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Essay On College Days Chords

You could call it the magical mystery chord. The opening clang of the Beatles' 1964 hit, "A Hard Day's Night," is one of the most famous and distinctive sounds in rock and roll history, and yet for a long time no one could quite figure out what it was.

In this fascinating clip from the CBC radio show, Randy's Vinyl Tap, the legendary Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive guitarist Randy Bachman unravels the mystery. The segment (which comes to us via singer-songwriter Mick Dalla-Vee) is from a special live performance, "Guitarology 101," taped in front of an audience at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto back in January, 2010. As journalist Matthew McAndrew wrote, "the two-and-a-half hour event was as much an educational experience as it was a rock'n'roll concert."

One highlight of the show was Bachman's telling of his visit the previous year with Giles Martin, son of Beatles' producer George Martin, at Abbey Road Studios. The younger Martin, who is now the official custodian of all the Beatles' recordings, told Bachman he could listen to anything he wanted from the massive archive--anything at all.

Bachman chose to hear each track from the opening of "A Hard Day's Night." As it turns out, the sound is actually a combination of chords played simultaneously by George Harrison and John Lennon, along with a bass note by Paul McCartney. Bachman breaks it all down in an entertaining way in the audio clip above.

You can read about some of the earlier theories on The Beatles Bible and Wikipedia, and hear a fascinating account of one scholar's mathematical analysis of the component sounds of the chord from a few years ago at NPR.

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Related Content:

