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    Question about a 'rare' progression in rock music?

    The Doors' "Light My Fire" uses a two-chord progression for the verses:  Am7 - F#m7--minor chromatic mediants.  I haven't been able to discover another rock song that uses minor chromatic mediants?  So, I'd like to put this question to the SMT overmind.  Are there others?  Thank you.

    Charles Ditto

    Senior Lecturer

    Texas State University

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    • 7 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • 1. Queen's "Princes of the Universe" from A Kind of Magic has a Bm-Gm undulation as its second "connector," which is in B minor.

      2. Antimattter's "Psalms" from Saviour, which is in C# minor, uses a C#m-Am undulation in its verses, before it gets James Bond-y in its chorus. It's pretty cool how, while the Am syntagmatically alternates with C#m, it also paradigmatically alternates in the song with a G#M (V), making Am's dominant function more convincing.

      In my work, I call both of these m8m's. I can't think of any m4m's, m3m's, or m9ms in rock music, however, which would also be minor chromatic mediants. But I bet SMT's overmind knows of more. 


    • Good morning Charles,

      Check out "Look into My Eyes" by Janelle Monae. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6co4_mbook 

      It is an absolutely stunning song that alternates between a min9 and f min9, and also contains some really interesting uses of flat-II. If I have time and the class is extra-bright, I will ask them to consider the two chords as polychords, resulting in a progression of e min - c min over a min - f min.

      Oh, and this woman can SING too. :-)



    • Not sure if it counts, by the theme song to the TV show "The Walking Dead" goes Gm9, Ebm9, Cm9, and then back to Gm9.  

      I'm sure there is a Radiohead song that uses mediant-related minor chords.  Where's Brad Osborn?

    • The Smashing Pumpkin's "The End is the Begining is the End," used memorably in the trailer for Watchmen, undulates repeatedly between m3-related chords. There's some initial ambiguity as to which is the better tonic candidate, Dm or Fm, especially at the very beginning. For that reason, I'd probably go with a tonic-neutral description like T3/T9 or RP/PR for the intro, though by the time it hits the verse it has comfortably settled in Dm, making it a unambiguous example of an m3m in Scott's nomenclature. The instrumental bridges are the real showcases of the progression. F#m & Am even get their own little m3 loop at 3:10, once again with some slipperiness as to which has more force at first as tonic. Effectively creepy stuff.




      Here I am, Trevor :)

      Charles: Indeed, there is something close to this in the Radiohead catalog. I should put all my cards on the table though and say that I don't always think chord "roots" are the way to analyze rock harmony. In the following cases, I find that outer voices—especially the bass voice—tends to guide the harmony more than some root lurking in the inner voices. 

      1) And so I hear the first two chords of Radiohead's "Karma Police" as fulfilling your criteria—in the same key in fact—despite the fact that lead-sheet notation would call it [Am—D9/F#]. This is actually kind of a trope for guitar-based music emphasizing the A minor triad, since it feels so good to keep the open A chord fretted while moving the thumb down to F#, despite the chromaticism. You can hear it yet again starting on A minor in the first two chords of Bright Eyes's "Shell Games". Of course, if we are analyzing triad qualities only, then this would be an A minor triad going to F# diminished. 

      2) The same could be said for the book-ending verse chords of Radiohead's "Knives out" [C#m7b5/E—Cm]. Hearing this as a transformation of Edim–Cm is not difficult for me. 

      3) Radiohead's "Morning Bell" features two sets of minor chromatic thirds: [Am—C#m], then its T7 transposition. Guy Capuzzo analyzed this example [Capuzzo, Guy. “Neo-Riemannian Theory and the Analysis of Pop-Rock Music.”  Music  Theory Spectrum 26/2 (Winter 2004): 177-200.]

      Hope that helps,



    • Hi Charles,

      This isn't very "pop," but there must be hundreds of black metal songs that have minor chromatic mediant progressions. The most stereotypical black metal riffs use parallel minor barre chords, usually picking roots from a minor mode, so riffs with the kind of chords you are looking for are all over the place. Burzum's 1992 self-titled album uses this progression on almost every track. For example, the track "Black Spell of Destruction" opens with a riff ||: Fm-Abm-Fm-Abm-Gm :||


      --Stephen Hudson

      PhD Student in Music Theory and Cognition

      Northwestern University

    • Hello all,

      A$AP Rocky's "Pain" (produced by Soufien3000) begins by alternating between Dm9/7 and Bm9/7 several times, before ending with Dm9/7–Am9/7.

      Tyler, the Creator's "Goblin" uses an  E5–C#dim–F5–C#min progression. It's not quite the same as chromatic mediants, but it does exploit a minor-third relationship.

      The end of the interverse section in Grizzly Bear's "What's Wrong" uses a Gm7–Em7 progression, which has the same root relation as "Light my Fire." I've argued elsewhere that this progression is best understood as a chromatic voice leading that serves to reset at large-scale descending fifths progression.

      Hope this helps,

      David Heetderks