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12-Bar Blues

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The classic twelve-bar blues: (I, IV, I, V, IV, I; often at least one of them being a dominant 7th chord). 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:

  • Both versions of "Woo Hoo"note  (perhaps best known by its cover version by The's).
  • "Money (That's What I Want)" by Barrett Strong, which was famously covered by The Beatles.
  • The Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann", with an extra two measures at the beginning
  • 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.
  • Bill Haley & His Comets: "Rock Around the Clock"
  • Bob Dylan did quite a bit of 12-Bar Blues, most notably on "Subterranean Homesick Blues".
    • "Gotta Serve Somebody" from Slow Train Coming is an interesting variant, with a minor I chord instead of a major one.
    • "Bob", being a parody of Dylan's work by "Weird Al" Yankovic, is also in the 12-bar style.
  • "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.
  • Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode"
  • "Chains" by the Cookies, also covered by the Beatles.
  • "Don't Bring Me Down" by Electric Light Orchestra uses this in its verses.
  • 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.
  • "New Genius (Brother)" by Gorillaz
  • "I Got You (I Feel Good)" by James Brown.
  • "Wild One" by Johnny O'Keefe (aka "Real Wild Child" in most of its covers).
  • From Little Richard, "Tutti Frutti", "Long Tall Sally", "Lucille" and many others.
  • Both "In the Summertime" and "Baby Jump" by Mungo Jerry.
  • Neil Sedaka's song "Stupid Cupid", popularised by Connie Francis.
  • 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.
  • "Who Wears Short Shorts" by The Royal Teens
  • "Wooly Bully" by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs
  • "Stuck in the Middle with You" by Stealers Wheel, minus the bridge.
  • 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.

  • Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll"
  • Glenn Miller's "In the Mood"
  • Being a blues singer, a number of songs by (or even just sung by) Long John Baldry (best known for his role as "Dr. Rrrrobotnik"note ) naturally consist of this.
  • "Jump, Jive, An' Wail" by Louis Prima; famously covered by The Brian Setzer Orchestra
  • 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".
  • The Trope Codifier is arguably W.C. Handy's "Saint Louis Blues" which was notably recorded by Bessie Smith.

  • "Sing Along" by Sturgill Simpson (verses)


  • "Lucas with the Lid Off" by Lucas, a One-Hit Wonder hip-hop artist from the mid-1990s.
  • "Say Hey (I Love You)" by Michael Franti & Spearhead.

  • 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.)

  • 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).

Songs from media using this chord progression:

  • 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.


     Live-Action TV 

  • The refrain of "Biggest Blame Fool" from Seussical uses the all major-minor sevenths version.
  • "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).
  • "I Got A Marble And A Star" from Street Scene.

     Video Games 
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • "Mighty, Mighty Man" by Roy Brown is one of the songs in constant rotation on "Galaxy News Radio" in the video game Fallout 3.
  • "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.
  • Adeleine's battle theme in Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards.
  • Two arcade games by Irem: Moon Patrol and Spartan X (AKA: "Kung Fu Master") do this in their main themes.
  • WarioWare:
  • "Unfinished Business" from the Skullgirls OST.
  • The title screen/bonus stage theme from Ice Climber, also appearing in the Super Smash Bros. series.
  • 1P Music Type B (NES/GB/GCN)/2P Music Type A (SNES) in Yoshi's Cookie.

     Western Animation 
  • 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