Here Comes The Sun: The Lost Guitar Solo by George Harrison

Peter Sellers Reads "A Hard Day's Night" in Shakespearean Mode

Jimmy Page Tells the Story of Kashmir

  • Blues. The basic 12-Bar Blues progression is three chords- tonic, subdominant, dominant. And it fits the haunting cries of the likes of Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson perfectly. Most early Rock & Roll (Elvis et. al.) was simply Blues played cut-time. Singers like Elvis, James Brown, and Buddy Holly influenced bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and The Who, which fed into punk rock, and many other three chord bands. The later list of bands grew out of those chords quickly though.
  • Late 1960's Proto-punk bands like The Stooges and Velvet Underground often played very few chords. Kick Out the Jams, by MC5, another proto-punk group, consists of only two chords in rapid succession.
    • The Shaggs were a band formed by Dot, Betty, and Helen in 1968 on the insistence of their father, Austin Wiggin, who believed that his mother foresaw the band's rise to stardom. The band's only studio album, Philosophy of the World, was released in 1969. They are famously, nay legendarily, bad musicians.
  • The most famous advocates of Three Chords and the Truth are punk bands that started in the 1970s, like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols. They were rebelling against music that they saw as insincere, bombastic, or pretentious. This was explicitly mentioned on a notable 1976 front cover of punk fan-zine Sniffin' Glue: "Here's three chords. Now form a band."
    • The Sex Pistols fired their original bassist, Glen Matlock, for being too focused on the music and not on the attitude. His replacement, Sid Vicious, was widely (but mostly inaccurately) believed to be unable to play a single note of music.
      • That was supposedly how the Sex Pistols' manager Malcolm Mc Laren spun it, in order to play up the tensions for media publicity. Matlock and Johnny Rotten were increasingly falling out with each other, and Matlock eventually quit to join The Rich Kids.
    • The Ramones have almost never played a song with more than three or four chords, and often played with as few as two chords.
    • Henry Rollins once decried this trope when telling stories of how fans reacted toBlack Flag's more experimental material, including people who compared songs that had guitar solos and were longer than 1:30 to "Free Bird".
    • The Clash, early. Later on, by London Calling they had moved onto to everything from rockabilly to ska to reggae. By Sandinista!! they also moved to hip-hop and dub.
    • KISS followed the formula like glue.In fact much of their stage show was to cover up the fact that they didn't even play their three chords well (they got better).
    • The original lineup of The Misfits. The majority of their songs sound like they were recorded in a public bathroom.
    • The Germs' music was full of this in general, but the biggest example would be their debut single: The a-side, "Forming", was recorded to two track in a garage and features an odd stereo mix where the vocals are in the left speaker and every other instrument is only in the right. The b-side, "Sex Boy", is a live performance recorded on cassette from the audience; glass breaking and people having conversations or shouting can be heard more clearly than the music.
    • On one occasion (seen in this video), Mick Jones appeared as a guest guitarist with Ian Dury and the Blockheads (Dury himself had been an early punk solo act) and before they started playing was informed, "We've got four chords in this song, Michael."
    • The Adverts went so far as to name their debut single "One Chord Wonders" (although the song had at least four chords).
    • The New York Dollslived this. They were forced to start writing their own songs from early on, as all their attempts at cover versions sounded unacceptably inept even to them.
    • British punk band Crass stuck strongly by simple chord progressions and generally didn't even care much for melody.
  • 1960s Folk Music was obsessed with authenticity — "real music" came from the old anonymous folk composers of the 1930s and earlier, and nowhere else. So modern folk singers couldn't write songs that were more complex than the oldies. Some real hard-cases disapproved of the idea of writing new folk songs at all, since only the old ones were "real". Famously, when Bob Dylanused an electric guitar for the first time, some folkies denounced him as a sell-out — only corporate shills used fancy equipment, and the 1930s composers never used electric guitar.
    • Woody Guthrie has been quoted as saying, "If you play more than two chords, you're showing off."
    • Even before going electric, Dylan faced criticism from some in the folk community for shifting from protest songs to a more surreal, impressionistic type of lyricism on his Another Side of Bob Dylan album. One critic, Irwin Silber, accused him of having "somehow lost touch with the people". Dylan, in his turn, wrote "Maggie's Farm" on Bringing It All Back Home as a Take That! towards these very same people, and later wrote ''Music/NashvilleSkyline'' as an attempt to distance himself from them once and for all.
    • Tom Lehrer parodied this in "The Folk Song Army," which in one version proclaims a united front against "poverty, war and injustice, and chords that are too hard to play."
  • The 1980s saw many bands that appealed to college radio rebelling against the slicker stuff on commercial radio. Of course, once these bands were signed to a major record company and used their high-tech equipment, many of their fans felt that it just wasn't the same anymore.
  • The Grunge music of the early 1990s, while not as stripped down as the other examples, was also deliberately simple music in contrast to the overproduced stuff that came before. The image was simplistic and honest. People who had been grunge fans before it was cool were utterly appalled when ordinary people began liking it and the tabloids treated grunge musicians the same way they treated Hollywood actors. The most famous grunge singer, Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, was so depressed by this that it is believed to have contributed to his drug addiction and eventual suicide. Grunge (and punk) also saw this as far as hardware. Most players of the era used cheaper "pawn shop wonder" guitars like the Fender Mustang or the Gibson Melody Maker (both originally designed for music students), and eschewed rackmount guitar effects in favor of simple "stomp box" pedals.
    • Mark Arm of Mudhoney told a story in the film "Hype!" about being approached by Bruce Pavitt and John Poneman from the Sub Pop label and being told specifically to only use five chords but no more than three in their first single, "Touch Me I'm Sick".
  • Something similar happened to rap music over the course of the '80s and '90s, as it slowly became further and further commercialized. However, most die-hard hip hop fans (or at least the older ones) tend to go against this trope, believing that the more skillful an MC is, the better. And despite appearances to the contrary, lyricism has often been then best route to financial success and artistic longevity as Jay Smooth points out.
  • Though neither punk or rap, Tom Waits has been called the King of Lo-Fi. He often uses intentionally bad recording equipment, skeletal percussion, and will occasionally record outside. While his songs tend to be layered with plenty of instruments and found sounds, plenty of them still retain their quality when you strip them down to a singular instrument and a voice. Their base? usually 3-5 chords.
  • The White Stripes, which of course consists solely of an auteur guitarist/pianist and a drummer who can hardly play, records frequently include statements that no digital technology was used in the production of the album.
  • Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave albums include a similar statement that the only things used in their albums are vocals, guitar, bass, and drums, although in their case it's mostly not being bothered to learn the new technology. This might have more to do with the fact that the uninformed listener could be forgiven for thinking that the freaky noises Tom Morello produces came out of a synthesizer. (Morello is in many ways the antithesis: the famous disclaimers were put on the records essentially to brag about Morello's technical abilities. It takes a lot of foot pedals to make some of the noises he makes.)
  • Extremely successful example: Lemmy Kilmister formed Motörhead after being kicked out of Hawkwind, a progressive rock band... which now is much more obscure than Motörhead.
  • Canadian rockers Barenaked Ladieslampshaded this with their song, "It's All Been Done":

