|I–V–vi–IV chord progression in C major (click image for audio)|
The I–V–vi–IV progression is a common chord progression popular across several genres of music. It involves the I, V, vi, and IV chords; for example, in the key of C major, this would be: C–G–Am–F. Uses based on a different starting point but with the same order of chords, include:
- I–V–vi–IV, C–G–Am–F (optimistic)
- V–vi–IV–I, G–Am–F–C
- vi–IV–I–V, Am–F–C–G (pessimistic)
- IV–I–V–vi, F–C–G–Am
The '50s progression uses the same chords but in a different order (I–vi–IV–V), no matter the starting point.
|"Sensitive female chord progression" ordering, in C major|
|"Pop-punk progression" variation in C major, based on Bennett|
A common ordering of the progression, "vi–IV–I–V", was dubbed the "sensitive female chord progression" by Boston Globe Columnist Marc Hirsh. In C major this would be Am–F–C–G, which basically modulates key to A minor. Hirsh first noticed the chord progression in the song "One of Us" by Joan Osborne, and then other songs. He named the progression because he claimed it was used by many performers of the Lilith Fair in the late 1990s. However, the earliest known example of using this progression (at least in a major hit) is Scott McKenzie's San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair), written by John Phillips.
The vi–IV–I–V progression has been associated with the heroic in many popular Hollywood movies and movie trailers, especially in films released since 2000.
The chord progression is also used in the form IV–I–V–vi, as in songs such as "Umbrella" by Rihanna and "Down" by Jay Sean. Numerous bro-country songs followed the chord progression, as demonstrated by Greg Todd's mash-up of several bro-country songs in an early 2015 video.
A 2009 song by the comedy group The Axis of Awesome, called "Four Chords", demonstrated the ubiquity of the progression in popular music, for comic effect. It was written in E major (thus using the chords E major, B major, C# minor, and A major) and was subsequently published on YouTube. As of May 2020, the two most popular versions have been viewed over 100 million times combined.
I–V–♭VII–IV may be viewed as a variation of I–V–vi–IV, replacing the submediant with the subtonic. It consists of two I-V chord progressions, the second a whole step lower (A–E–G–D = I–V in A and I–V in G), giving it harmonic drive. There are few keys in which one may play the progression with open chords on the guitar, so it is often portrayed with barre chords ("Lay Lady Lay"). The use of the flattened seventh may lend this progression a bluesy feel or sound, and the whole tone descent may be reminiscent of the ninth and tenth chords of the twelve bar blues (V-IV). The progression also makes possible a chromatic descent over a contiguous heptachord (minor third): –♯–♮–. The roots of the chords are in Mixolydian, which is used in "Lay Lady Lay", though the progression contains one note outside of Mixolydian (the third of V, see Phrygian dominant scale) and other modes, such as major, may be used when performing the progression.
This progression is used in songs including "Turning Japanese" (1980) by The Vapors, "Lay Lady Lay" (1969) by Bob Dylan (a variant using relative minor on the 2nd and 4th chords: I–iii–♭VII–ii), "Sample in a Jar" (1994) by Phish (I–iii–♭VII–IV), "Waterfalls" (1995) by TLC, and "Don't Tell Me" (2000) by Madonna. "Cinnamon Girl" (1969) by Neil Young uses I–v–♭VII–IV (all in Mixolydian). It opens the verse to "Natural Woman" (1967) by Aretha Franklin, is used in the choruses to "Rio" (1982) by Duran Duran and "Sugar Hiccup" (1983) by the Cocteau Twins, and is in the 2nd part of the bridge in "Sweet Jane" (1988) by the Cowboy Junkies. I–IV–♭VII–IV is a similar chord progression which is arch formed (I–IV–♭VII–IV–I), and has been used in the chorus to "And She Was" (1985) by the Talking Heads, in "Let's Go Crazy" (1984) by Prince, in "Like a Rock" (1986) by Bob Seger. and in "Steady, As She Goes" (2006) by The Raconteurs (minor tonic: i–V–♭VII–IV).
Songs using the vi–IV–I–V progression include: Anselmo Ralph's "Não Me Toca", Don Omar's "Danza Kuduro", Enrique Iglesias's "Bailando", The Offspring's "Self Esteem," Lady Gaga's "Poker Face", and others.
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- on YouTube