Friday, 25 July 2014

Ticket 33: Subvert A 12 Bar Blues By Altering The Chord Sequence

The most common application of this songwriting trick is to mess with the turnaround (the last four bars). A standard version of the 12 bar blues chord progression is

I    I    I I      (example in E)   E E  E E
IV IV I I                                A A E E
V   V I I                                B B E E

A more complex variation would be

I    IV   I I7            E A   E E7
IV IV7 I I7           A A7 E E7
V  IV   I V7          B A   E B7

But even with these alterations, this is such a traditional form that the listener is fully aware of what to expect as early as the fifth bar. So moving chords around or substituting new ones can keep the form fresh.


Can't Buy Me Love

I    I    I    I       C C C C
IV IV I    I       F F C C
V  IV IV I       G F F C


Stuck In The Middle With You

I    I             I   I      D D       D D
IV IV          I   I      G G       D D
V, bVII IV, I   I      A, C G, D D

Can't Buy Me Love - verse
Christmas Time (Is Here Again)
Day Tripper
I Want You (She's So Heavy)
I'm Down
Little Child - solo
One After 909
Paperback Writer
The Word
Yer Blues

see also

Bodhissatva (Steely Dan)
Flying In A Blue Dream (Joe Satriani)
Jesus Just Left Chicago (ZZ Top)
New, New Minglewood Blues (Grateful Dead)
Peggy Sue (Buddy Holly)
Pretzel Logic (Steely Dan)
Roll Over Beethoven (Chuck Berry)
Stuck In The Middle With You (Stealer's Wheels)
The Forecast (Calls For Pain) (Robert Cray)
Victim Of Changes (Judas Priest)
Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) (Jimi Hendrix)

Other examples would be one chord songs like Baby, Please Don't Leave Me (Buddy Guy), Boogie Chillen' (John Lee Hooker) and field holler songs.

See also

Ticket 19: Different Bar Blues
Ticket 34: Disguise A 12 Bar Blues Song By Avoiding The AAB Lyric Structure
Ticket 35: Use 12 Bar Long Sections In Non 12 Bar Blues Songs

See the full list of songwriting tips here - Tickets To Write

Thanks to T.C. Elliott, Mike Louis Griebel and Nancy Rost on the BSA forum and Aaron Krerowicz for examples

Further reading Aaron Krerowicz: 12 Bar Blues in Beatles Music

Monday, 14 July 2014

10:35 While My Guitar Gently Weeps (pt.3 Contrasts, Chords And Words Again)

A Song Of Two Halves

I mentioned last time the lyrics reference both the mundane and the massive. That sense of contrasts is fabulously highlighted by differences between the A (verse) and B (bridge) sections (Ticket 5).


Key of Am
Repetitive melody, small melodic range
Simple rhymes on '-ing'
Vocal harmonies
Mostly piano (McCartney)


Key of A major (Ticket 45)
More meandering melody, larger range (eg the big jump on know WHY and UnFOLD)
Extended rhymes (some might say OVERextended!)
No vocal harmonies
Mostly organ (McCartney and Harrison)


The chord progression in the verse is brilliant, every chord perfectly sets up the next, the initial Am Am/G D/F# F (giving us R b7 6 b6 in the bass - ticket 68) has a grim inevitability to it but the second time it subtly morphs into Am G D and finishes on E (the V) which leads us strongly back to the beginning. We begin to suspect we're in for a straight repeat, but the second time round Am and G resolve to C (the relative major) - a temporary respite from the gloom. But then the E major sets us up to plunge back in.

Everything hinges (literally) on the E major chord in this song. Not only does it set us up for the Am in the verse but when we get to the bridge it seamlessly prepares the way for the new tonic – A major. And how does the major bridge bring us back to the minor verse? You guessed it – E major.


Many people acknowledge this lyric is a mix of the brilliant and spectacularly bad, though there's debate about where to draw the line. For me the second bridge is a horrific case of rhyme fever - where a desire to rhyme pushes you to say things you didn't necessarily want to say and takes the listener out of the song, by drawing attention to a writer who is trying too hard to be clever. On the other hand the verses work wonderfully for me because they convey the same sense of numb detachment that songs like Because or Blue Jay Way achieve.

Lyrical hooks come from parallel lyrics (ticket 24)

I look at the world/floor/you all
I don't know why/how 

and the direct repetition of

Still my guitar gently weeps

That central concept itself is a totally original phrase, a unique lyrical hook, conceived from a kind of metaphysical poetic exercise (Ticket 59). Harrison, quoted in the Anthology book

I was thinking about the I Ching, the Book of Changes… the Eastern concept is that whatever happens is all meant to be, and that there’s no such thing as coincidence – every little item that’s going down has a purpose.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps was a simple study based on that theory. I decided to write a song based on the first thing I saw upon opening any book – I picked up a book at random, opened it, saw ‘gently weeps’, then laid the book down again and started the song.

