Doo-Wop Progressions

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Doo-Wop Progressions
Part 1

The "I-vi-IV-V" doo-wop progression was used extensively during the doo-wop era from 1958 until the British invasion of 1963, and is still used today to create pop songs.

As nothing succeeds quite like success, there are numerous examples of hit songs written with any of the 24 possiple combinations of these four chords. Here we will take a look at the first six possible combinations that begin with the "I" chord. They are as follows with the examples in the Key of "E". All the following examples were taken from the book Money Chords - A Songwriter's Sourcebook of Popular Chord Progessions.

E-C#m-A-BI-vi-IV-V
E-C#m-B-AI-vi-V-IV
E-A-C#m-BI-IV-vi-V
E-A-B-C#mI-IV-V-vi
E-B-C#m-AI-V-vi-IV
E-B-A-C#mI-V-IV-vi

I-vi-IV-V Progressions

Examples of the classic "I-vi-IV-V" doo-wop progression include the verses of Poor Little Fool (1958), Stay (1960), Please Mr. Postman (1961), Duke of Earl (1962), Last Kiss (1964), Wonderful World (1965), This Magic Moment (1969), D'yer Maker (1973), Love Hurts (1976), and Do That To Me One More Time (1980). Also, the chorus of the 1989 Nothing's Gonna Stop Us was written around these chords.

Common Variations:

A common variation of the doo-wop progression is the I-vi-IV-V-IV progression. Examples of the "I-vi-IV-V-IV" progression include the Silhouettes verse (1957), the Mandy chorus (1974), and the Wasted On The Way verse (1982).

The classic "I-vi-IV-V" doo-wop progression has been used so often that songwriters have tried to breath new life into this progression by using various chord embellishments. Below are several great examples transposed to the Key of E to permit easier comparison and discussion:

Embellishments (Chord Quality Changes):

E-C#m-A-B9 = Dedicated To The One I Love verse (1967)
E-C#m7-A-B11 = Up On The Roof verse (1963) & I Wanna Dance With Somebody chorus (1987)
E-C#m-A-B-B11-B = Y.M.C.A. verse (1979)
E-C#m-AM7-B7 = Unchained Melody verse (1955)
E-C#m-Am-B7= Sleepwalker verse (1959)
E-C#m7-Am-B7b9 = Since I Don't Have You verse (1959)
Eadd9-C#m(add9)-Aadd9-Badd9 = Every Breath You Take verse (1983)


I-vi-V-IV Progressions:

The "I-vi-V-IV" progression, which reverses the "IV" and "V" chords, was used to write such songs as the Give Me Just A Little More Timee chorus (1970), the Take Me Home, Country Roads verse (1971) and the Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood chorus (1965). Several great embellishments are shown below.

Embellishments (Chord Quality Changes):

E-C#m-B7-A#7-A7 = How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) verse (1975)
E-C#m-BaddE-A = We Just Disagree verse (1977)
Eadd9-C#m7(add4)-B-Aadd9 = Purple Rain verse (1984)

I-IV-vi-V Progressions:

Several huge hits were created using the "I-IV-vi-V" progression which reverses the "vi" and "IV" chords. Examples include the choruses to More Than A Feeling (1976), Hit Me With Your Best Shot (1980), and She Drives Me Crazy (1989).

I-IV-V-vi Progressions:

The "I-IV-V-vi" progression is created by playing the "vi" chord at the end. Although not used that frequently, song examples include the chorus to Up On Cripple Creek (1970) and the verse to Brandy (1972).

I-V-vi-IV Progression

The "I-V-vi-IV" progression, which is created by playing the "vi-IV" chords last, was used to write such songs as One Fine Day verse (1963), Don't Think Twice verse (1963), Oh Darling verse (1969), Smile A Little Smile For Me chorus (1969), Take Me Home, Country Road chorus (1971), Hurts So Good verse (1982), Down Under chorus (1983), Right Here Waiting chorus (1989), Under The Bridge verse (1991) and Passionate Kisses verse (1994). This progression tends to continue to the "V" chord. A great embellishment example is the Strawberry Fields Forever (1967) chorus "E-Bm7-C#7-A" progression. An example of the use of an inversion to create a descending bass line is the Beast Of Burden (1978) verse "E-B/D#-C#m-A".

I-V-IV-vi Progressions:

Although the "I-V-IV-vi" progression is not used as frequently as the previous progressions, it was used to pen the verses of Come Together (1969) and Sweet Jane (1970). This progression also tends to continue to the "V" chord.

Part II will explore doo-wop progressions that begin with the other three chords of which there are eighteen possibilities.


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