Saturday Night’s Alright for Modulating

…songs whose verse and chorus are the same progression in different keys.

From: The Doctor of Rock

To: Both of my regular readers

“Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” does a neat little trick with keys…

Verse chords:

It's [G]getting late have you seen my mates
Ma [F]tell me when the boys get here
It's [C]seven o'clock and I want to rock
Want to [G]get a belly full of beer

Chorus chords:

[C] Don't give us none of your aggravation
We [Bb]had it with your discipline
'Cause [F]Saturday night's alright for fighting
[C]Get a little action in

So it does the I → bVII → IV → I / mixolydian / Sweet Child O’ Mine / Sweet Home Alabama / Royals progression, which is already a little key-ambiguous (as per a previous post), then changes key by a fourth.

Are there other songs where the verse and chorus are the same progression but in different keys?

While we’re here, though, this song also uses somewhat interesting transitions in between the keys…

End of verse, making its way from G to C:

My [G]old man's drunker than a barrel full of monkeys
And my [F]old lady she don't care
My [C]sister looks cute in her braces and boots
A [G]handful of grease in her hair

(This is pretty D5, but sounds slightly more Dm than D...)

See what happened there? A D5 that could have been the V in the verse key (G), or could be the ii in the chorus key (C).

And the end of the chorus, making its way from C back to G:

[C]Get about as oiled as a diesel train
[Bb]Gonna set this dance alight
'Cause [F]Saturday night's the night I like
[C]Saturday night's alright

Alright al[G]right, [Eb]oooh [Dm7]oooh [C]oooh

See what happened there? The Eb is a standard hard-rocking non-diatonic chord in either key (the bIII in the chorus key (C) or the bVI in the verse key (G)), and the same D5-but-probably-Dm7 is used to create sonic ambiguity.

Speaking of this song… a million years ago when we had cable, because Seattle is sort of in Canada, we got CBC in our basic package… in fact even after we ditched cable, I think the free cable that everyone gets because it’s available over the air anyway included CBC. And I was one of the twelve or so Americans who eagerly awaited Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday, and – Nickelback cover though it was – this song got me pumped up almost as much as the Sunday Night Football intro song did before they changed it to something sad and lame and unrockful this year (I couldn’t even bear to add this year’s SNF theme to my previous post about the decline of the SNF theme).

The Elton John version…

The Who version, which IMO is really disappointing for a band built on being The Rock… they basically un-rocked this song…

You can tell it’s really late for The Who, like way post-’70s. Wikipedia says 1991.

I might get banned from my budding career in classic rock radio for saying this, I’d go so far as to say that the Nickelback version is better than the Who version…

…but me and the classic rock purists will agree that all of the above are clearly better than the Fallout Boy version:

Overall I’d say this song has been very frequently but very poorly covered.


From: The Doctor of Rock

To: Both of my regular readers

I wrote:

Are there other songs where the verse and chorus are the same progression but in different keys?

Coincidentally, just after pontificating on “Saturday Night’s Alright”, I came across another one that almost fits (I’m giving myself 80% credit)…

The [Bb]preacher talked with me and he [Cm]smiled
Said [F]come and walk with me, come and [Bb]walk one more mile
Now for [Bb]once in your life you're a[Cm]lone
But you [F]ain't got a dime, there's no [G]time for the phone

I just [C]gotta get a message to [Dm]you
Hold [F]on, [G] hold [C]on
One more [C]hour and my life will be [Dm]through
Hold [F]on, [G] hold [C]on

So if you’re keeping score at home, the verse (in Bb) is:

I → ii → V → I

…and the chorus (a whole step up) is:

I → ii → (sneaking in a passing IV) → V → I

It takes only a little imagination to say those are the same progression in different keys.

Also, though this is mostly orthogonal to the topic at hand, this song also features a truck driver gear shift of the highest order, up another whole step to D near the end. Overall, I’m a fan of this song, though it’s definitely from an era where one could write very literal lyrics about real downers. Not quite “Last Kiss”, which is outright bizarre, but still a bummer.

From: The Doctor of Rock

To: Both of my regular readers

I wrote:

Are there other songs where the verse and chorus are the same progression but in different keys?

When it rains chord progressions, it fucking pours chord progressions!

The verse looks like:

[C]We've had some fun[Am7]
[F]And yes we've had our[Dm7] ups and[G] downs
[C]Been down that [Am7]rocky road
[F]But here we are [Dm7]still [G]around


I → vi → IV → ii → V

And the chorus, now in D, looks like:

[D]Yes, it's [Bm7]true, [G] I am [Em]happy to be [A]stuck with you
[D]Yes, it's [Bm7]true, [G] I'm so [Em]happy to be [A]stuck with you

What’s that in relative notation? What’s that, you ask? I’LL TELL YOU, it’s:

I → vi → IV → ii → V

Three songs in as many weeks where the verse and chorus are the same progression in different keys!!!

Also I’m a fan of at least two Huey Lewis songs, the other being:

Goodness I love those chords, though I’ll suppress a wild tangent about this song (for now).

Aside from being great pop songs, two other things these videos have in common:

  1. Maritime-themed pseudo-sex scenes with women who appear to be considerably younger than Huey Lewis
  2. Notable appearances by sharks

Simpler times, the ’80s were.

2 thoughts on “Saturday Night’s Alright for Modulating

  1. Steve

    Doctor Of Rock

    Today is your lucky day; you now have a third reader. 🙂

    I am struggling with how this song is built. Most authors say it is in the key of C, but you and Wikipedia says the verse is in G and the chorus is in C. I have an Elton John songbook and the sheet music shows the key of C throughout. But if that is the case then the verse goes V-IV-I-V (a very unusual pattern, starting and ending in V) and the chorus goes I-VII-IV-I (also unusual, but not so much). If the verse is in G then both verse and chorus are I-VII-IV-I, but in different keys. Very interesting. Are we just splitting hairs? How can we say for sure which key the verse is using?

    Thanks, Steve

    1. dmorris Post author

      IMO sheet music is generally optimizing for sight-reading when it comes to choosing a key, which is some combination of “fewest accidentals” and “fewest key changes”, rather than a rock musician’s concept of “key”, which is, e.g., “in what key would I play if I wanted to solo along with this music?”. There’s another post from a while ago about the this same progression, specifically referring to, e.g., Sweet Child O’ Mine or Sweet Home Alabama, which have something in common aside from the word “Sweet”, namely they’re both I –> bVII –> IV (D –> C –> G). The key of G minimizes accidentals here, but they’re both *clearly* in D from a practical, play-along perspective.

      Saturday Night is a little more complicated because of the key change, but I think the same principle applies. At the very least, the first page has fewer accidentals scored in C.


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