Created By: Faster on January 5, 2012 Last Edited By: Faster on February 20, 2012

The Mixolydian Turnaround

The \"Sweet Home Alabama\" chord progression. \\

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In rock, "natural" major (Ionian mode) is pretty common; but almost as, if not as much, or more, common, is Mixolydian mode. For an example of it, play all the white keys on the piano, but play from G to G instead of C to C. Starting on the fifth degree of Ionian mode, it can be replicated as Ionian with a flattened 7th degree. This mode/scale is noted for its major subtonic chord, which might seem borrowed from natural minor; and its minor dominant chord, while it has a major tonic chord. Combining these seemingly contradictory characteristics results in a bluesy sound that can range from melancholic to folksy to sincere to bold, all while having the humble resolution of a major tonic chord.

Now, the chord progression: You might be familiar with the three chords: I - IV - V. You know; "Blitzkrieg Bop"; "What'd I Say"; etc, Very versatile in its simple, non-obtrusiveness, it uses only the three most important, confident chords of a scale. Those would be the tonic (I -- key), subdominant (IV -- fourth; feels like secondary tonic/tonally vague), and dominant (V -- fifth; suggests tonic (I) as tonic again). Now, Mixolydian starts on the fifth (V) degree. So, what if we reversed it?

I - bVII - IV (- I).

We get a slightly less stable major progression, with a... modal feel. This different and slightly destabilized major progression feels more like "rock major" and feels down-to-earth because of the somewhat mellow feel of the tonic chord.

The progression is similarly versatile and can be heard as the basis of songs like ''Sweet Home Alabama", "Hey Jude", "Born This Way", "More Than a Feeling" (verses), and others.

In Dorian mode (mode 2), which can be formed by flattening the third degree of Mixolydian and thus forming a minor key, the progression follows as i - VI Ib - IV (- i).

Occurrences:

  • "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • "Teardrop" by Massive Attack
  • "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga
  • "Sweet Child o' Mine" by Guns 'N" Roses
  • "Gloria" by Van Morrison
  • "Dani California" by Red Hot Chili Peppers (in natural minor, thus forming the progression Am - G - Dm
  • "Paradise City" by Guns 'N' Roses
  • "Hey Jude" by The Beatles (the "na... Hey Jude [27x]" part)
  • "Express Yourself" by Madonna (swapped, forming G - C - F - G)
  • "More Than a Feeling" by Boston (verses; modulates from D major to G Ionian major in the chorus [G - C - Em - D])
  • "Takin' Care of Business" by Bachman-Turner Overdrive
  • "Don't Tell Me" by Madonna
  • "Freedom '90" by George Michael (you know, the one in the Chase commercials)
  • "Borderline" by Madonna (verses)
  • "Mary Jane's Last Dance" by Tom Petty (Am - G - D7 - A), implying Dorian mode)
  • "I Need Air" by Magnetic Man
  • "Put Your Hearts Up" by Ariana Grande
  • "Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who

Postscript: Perhaps we could have a special Mixolydian page for its prevalence in rock music?
Community Feedback Replies: 15
  • January 6, 2012
    ScanVisor
    • Many, many Green Day songs use this, or variations. At least one per album.
      • "American Idiot" is I-IV-bVII-IV-I-bVII
      • "Geek Stink Breath"
      • "Jaded" is the turnaround for the verse, and the Chorus incoorporates the V.
      • "Tight Wad Hill"
      • "Bab's Uvula Who?"
      • "Know Your Enemy" is mainly I-IV-I-IV-I-bVII-I-IV-I-V.
      • "Welcome To Paradise" is a straight example.
      • "Longview" does interesting things with this. The verses are Eb Mixolydian, going I-bVII, and the choruses are the straight Mixalydian Turnaround in Bb, and Bb Mixolydian is the fifth mode of Eb Iolian, AKA straight-up Eb Major with a non-b VII.
  • January 6, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    Can we have a name that doesn't make me think of Myxlplyx from Superman?
  • January 6, 2012
    Duncan
    ^ this
  • January 6, 2012
    Faster
    ^/^^: I don't know about that. Perhaps just a redirect as "Rock Major"? We could turn this into a page about Mixolydian mode itself instead of this chord progression alone. I originally named it the "Mountain 7 turnaround" because I saw its name online and it represents the bVII and the folksy/country connotation, but this is more descriptive -- "Mixolydian" is the name of the mode.
  • January 6, 2012
    nman
    ^^^Damn, I was thinking "isn't that a Superman villain?" when I read the title.
  • January 7, 2012
    arromdee
    If it's a preexisting term, we should use it whether it makes people think of Superman or not.
  • January 7, 2012
    TomWalpertac2
    I think "Werewolves of London" by Warren Zevon uses this progression.
  • January 7, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    ^^ Has to be show it is though.
  • January 10, 2012
    Prfnoff
    "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Hey Jude" have the same chord progression? I don't think so.
  • January 12, 2012
    ScanVisor
    ^ The end section of "Hey Jude" uses this progression my friend.
  • January 28, 2012
    KyleJacobs
    The music that goes with the Telltale Games logo is comprised entirely of these three notes.
  • February 16, 2012
    randomsurfer
    As a non-music type I'll ask what might be a stupid question: is this related to The Four Chords Of Pop? And if so, how?
  • February 19, 2012
    Faster
    No, but it's like that. It's just a really common chord progression, like the [[Andalusian Cadence (e.g.: Cm - Bb - Ab - G; see "Resistance" by [[Music.Muse Muse]]). I - VI Ib - IV would follow, in C major, as C - Bb - F. The chord progression is a typical blues progression in reverse: I - IV - V (F - Bb - C7) becomes I - VI Ib - IV (C7 - Bb - F). The chord progression is simple and strong like the Four Chords, and uses three of those chords too.
  • February 19, 2012
    randomsurfer
  • February 20, 2012
    Faster
    I - VI Ib - IV would follow, in C major, as C - Bb - F. The chord progression is a typical blues progression in reverse: F - Bb - C becomes C - Bb - F. The chord progression is simple and strong like the Four Chords, and uses three of those chords too. That Chase commercial ("Freedom") uses it pretty explicitly.
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