Monthly Archives: April 2015

Who Put the II in the Bop Shoo Bop?

…doo-wop-era songs that are more interesting than you remember.

The ’50s and early ’60s have something of a rep for harmonic simplicity. Ask anyone with half a guitar to “write you a ’50s song”, and you’ll get a slow I → vi → IV → V progression, probably pausing for a bridge that starts on the IV, only to return to I → vi → IV → V. Incidentally, the song will also have the words “you” and “love” in the chorus, but lyrical complexity is beyond the scope of this post.

This progression is so common that the Internetz just call it the “’50s progression” (also see Wikpedia’s List of songs containing the ’50s progression).

I’m not here to convince you that the ’50s and early ’60s were really a period of experimental jazz-prog. In fact, I pretty much agree that for ~15 years, chords were definitely almost as simple as Wikipedia would have you believe.

But I do think we’re throwing the II and the iv out with the… damnit, I really thought that metaphor was going to work. What I’m saying is there were a few songs that you probably think of as:

…that were actually more like:

This is similar to the general perception that all ’80s hair bands were only as good as Ratt and Warrant, but actually Guns n’ Roses is awesome and gets unfairly lumped in.

So this post, as per the title, is about “doo-wop-era songs that are more interesting than you remember”. Note it’s not just “interesting chords from the ’50s” (of which I’m sure there are a jillion), it’s songs you probably think of specifically as ’50s progression songs that are actually hiding harmonic good times beneath a thin veneer of I → vi → IV → V.

Continue reading to find the harmonic gems in infinite array of ’50s progressions →