    If I put my fingers here

    And if I say I love you dear

    And if I play the same three chords

    Will you just yawn and say

    It's all been done

  • Almost the entire premise of Black Metal music is Three Chords and the Truth and God Is Evil. Even the production of the albums is deliberately made "raw" (as in basement four-track recording) to enhance its "cult" nature. Many albums are given limited production runs to prevent too many people from listening to the music (although in some cases this is simply because the album wouldn't be likely to sell enough copies to justify a second print run). Often the music is calculated to be repellent to anyone other than black metal fans, including normal metalheads.
    • Burzum, a solo project of Varg Vikernes and one of the founders of the genre, is a prime example. His production values are comparable to those of pre-Perestroika Russian rock music. Vikernes's personal reminiscing on the recording of Burzum's fourth album, "Filosofem", gives a good idea of the sort of aesthetic he was going for: when recording the vocals (which are all tortured, indecipherable screams in any case) he asked the technician in the studio for the worst mic they had, and didn't even use an amplifier for the guitar parts, instead plugging his guitar into the speaker from a boombox.
    • "Transilvanian Hunger" by Darkthrone. The album's production values are extremely poor, the guitar work very simplistic (there are about three or four unique riffs in the whole album), the drums nearly inaudible, vocals incomprehensible, and the bass.... well, yeah. And yet it's heralded by some as a masterpiece of sinister, cold, and dark Black Metal.
    • Note that there is an entire subgenre of avant-garde or progressive black metal bands that heavily subvert this trope... which naturally leads genre purists to declare They Changed It, Now It Sucks.
  • John Darnielle of/aka the Mountain Goats released hundreds of songs recorded on a forty-dollar boom box. The audible grinding of the boom box's gears (which got louder with each release as the machine deteriorated) arguably didn't do Darnielle's unremarkable guitar playing and unusual voice any favours, but his lyrics were compelling enough to build a respectable and fervent fanbase — many of whom objected to his move towards more professional production techniques and a major indie label in the early 00's.
  • Seasick Steve. Although for him, it's more like three strings and the truth.
  • The late Johnny Cash's simple boom-chicka-boom style only used a few chords but was full of substance. Compare that to his contemporaries: Elvis' catchy hooks and cliched showboat antics/sexually explosive performances and The Beatles's complicated style which uses dozens of chords and follows the rules of music down to the last note ("#9, #9, #9, #9....'"). His authentic simple style won the respect of the Alt Rock crowd, evident in Social Distortion's cover of "Ring of Fire" and his own legendary cover of the Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt."
    • For that matter, the "outlaw" Country Music movement of the 1960s and 1970s spearheaded by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. This style relied on a cut-and-dried songwriting, simple yet effective production and playing, and unadorned, rugged vocals (especially in Willie's case). Like Cash, these artists (and other similar ones) relied on little more than guitar, bass and drums.
  • Parodied in Metalocalypse, where the band members once insisted that a certain cut of music sounded like "ones and zeroes" and "microchips" and that they need to be "as analog as possible", despite them demonstrating (and their producer pointing out) that they've been deafened so much by all the loud music that they can't even distinguish each other by voice. The solution is to record on the most analog material possible: water.
  • Queen's albums before The Game used no synthesizers, and warned so in the album sleeve. But their producer stated it wasn't a protest on the overuse of synths:

    "There was no stipulation that we wouldn't have any synths, but the statement 'No synths' was printed on the album sleeves because of peoples' lack of intellect in the ears department. Many people couldn't hear the difference between a multitracked guitar and a synthesizer. We would spend four days multi-layering a guitar solo and then some imbecile from the record company would come in and say, 'I like that synth!'".

    Freddie Mercury: This shitty guitar never plays the chords I want it to play. It only knows three chords but let's see what happens. and into "Crazy Little Thing Called Love"

  • Status Quo is particularly renowned for supposedly only knowing three chords, not that it stood in the way of success. Heavily lampshaded in that they released an album called "In search of the Fourth Chord." In one promotional interview, there was a section that went like:

    "Actually, we did find a fourth chord. It's in a song near the middle of the album. Listen"

    *Plays a couple of chords*

    "It's not those"

    *Plays another chord*

    "Not that one either"

    *Goes through about five chords*

    "It's not any of those either."

    • There was even an advert for a "Best Of" album at one point, that had something like the following voice over:

      "Twenty-five years. Eighteen albums. Fourteen tours. Nine number ones. Three chords."

