Created By: ThePocket on June 15, 2011 Last Edited By: WaxingName on January 8, 2013
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Twelve Bar Blues

Songs that use the classic 12-bar blues Chord Progression

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Waxing Name is now in control of this YKTTW

Formerly: This is a Blues Riff in B

The classic twelve-bar blues: (I, IV, I, V, IV, I; often all of them being 7 chords). A Chord Progression that started out being used for blues songs (hence the name) but later worked its way into big-band swing and particularly early rock-and-roll, where it became all but omnipresent up until the mid-60's. Like the Doo Wop Progression, it has a distinctly "classic" feel to modern listeners. It's so recognizable that all Marty McFly had to tell his backup band in Back to the Future was "This is a 'blues' riff in B" and they were able to properly accompany his rendition of "Johnny B. Goode" (until he started channeling Eddie van Halen, anyway).

The progression isn't strictly 12-bar, though. For example, "Heartbreak Hotel" is written with an 8-bar cycle, but otherwise uses the same chords as the standard progression.

Compare The Four Chords of Pop, which seem to have replaced this from the late 60's to the present as the dominant chord progression in popular music.

Songs using this chord progression:

  • Glenn Miller's "In the Mood"
  • Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode"
  • The Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann"
  • Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll"
  • Bill Haley and His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock"
  • Ellis Hall's "Flip Flop and Fly" (as heard in Chicken Run)
  • The Hippie Battle theme from MOTHER 1 and 2, as well as "Rock and Roll (Mild)" and "(Spicy)" in 3 use this progression as they are in the style of 50's rock.
  • The blues standard "Hound Dog", made famous by Elvis Presley.
    • Also from Elvis, "Heartbreak Hotel", though as noted above, it's in 8-bar rather than the traditional 12-bar.
  • "Greased Lightning" from the Grease musical and film.
  • The legendary Robert Johnson, the king of the Delta Blues, recorded many examples of this, including such classics as "Crossroad Blues", "Sweet Home Chicago", and "Love in Vain".
  • Pink Floyd put a straight-forward 12-bar blues song, "Seamus", on their album Meddle. Just to keep things from seeming too normal, though, they used an actual dog to howl along with the instrumental section. A different dog performed live on their concert film, Live at Pompeii.
  • From Little Richard, "Tutti Frutti", "Long Tall Sally", "Lucille" and many others.
  • Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots fame released an album by this name. And yes, the songs matched this progression.
  • The surfer tune "Wipe Out", first performed by The Surfaris in 1963.
  • "Johnny C. Bad", that upbeat piano and bass tune that plays in a crowded bar and later the Dragon's Neck Coliseum in Final Fantasy VI.
  • Bob Dylan did quite a bit of 12-Bar Blues, most notably on Subterranean Homesick Blues.
  • The Louisiana Gator Boys in The Blues Brothers 2000, fronted by B.B. King and with a literal all-star lineup, seen here singing "How Blue Can You Get." (The ending falls into a 16-bar blues style.)
  • "Mighty, Mighty Man" by Roy Brown is one of the songs in constant rotation on "Galaxy News Radio" in the video game Fallout 3.
Community Feedback Replies: 26
  • June 15, 2011
    JonnyB
    Does it necessarily have to be in B?
  • June 16, 2011
    peccantis
    IIRC, Fast Eddie would much like us to come up with titles that don't sound like snippets of dialogue.
  • June 16, 2011
    pinkdalek
    Twelve Bar Blues would be a better name, seeing as that's what this is actually called.

    Also, it would be useful to actually put the chord progression somewhere in the writeup:

    [I] [I] [I] [I7]

    [IV] [IV] [I] [I]

    [V] [IV] [I] [V or I]

    Formatted as a table?
  • June 16, 2011
    TooBah
    How about just Blues Progression, or Standard Blues Progression? The Chord Progression page contains several in that format already.
  • June 16, 2011
    yogyog
    Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner BATMAN (the 60's TV Theme tune)
  • June 16, 2011
    jaytee
    Twelve Bar Blues at least needs to be a redirect, I think it makes a good title too (nice little bit of Added Alliterative Appeal).

