Are you one of those people who think all of the songs on the Top 20 sound alike? Well, you may just be right. A team of Spanish researchers explored the extensive Columbia-born Million Song Dataset, a consolidation of one million songs of the last 50-or-so years into data bits, and found that music today has gotten louder and blander. Such plangent pablum can do a real doozy on your ears and your faith in the progression of music.
As the researchers told Reuters, “In particular, we obtained numerical indicators that the diversity of transitions between note combinations — roughly speaking, chords plus melodies — have consistently diminished in the last 50 years.”
You see, the problem is not so much the lack of creativity in music, but the minimal desire for anything different. I refuse to condemn the music industry for putting out the same junk over and over again, because that is the music making them money. If we as a collective music listening public demanded more create tuneage, we would get it. But that is long gone. Mainstream has turned away from anything different. To have a hit song today that will repeat on the radio around 15 times an hour, you need a simple, singable, loud song.
What caused this gradual “dumbing down” of pop music? I’m not sure. But sometime after around the early 70s, the mainstream stuff just started get worse and worse as a whole. Yes, there are always outliers. Even some well-written, creative pieces today slip through the seemingly impenetrable wall of uncreative song production and hit the charts. I will say, though, it is happening less and less.
All this talk about music copy cat syndrome got me in the mood for a little basic chord theory. It’s been a longstanding joke among guitarists that an individual can learn just four chords on the guitar and impress members of the opposite sex with sweet renditions of hundreds of songs. When we talk about that, the chord progression we are discussing is the insanely catchy I-IV-vi-IV progression, one of the oldest tricks in guitar book. The chords in this progression change by key but some popular examples are C – G – Am – F and D – A – Bm – G, the latter of which is used in the video I am about to show you below.
This is Axis of Awesome, an Australian comedy/music trio, that, in their song “Four Chords,” sample more than 40 songs that follow the same basic chord progression. “Four Chords” is an excellent example of what we discussed above. And, the singer looks a bit like Jack Black.
Go try it out for yourself. Turn on the popular music station in your area and see if you can pick out the basic chords being used. Because, let’s be honest, it may be the ones used in the video above. Oh, and don’t forget to turn it up. There you have it. The formula to create a great pop song. Add in a lyric about love, parties or loving to party, and you are set.