    • Peter "Grubby" Stubbs introduced them: "They can only play three chords, but gee, they play them well!"
  • Liz Phair frequently averts this with her overproduced songs. However, some songs on her first album Exile in Guyville, such as "Glory", "Dance of the Seven Veils", and "Gunshy", all have only guitar backings.
  • Country music singer Sara Evans used this as the title of her first album.
  • The current lo-fi/goth scene, including such bands as Blank Dogs, Blessure Grave, Zola Jesus, and Drunkdriver, has a focus on minimal simplistic music with ATROCIOUS sound quality, usually being recorded on a single tape recorder and oftentimes distributed EXCLUSIVELY on cassette-and all this in an era where digital recording and cd's would be both cheaper and easier.
  • Harsh Noise is music made entirely of static and feedback. "Talent is overrated" is a saying commonly used by harsh noise musicians and fans.
    • Lou Reed's 1975 Metal Machine Music in particular is an example of this type, being a double-LP consisting entirely of about 75 minutes of guitar feedback, with no deliberate instrumentation of any kind. In the sleeve notes for the album, Reed claimed to be taking Three Chords and the Truth to its logical conclusion. Reed would later state "I was really serious about it at the time. I was also really stoned." Some people returned the album thinking there had been a manufacturing mistake. He also once quipped: "One chord is fine. Two chords is pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz." Aside from the aforementioned Metal Machine Music example, however, this is pure Hypocritical Humour.
  • There is group in Quebec called "Les Trois Accords", which means, you guessed it, "Three Chords". Apparently, the name came from what they knew on the guitar when they started and during the production of their first album. They got better (in musical talent) with time. In an aversion, however, nobody really cared (if anything, they got more popular).
  • Matt McDonald, the singer of the Seattle band The Classic Crime, is fond of these. Their most recent album has a song on it called "Four Chords"
  • Some of Bruce Springsteen's music post-Born to Run. Mainly the folk albums Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad.
  • Soviet/Russian bardic music, a genre nigh unknown in the West but massively popular in the USSR, is exactly that: songs big on lyrics but easy to play, meant to be played by everyone who can play a guitar even a little bit.
    • Also Russian rock music in general falls under this trope (more in the 80s, less now). Both bardic traditions and lack of adequate equipment contributed to this.
    • Ditto for Polish bardic music unless there is a piano accompaniament.
  • Hobgoblins: Club Scum, mocked by Crow.

    Crow: "Chord, chord, chord, chord, chord, other chord."

  • Gaita Zuliana, a Venezuelan genre of music mostly played during christmas time, is more of a "Three instruments and the truth". In a genre who is already very regionalistic, there is an awful lot of songs praising the "authentic" Gaita song, being it in the old school style ones, or the ones whose only instrumentation are guitar, cuatro, tambora and furruco. Given that one of the most famous gaita groups is now a salsa orchestra, after dabbling with an experimental stage addimng more and more instruments and having his obligatory Synthetizeritis stage in The '80s, it's understandable.
  • The Too Strong play primarily acoustic songs recorded with a single, low-quality microphone. Vocals are often indecipherable. The static is at times overwhelming. There is no percussion or bass.
  • Most songs by The Frames
  • AC/DC's career is built around this trope. While Angus Young's guitar solos are fairly sophisticated, most of the band's songs not only have three chords, but many of them are in the keys of A or E. By sticking to these two keys, almost all of their rhythm parts can be played in open position (the first several frets on the guitar fingerboard), giving the band's music a fuller, throatier sound.
    • Not to mention the drumming. Phil Rudd is famed among drummers for his simple, solid grooves. It helps that many learn to play AC/DC songs when they start playing.
  • Iron Maiden's music, while criticised for being overly long and complex, nevertheless revolves almost entirely around the chords Em, C, and D (and sometimes G). Hallowed Be Thy Name, considered to be one of the greatest heavy metal songs of all time, is definitely a victim of this. It's rather telling that one of their most complex choruses is in the song Wasted Years.
  • The song DAF by Powderfinger is named after the 3 chords of the song.
  • Parodied in Cheech and Chong's "Earache My Eye" where glam rocker Alice Bowie proclaims, "And I only know three chords!" The irony is that most glam rock is more complex.
  • Parodied on Buffy the Vampire Slayer with the band Dingoes Ate My Baby.

    Devon: Man, we need a roadie. Other bands have roadies.

    Oz: Well, other bands know more than three chords. Your professional bands can play up to six, sometimes seven, completely different chords.

    Devon: That's just, like, fruity jazz bands.

