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A good song with only two chords.


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When I was younger I remember a couple songs that in messing around or learning them I discovered only had two chords, but still held up as good, memorable or otherwise catchy songs. Primal Scream's "It's Alright", Georgia Satellite's "Battleship Chains", etc. I was always amazed it was possible...struck me as a cool reminder that the song is more than just the progression or melody. Sometimes it's presentation, or lyrics, or it's a arrangement that sells you on why it's good.

So, a few years on and I started writing my own paltry songs. Most were not very good, but I started getting the hang of it and started using the lessons of better songwriters to hone the craft. I would intentionally try to write in a formula, first to see if I could, but also to understand the limitations and break my own routine. I tried a dozen times, at least to make a good song out of two notes. And, 12 out of 12 were pretty bad.

A couple years ago, I bought a banjo. Had never touched one in 20 years of playing guitar and bass and other instruments. I watched a 20 minute Youtube video on how they work, sat on my porch and started badly pecking away until a silly little pattern emerged. Then, pow. I heard it. I heard two chords on top...and a vocal melody, and my brain flipped and I heard it reversed, and a "chorus" of sorts composed of "ooooh's".

Ran in to my music room and started recording all the bits, as fast as I could get them down. I don't think I ever wrote words down...they just came, or I changed them on the fly. It was the craziest, most frenetic and instant I ever wrote anything. When I was done, I had a 2 chord song. And, while I'm sure I'm over-selling this to the extreme, I liked it. I was happy with it. For me, to hear an ear-worm in my own work is a real gift-of-god thing that doesn't happen much. Anyway, it was a thing that took me decades to get right and it came without effort all because I was playing with a banjo.

I recently revisited this when asked to perform it, and I thought I'd share it and also ask the opinion of the HC folks....have you ever made a song this simple, and what were your results? Any songs that are constructed with such limited changes that you like?

https://craiggibson.bandcamp.com/track/too-long-so-long-2

Edited by swingset27
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On 6/24/2021 at 1:16 PM, swingset27 said:

When I was younger I remember a couple songs that in messing around or learning them I discovered only had two chords, but still held up as good, memorable or otherwise catchy songs.....have you ever made a song this simple, and what were your results? Any songs that are constructed with such limited changes that you like?

https://craiggibson.bandcamp.com/track/too-long-so-long-2

"Tennessee Whiskey" by Chris Stapleton A.K.A. "I'd Rather Go Blind" by Etta James

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