Yes, I liked it, apart from the fact that it may not have highlighted to some people the art of music – that the melody within the composition helps define the song apart from others of the same progression.

    Secondly, it highlights the lack of creativity of our days. Although having said that there are some great talents out there, just rarely in the mainstream.

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