    You might add that this is a nearly Ubiquitous Trope in rockabilly, and amusingly slightly less so for blues music.
  • June 16, 2011
    jaytee
    Also, the 12-bar format didn't just pop up out of nowhere, it specifically complements the archetypal blues lyric-style.
    • first four: Say something sad
    • second four: Repeat the sad thing
    • last four: introduce a clever turn on the sad thing

    For instance:
    • My old lady, she ran away with my best pal
    • Oh my old laaaaady, she ran away with my best pal
    • I finally got peace, but I'll miss my good friend Al.
  • June 16, 2011
    randomsurfer
  • June 17, 2011
    yogyog
    EVERYTHING by Status Quo.
  • June 19, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    Traci Chapman's "Give Me One Reason"
  • June 19, 2011
    JonnyB
    Is this going to be listing every 12 bar blues song and song based on 12 bar blues ever written? Because you're gonna need a bigger trope.
  • June 20, 2011
    jaytee
    ^Well, maybe, but as you can see, music tropes get next to no attention on the site. I don't think we're in danger of overloading the servers or anything.
  • July 23, 2011
    Prfnoff
  • December 14, 2012
    WaxingName
    I'm taking control of this YKTTW.
  • December 15, 2012
    Luc
    I forget if "Bob" by Weird Al Yankovich counts or not.
  • December 16, 2012
    Xtifr
    • The legendary Robert Johnson, the king of the Delta Blues, recorded many examples of this, including such classics as "Crossroad Blues", "Sweet Home Chicago", and "Love in Vain".
    • Pink Floyd put a straight-forward 12-bar blues song, "Seamus", on their album Meddle. Just to keep things from seeming too normal, though, they used an actual dog to howl along with the instrumental section. A different dog performed live on their concert film, Live at Pompeii.
  • December 17, 2012
    AP
    • Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots fame released an album by this name. And yes, the songs matched this progression.
  • December 18, 2012
    McKathlin
    • The surfer tune "Wipe Out", first performed by The Surfaris in 1963.
  • December 18, 2012
    McKathlin
    • "Johnny C. Bad", that upbeat piano and bass tune that plays in a crowded bar in Final Fantasy VI.
  • December 30, 2012
    Luc
    • Bob Dylan did quite a bit of 12-Bar Blues, most notably on Subterranean Homesick Blues.

    (Did my research on this, this time.)
  • December 30, 2012
    JonnyB
    The Louisiana Gator Boys in The Blues Brothers 2000, fronted by B.B. King and with a literal all-star lineup, seen here singing "How Blue Can You Get." (The ending falls into a 16-bar blues style.)
  • December 30, 2012
    JonnyB
    @jaylee: True. Might be a good idea to limit it though to famous/influential 12 bar blues numbers, and numbers featured in film/tv/radio/etc. :)
  • December 30, 2012
    Xtifr
    Why limit it? There's no such thing as notability. If we get too many examples, we can make subpages. But there's no danger of that so far. Of course, if a song has been featured somewhere, that can certainly be mentioned. Like:

    • "Mighty, Mighty Man" by Roy Brown is one of the songs in constant rotation on "Galaxy News Radio" in the video game Fallout 3.
  • January 3, 2013
    MetaFour
    • Vitoria Suite, a composition by Wynton Marsalis for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. It's in 12 movements, and it's specifically said they're meant to correspond to the classic 12 bars of the blues.
  • January 7, 2013
    WaxingName
    Well, I can't properly launch this since it starts with a number. I've already started the page, so go there instead.
  • January 8, 2013
    randomsurfer
    Just launch this to Twelve Bar Blues (you can change the name you launch it as at that time) which will archive this discussion and link it to the discussion page, and then submit a custom title request if you really want it to be named "12-Bar Blues."
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=szzooisq7oghsr7ki0e5j9zl&trope=12BarBlues