Follow TV Tropes


12-Bar Blues

Go To

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 Chuck Berry's "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.

It is an early variant of Three Chords and the Truth.

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", with an extra two measures at the beginning
  • Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll"
  • Bill Haley & His Comets: "Rock Around the Clock"
  • The Trope Codifier is arguably W.C. Handy's "Saint Louis Blues".
  • "Jump, Jive, An' Wail" by Louis Prima; famously covered by The Brian Setzer Orchestra
  • Ellis Hall's "Flip Flop and Fly" (as heard in Chicken Run), which is similar sounding to the above.
  • Advertisement:
  • The Hippie Battle theme from EarthBound Beginnings and EarthBound, as well as "Rock and Roll (Mild)" and "(Spicy)" in Mother 3 use this progression as they are in the style of 50's rock. In fact, the former is said to be based off "Johnny B. Goode".
  • 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.
  • Advertisement:
  • 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.
  • "I Got A Marble And A Star" from Street Scene.
  • The songs sung by the Hippie Hitler in the Show Within the Show in The Producers (the original movie).
  • The title screen/bonus stage theme from Ice Climber, also appearing in the Super Smash Bros. series.
  • Adeleine's battle theme in Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards.
  • The theme to the 1980 game show Blockbusters.
  • Neil Sedaka's song "Stupid Cupid", popularised by Connie Francis.
  • "Li'l Augie Is A Natural Man" from the musical St. Louis Woman uses the 12-bar blues as the first section of the standard AABA pattern, as does "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home" (though only the final A section isn't truncated to 10 bars).
  • Found occasionally in the works of P.D.Q. Bach with rather un-bluesy themes:
    • The Prelude in A major from "The Short-Tempered Clavier."
    • The Lullaby and Goodnight from the "Little Pickle Book" takes the familiar opening motif of Johannes Brahms' "Wiegenlied" and repeats it over the 12-bar blues changes.
    • The third movement of "Concerto for Two Pianos vs. Orchestra" gives its theme a "Rock Around the Clock"-like bluesy twist halfway through (and throws in a quotation of "I am the very model of a modern Major-General" in the eleventh and twelfth bars of this).
  • "Unfinished Business" from the Skullgirls OST.
  • The refrain of "Biggest Blame Fool" from Seussical uses the all major-minor sevenths version.
  • "Wild One" by Johnny O'Keefe (aka "Real Wild Child" in most of its covers).
  • "Say Hey (I Love You)" by Michael Franti & Spearhead.
  • "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" and the chorus of "Honey Don't" by Carl Perkins (which replaces the IV in the tenth bar for a second V), both covered by The Beatles on the same album.
  • "Money (That's What I Want)" by Barrett Strong, also famously covered by The Beatles.
  • "Chains" by the Cookies, also covered by the Beatles.
  • Beatles originals that use this chord progression include "You Can't Do That" and "For You Blue", in which George Harrison actually mentions this trope by name in the lyrics. "12 Bar Original" was an unreleased outtake that was eventually included on the Anthology 2 compilation in 1996.
  • "I Got You (I Feel Good)" by James Brown.
  • The principal theme of the second movement of George Gershwin's Concerto in F is a harmonically elaborate variation on this standard blues progression. (The blues theme of "An American in Paris" is a twelve-bar tune, but its chord progression doesn't fit this trope.)
  • Two arcade games by Irem: Moon Patrol and Spartan X (AKA: "Kung Fu Master") do this in their main themes.
  • Used throughout the Oh Yeah! Cartoon short "Blotto".
  • The opening theme music to The Ren & Stimpy Show does thisnote , as well as the ending theme.note 
  • Both versions of "Woo Hoo"note  (perhaps best known by its cover version by The's).
  • "Wooly Bully" by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs
  • "Who Wears Short Shorts" by The Royal Teens
  • In the anime adaptation of the Vicky the Viking books, the theme song does this in the German dubnote , but not in the original Japanese version.
  • 1P Music Type B (NES/GB/GCN)/2P Music Type A (SNES) in Yoshi's Cookie.
  • "Lucas with the Lid Off" by Lucas, a One-Hit Wonder hip-hop artist from the mid-1990s.
  • Neal Hefti's classic theme to the Adam West-era Batman series does this.
  • The Mona Pizza song from WarioWare Twisted
    • Mike's theme from Wario Ware: Touched does this with a slight variation at the end.
  • Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem's jam session from the Harvey Korman episode of The Muppet Show.
  • Both "In the Summertime" and "Baby Jump" by Mungo Jerry.
  • Proving that this truly is universal, the theme song from Petticoat Junction.
  • "Stuck in the Middle with You" by Stealers Wheel, minus the bridge.
  • Being a blues singer, a number of songs bynote  Long John Baldry (best known for his role as "Dr. Rrrrobotnik"note ) naturally consist of this.
  • "Don't Bring Me Down" by Electric Light Orchestra uses this in its verses.
  • As does "Better in Color" by Lizzo.
  • Even K-pop is not immune: "Dancing Queen" by Girls' Generation uses it.
  • A number of songs from the original Doom are composed with the 12-bar blues progression - most notably At Doom's Gate (E1M1) (although extended to 16 bars) and On the Hunt (E1M6), while The Imp's Song (E1M2) uses a corrupted version of it.
  • "Sing Along" by Sturgill Simpson (verses)
  • "New Genius (Brother)" by Gorillaz