Always a woman to me – Billy Joel

Recently I decided to teach this song to a few of my piano pupils as the chords seemed interesting and original to me.  After a while, it really got into my head so, as ever, I got it on to the SeeChord workbench and set about finding out what exactly it is that makes this song tick.

As with most songs, it has a very conventional chord progression on the whole, but with a few interesting flash points.  Lets start with the first half of the verse:

Always a woman to me - verse

Not a lot to comment on here.  Fairly interesting to start on the A (fifth) rather than the D (tonic), but this is not in itself unusual.  Moving on…

Always a woman to me - verse

Now we are getting more interesting.  The jump from A-F#7 sticks out immediately.  This is behaving like an interrupted cadence (V-III), with the resolution coming with the perfect cadence or A7-D a few bars later (V-I).  The last 5 chords here are shown with both variations used in the song – a few simple relative minor substitutions.  The verse ends on the tonic and all is well.  Now for the chorus.  In actual fact, I would say that this song is a classic tagline song, and therefore, this passage is the bridge (have a listen to my musical improv comedy podcast to find out more about these structures.)

Always a woman to me - Chorus

This is what we like to see.  A good strong fifths progression, heading down through the tonic and finishing on the G (IV). All is as expected.  Now…

Always a woman to me - Chorus

Here’s the action we were looking for.  Firstly we notice that the fifths progression is still there, but it has moved “down” and now starts on the tonic.  How is this possible without destroying all sense of key?  Well the secret is that first chord on this chart – d minor.  That shift from D major to d minor has changed the tonality of the whole song, and opened up a whole new set of chords, which he then marches right through with the progression.  In classic and classical style, he then jumps back up with the use of a tritone substitution (I have a podcast about those too! Not comedy this time, more music theory) to the E7 and then drops back down to the A7.

The result of this beatifully crafted harmonic series is a very strong and satisfying progression, yet one that has a womderful twist in the D major-d minor change.  There is no stronger progression than the falling 5ths progression so why not use it twice but in different places.  Although the chords at first sound complex and surprising, as usual, when dissected on the SeeChord bench, they fall neatly into patterns that we can see clearly.  Aaaah – I can listen AND understand – how satisfying.



Yesterday, by John Lennon

Thought I would start off with the McCartney classic, Yesterday.  It is hard to define a clear “verse” or “chorus” as both parts of the song have a very verse-like feel, with little repetition apart from the title or tagline, “Yesterday”. The most striking harmonic feature is the second chord of the song.  Have a look at the following chart showing the jump from F to em…


An immediate and unexpected leap from F to em.  Of course the harmony then falls through the fifths as we would expect.  This is in fact a common jump (chromatic descending), but unusual so early in a progression.
The descending fifth sequence is then used again in the next part of the song.
Classic use of the descending fifths progression.  This leads the ear to the root chord of F, giving a very satisfying sound when we get there.  Notice that the end of this phrase ia a perfect cadence (C-F).  This nicely finishes the chord progression.  Earlier in the song (oh I believe in Yesterday) he used a plagal cadence (Bb-F) which has a harder edge.
Such simple chords, such a simple device, jumping up to the 7 chord, and falling back down through the fifths, such a sublime result.
For more Beatles song analysis and Beatles chords progressions follow this link


Chord Progressions

Over the last 10 years I have been analysing chord progressions across all genres of music.  On this blog I intend to regularly post my insights into these progressions, spending some time going into why they are unusual, or why they conform, which pieces are similar and which are truly original.

I would love to hear any feedback, or requests for songs or pieces you would like to understand better.

Most of my insights have been informed by SeeChord.  Do have a look at the rest of the site if you want to find out how it can help you.


Joe Samuel


SeeChord Launched!

After years in conception and design, SeeChord is now out there for the world to see and use.

We are now in contact with many music sites and are hoping to spread the good news that understanding harmony just got a load simpler.  Look out for our videos on YouTube, and other links and charts on websites all over the internet.

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