  • Vinyl set in the music business of the 70s and partly a chronicle of the birth of Punk Music, demonstrates this in the 8th episode of Season 1. Lester Grimes, former bluesman turned manager to the proto-punk Nasty Bits demonstrates the power of E, A, B and how it forms the skeleton for a nearly infinite variety of popular music, from blues, to classic rock, to bubblegum pop.
  • The band Fred (not to be confused with the Youtube channel) had a breakout hit at home in Ireland with "Four chords and the truth". It's difficult to find on most video sites (due to the popular comedy character) but you'll find it one their myspace.
  • Mojo Nixon, as typified by "Rock & Roll Hall of Lame" where he complains about corporate music:

    Real rock and roll is about cheap electrical guitars

    And maps to secret places that serve underage kids in bars

  • There is an album called ''Three Chords and the Truth" by Carl Asch (a member of a renaissance-fair-playing band). Apparently someone had said this to him once, but he doesn't seem to have any idea what it actually means.
  • Andrew Jackson Jihad take this trope to a logical and magnificent conclusion. Everything is recorded lo-fi, and the only two instruments are a stand-up bass and an acoustic guitar, usually playing a happy folk music three-chord progression with jaunty lyrics about horrible things.
  • Amanda Palmer refers to this ethic in her "Ukulele Anthem", an early post-record label single.

    Quit the bitching on your blog
    and stop pretending art is hard
    just limit yourself to three chords


  • Many a noise rock group have decided that even three chords was stretching it; Jad Fair, guitarist for Half Japanese, quipped thus: "The only chord I know is the one that connects the guitar to the amp."
    • His brother (and band-mate), David Fair, wrote what may be the essential essay on this concept with "How To Play The Guitar".
  • Against Me!, prior to (and arguably through, to a more limited extent) As the Eternal Cowboy. They alienated a large portion of their original fanbase when they switched styles, though they presumably picked up a shiny new fanbase.
  • Invoked by Nick Drake when he went to record his third album, Pink Moon. Feeling that the previous albums were, quote, "too full, too elaborate", he recorded it in a two night sprint with just him and his guitar, with only the title track containing another instrument in the form of the piano.
  • Legião Urbana was a Brazilian band particularly known for this. All of its songs are composed of nothing but Three Chords and the Truth, to the point that any amateur with more talent than a mossy brick can play their songs by the second try. As far as bands dead for over a decade go (It dissolved in 1996 with the singer's death) it still sells well, and its former members are still acclaimed for that time.
  • The Monks. Three chords, feedback, and the truth.
  • Entertainment for the Braindead recorded her Raw Timber EP in the middle of a forest, with just a guitar. Interestedly, the first song from the EP "A String", is about one of the strings breaking on her guitar, and she complains that five strings is not enough.
  • Seattle-based band The Classic Crime references this idea in their song "The Same Four Chords", though they let an extra chord slip in there.
  • Parodied with Axis Of Awesome's "Four Chords", which consists entirely of the four chords of "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey ("And the cast of Glee!"), set to snippets of other songs ranging from opera to Lady Gaga to their song "Birdplane".

    Doesn't that sound familiar?
    Doesn't that hit too close to home?
    Doesn't that make you shiver,
    The way that things have gone?
    Doesn't that seem peculiar,
    'Cause everyone wants a little more?
    Something I do remember,
    To never go this far
    Thats all it takes to be a star.

    • And before that in comedian Rob Paravonian's "Pachelbel Rant" in which he shows how some pop songs follow the pattern of Pachelbel's Canon in D. It should be noted that in both his routine and Axis's, some of the songs are key-shifted; what's being parodied is the chord progression, which does remain the same.
  • British reggae group UB40 was especially this early in their career, since they had just stepped off the dole queue (hence the band's name) and hadn't yet learned to play their instruments. They did, however, more than make up for it with uplifting enthusiasm.
  • Kanye West's2010 "Runaway" is unique and haunting for nine minutes. It consists of basically four chords (almost exclusively dyads mind you — so basically not much more than ten notes/two per chord) on the piano): E Maj; D#dim/E; C#min A Maj.
  • The Cat Empire gives us the song One Four Five. No bonus points for guessing which three chords it centers around.
  • Polish punk rock fun/parody performer, Brudne Dzieci Sida (Sid's Dirty Children), wrote a song "Trzy akordy, darcie mordy" ("Three chords, screaming your mouth off") about how that music is to be played. Rough translation of a bit: "If you don't know, how to play, I'll just show you in a sec, that's how you hold B, and D, and that is A."
  • Country Music songs written by Casey Beathard tend to be not only three chords, but also a very
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