The Mixolydian Turnaround
The "Sweet Home Alabama" chord progression.


(permanent link) added: 2012-01-05 20:33:33 sponsor: Faster (last reply: 2012-02-20 12:28:14)

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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?
replies: 15

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