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?
Plenty of songs use a cadence that resolves down a fourth once. In the classical world, that’s called a plagal cadence. But how about a sequence of resolutions down a fourth, like Hey Joe?
I’ve found a few pop songs, and readers have commented with a couple more:
- Take Me to the River by Al Green (later covered by the Talking Heads): the section after the verse, that leads into the chorus. C → G → D → A.
- Jumpin’ Jack Flash by the Rolling Stones: the chorus. (“It’s all… right… girl…”)
- Here Comes The Sun by The Beatles: the bridge halfway through. (“Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.”)
- The Time Warp from the Rocky Horror Picture Show: At the end of the bridge (“Let’s do the time warp again.”) F → C → G → D → A.
- Don’t Bring Me Down by Electric Light Orchestra: the end of the chorus (“I’ll tell you once more…”)
- Heartache Tonight by the Eagles: the intro (thank you, Alan Davidson!) Bb F | F C | G
- (What You Know by rapper TI is harmonically identical to Hey Joe, but it’s such a copy that it hardly counts as a separate example.)
In the realm of jazz, I haven’t come up with anything to match those. The closest I’ve come is one progression 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… albeit indirectly, with intervening chords:
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.
And again, the same progression in Jobim’s Triste (bars 9-17), though it resolves to a major chord at the end (Dmaj7), not minor.
Can you think of any other songs that use this progression? Or, more generally, songs whose chords move up in fifths?