— 2012 — Jan 16

Around the circle of fifths… backwards

by Anton Schwartz

In high school I was a big Jimi Hendrix fan. A bunch of his songs have stayed with me ever since. I was humming Hey Joe not too long ago and it occurred to me: the song’s chords are a cycle of major chords moving downward in fourths. The world is filled with songs whose chords move around the cycle in the standard direction… down fifths… but I had never noticed one that moved backwards, like Hey Joe. I wondered: are there others? Rapper TI has a song called What You Know that’s harmonically identical to Hey Joe, but it’s such a copy that it hardly counts as a separate example.

All I’ve come up with in jazz is one progression that I’ve noticed a couple times. It goes from a minor chord to the minor chord up a fifth, then again to the minor chord up another fifth from there:

Cm   Cm/Bb   |   Am7b5   D7   |   Gm   Gm/F   |   Em7b5   A7   |   Dm

That’s the beginning of Benny Golson’s Whisper Not. He could have extended the cycle, but at that point the song instead remains in Dm, which is the main tonality of the song.

We find exactly the same progression in Green Dolphin Street, eight bars before the end. There, the sequence starts on the ii minor of the song’s key, and leads via the vi minor to the iii minor. That chord begins the iii-VI7-ii-V7 that leads back to the tonic chord.

Can you think of any other songs that use this progression? Or, more generally, songs whose chords move up in fifths?

6 Responses

  1. Alan Oehler says:

    “My Romance” has something like that moving to the end…

  2. Alan: My Romance has a descending bassline like the others, but the progression is not the same – no movement down in fourths.

    But I did think of another example on my gig last night: Jobim’s Triste. If you play the song in Bb (not the original key but the most common) then the progression of bars 9-13 leads from Cm to Gm to Dmaj much like Whisper Not & On Green Dolphin Street.

  3. I have a feeling that the Hey Joe progression is in all kinds of old funk tunes, but I haven’t been able to think of which. Finally a student offered one the other day: Take Me To The River (by Al Green, later covered by the Talking Heads). Yes!! The section after the verse, that leads into the chorus.

  4. A couple more great example: the chorus of Jumpin’ Jack Flash by the Rolling Stones and the bridge halfway through Here Comes The Sun by the Beatles.

  5. Mets says:

    I don’t know if anyone else has used it, but I discovered this progression:
    C9 – Bm7 – Am9 – Ddom7 – G7
    And then to “lock” the key in:
    C7 – Cm + 6 – G
    And etc:
    G9 – F#m7 – Em9 – Adom7 – D7 – G7 – Gm + 6 – D – C#m7…

    • Matty says:

      You’re not the first one :)

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