Coming soon - Dear Prudence.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Ticket 68: Use The Root b7 6 b6 Progression

This idea can be started from a major tonic chord (Dear Prudence) or minor (While My Guitar Gently weeps) and often appears in the bass line of the progression. (Sunny Afternoon by The Kinks continues this progression with 5 4 b3 2 1).

Dear Prudence – main riff
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds – main riff
I Am The Walrus - 2nd half of each verse (eg sitting on a cornflake)
Magical Mystery Tour – bridge
While My Guitar Gently Weeps – verse
Wild Honey Pie - instrumental


25 Or 6 To 4 (Chicago)
Babe I'm Gonna Leave You (Led Zeppelin)
Can't Find My Way Home (Blind Faith)
Dream On - verse and end of chorus (Aerosmith)
Gloomy Sunday (Billie Holliday see also Sarah McLachlan's version)
Hitchin' A Ride – verse (Green Day)
Needle And The Damage Done (Neil Young)
Shangri-La – bridge (The Kinks)
Sunny Afternoon (The Kinks)
Tales Of Brave Ulysses (Cream)
The Changingman (Paul Weller)
White Room – verse (Cream)

See also

Ticket 1: The Flat 6 Chord
Ticket 7: Avoid Using All Three Major Chords Early In The Song
Ticket 8: The Minor 4
Ticket 17: Chromatic Descent Starting From The Root
Ticket 28: Use At Least One Out Of Key Chord
Ticket 31: Chromatic Descent Starting From The b7th
Ticket 32: Chromatic Ascent Starting From The 5th
Ticket 51: Use The Mixolydian Mode

See the full list of songwriting tips here - Tickets To Write

Thanks to Nancy Rost, Timothy Ray Echols and Martin Quibell on the BSA forum and The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles by Dominic Pedler for examples

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Nina Simone: You Can't Do That!

Join the electrifying Nina Simone as she (ahem) 'improves' a Beatles classic. Do you think she listened to the original more than once?

Monday, 7 July 2014

10:33 While My Guitar Gently Weeps (pt.1 - Introduction)

Before we take a look at the songwriting let's dig into the back story.

  • George did an acoustic guitar/organ demo on 25 July 1968
  • A full band version was recorded between 16 Aug - 5 Sept, then immediately scrapped. This version has never been released.
  • The final version (featuring Eric Clapton) was cut on 5th - 6th Sept.

Exhibit A in the They Don't Take My Songs Seriously Case, the White Album version of WMGGW was the first thing they recorded after Ringo rejoined the group, having quit 2 weeks before. In that time he'd written Octopus's Garden on a boat in Sardinia while they recorded Back In The USSR and Dear Prudence. (Who made better use of the time? Leave a comment!). So chronologically it belongs after USSR and Prudence, but Ian MacDonald and others mistakenly place it before, because the band started the abandoned version in August. But that's as incorrect as saying One After 909 belongs in the Please Please Me era.

On digital versions the song begins with Lennon shouting 'Aye Up' ('hello' in the Yorkshire dialect) but that almost certainly belongs on the end of The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill.

It's a great track that even the uncharacteristically long fade out and sloppy performances can't ruin (there are several instances of wrong chords/bass notes), Ringo's tambourine on the bridge wanders from the 4 to the 2, and lest we overly criticise the others, listen how sloppy Harrison's own double tracked vocals are (1:03, 1:40, 1:56, 3:14).

Great individual parts include Paul's fuzz bass and his “nice intro”* on piano (a deceptively simple hook – Ticket 3), Clapton's guitar (notice how the volume is being altered throughout) and Lennon doubling the bass line on guitar in places. Ringo's fast brushes overdub and the arpeggiated guitar (in the left speaker) are clever details that stop the song becoming leaden.

For me the strongest element in the AABA form (ticket 26) is the A (verse) section. The static melody works well against the ever-moving harmony (ticket 48) and brilliantly supports the lyrical sense of burnt out detachment and hyperrealism – noticing both the mundane (the floor needs sweeping) and the massive (the world turning).

*Harrison quote.

Next time, contrasts, chords and lyrics – good and bad.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Ticket 31: Chromatic Descent Starting From The b7th

Put a chromatic counter melody within your chord progression, starting from the flattened 7th of the chord and going down to the 5th. This is the James Bond Chord Progression (Ticket 32) in reverse. Other writers have used a similar idea starting from the major 7th instead (e.g. 
God Bless The Child by Billie Holiday or the bridge of Golden Lady by Stevie Wonder).

Cry Baby Cry – verse
Eleanor Rigby – bridge
Julia – end of bridge


Blind – intro/verse (Stevie Salas)
Fingernails - bridge (Matt Blick)
Love In Song – verse (Wings)

See also

Ticket 17: Chromatic Descent Starting From The Root
Ticket 32: Chromatic Ascent Starting From The 5th
Ticket 68: Use the R b7 6 b6 Progression

See the full list of songwriting tips here - Tickets To Write

Thanks to Nancy Rost and Andy Getch on the BSA forum and The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles by Dominic Pedler for examples