Rock Around the Croc: Three Chords and the Truth

Happy Sunday, you magnificent house parties featuring five kinds of nachos, it’s the weekend, and that means I’m going to write about some music stuff. This week I’m going to talk about the song-writing process a little bit. Hopefully it’s interesting – so much so that each of you quits your day job to start a career in the music industry. Ready? Cool.

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a couple of weeks because of my project of checking out every CD in the rock section at my library, and I can tell you that whoever is in charge of stocking the CDs there is a big ol’ Neil Young fan. It will take quite some time just to get through his albums. I just finished his MTV Unplugged album, and Harvest Moon was my favorite song there. As I listened to him singing, I had the thought that his voice really isn’t great. It’s okay, and for Harvest Moon at least, it’s better on the studio version, but it’s got a tonal quality that seems odd for folk rock, and he doesn’t always hit the right notes on the first try, and then it sometimes seems like his voice breaks on held notes. So what accounts for his popularity? It’s not the music, I don’t think. A lot of his songs are extremely simplistic, musically. Heart of Gold, for example, is built around just two chords – Em and D Maj – and then a harmonica line on top of it.

What ties it all together is the quote in the headline about Three Chords and the Truth. Music can be powerful even when it is incredibly simplistic, and often the musical line under the lyrics is nothing more than the concrete slab under a house. I think Neil Young fans like him, not for musical complexity, but for the content of the lyrics and the soulfulness (not the technical skill) of the vocal delivery. If there’s truth to what the singer has in mind, then it will resonate, and people will be drawn to it. You don’t even need three chords.

I first heard the idea that all you need to make music is three chords and the truth from U2’s Bono.

(Red Hill Mining Town is my favorite U2 song, and it has more than three chords. Just for the record.)

According to Wikipedia, the phrase was coined in the 1950s by Harlan Howard, to describe country music, so I guess it’s not even Bono who came up with that. Whoever said it, it’s very much true, and not just about country music.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about for this post is what’s called a I-IV-V chord progression, which might be the most common chord progression in all of western music, and that’s the main thing I wanted to write about today. I hope you’re ready for some more music theory.

In the western 12-tone music system, you have your root note and then a group of notes that make of the rest of your scale. For example, in a C Major scale, that means C-D-E-F-G-A-B, or in an Eb Major you have Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C-D. Each of those notes in the scale is assigned a number, or scale degree, and then you can use those came numbers no matter what scale you’re in. A I-IV-V song means that no matter what your root note is, you play that root note for two bars, then play the note that is the fourth degree up from the root for a bar, back to the root, then the fifth degree for a bar, then back to the root and repeat the pattern. That’s where the 12-bar blues comes from, and it’s used in hundreds of songs if not more, and always will be. Here’s Rock Around the Clock:

Of course what makes the progression useful is not that you use it, but what you do with it, and there are endless variations that will always keep it fresh. If you are really interested in music theory and how to build a song, and also like Tom Petty, this analysis of Free Fallin’ is extremely interesting, and shows just how much variety you can get out of such a simple premise, and how the music can reinforce what’s going on with the lyrics:

When I was a youngster, first figuring out how chords worked, I thought Three Chords and the Truth meant you could pick literally any three notes, play them in whatever order, and you’d have the basis of a song. All you need is lyrics. The funny thing is that’s not too far off from reality – you can write a punk song with that method and pretty much no other musical training in about ten minutes, and many punk bands have done exactly that.

That’s because the punk aesthetic is about the democratization of music – anyone can do this, not just people who have gone to music school for years. Although once you know what to listen for, even that 7 Seconds song has chord progressions. Did the group know that when they wrote it? I have no idea – I never asked them.

Around the same time when I was a youngster going to 7 Seconds concerts, they performed a lot with Skankin’ Pickle, and I’ve always loved that name for a band. Here’s You Shouldn’t Judge a Man By the Hair on his Butt!!:

Yeah, I saw a lot of ska shows back in the day.

That’s about it for today. I’ll play you out with Donnie Darko, by Let’s Eat Grandma. It takes a little while to get going, which means your mind has time to wander a little bit, and when then suddenly you snap back into it and realize the intensity has been ratcheting up so gradually you’re in a different song. The blast in the face at 7:48 is one of my favorite things ever, but you can’t just skip to it or you miss the effect completely.

That’s it for today, you wonderful human beings. I cherish each of you like a steaming mug of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s evening.


  1. I hope this was the post that was next in line …

  2. After reading about the “Snow Mosquito” I believe they are real and not in the same category as Lumpy’s imaginary vegetables. Whenever I see a skeeter in the winter, which is rare around here, I have previously thought they were just cray cray and woke up early because of a sunny day and they were doomed when the temps dropped.

  3. We have hardly any mosquitoes here until about July and then they persist until we have a couple of freezes in the fall. Black flies show up in May, well before the mosquitoes and they’re just as annoying without the disease transmission aspect of it.

  4. Wakey wajey

  5. Been up since 4. Early morning airport drop off – Erin visiting the current victim. 6 months . The last one made it about 6 months – maybe longer- but he was in intense training for much of the time. I think she would have broken up earlier but didn’t want to cause distress to him during intense testing phases, etc. pretty sure she had decided they weren’t compatible after a few visits.

    This one – she seems all in right now.

  6. And my husband just thinks I should have gone back to sleep when I got home.

    Humn … I drank a POT of coffee to enable me to successfully drive 3 hours this morning.

  7. Excuse me?

  8. Fortunately our airport is a half hour away. The pain comes when you fly because except for a few hub cities you’re going to take a connecting flight. Portland, which has more direct flights, is the equivalent of your trip this morning.

  9. Cold and snowing this morning. I must have missed this in the forecast. Last I looked it was clear sailing into next week with a warning trend of 40’s. I’m ready for the out like a lamb part of March

  10. Good morning.
    Cold today but warming trend this week. It’s time to start sowing flats to spring veggies in the greenhouse.
    I’m late for planting my peas.

  11. Note to self: do not waste time watching movies with a 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

  12. Cleaning the brooder for the first time later today. Going to see if building it with a vinyl flooring liner is the brilliant idea I thought it was.

  13. Went back to bed for a bed, and now I’m doing a morning “do-over”.

  14. What’s the soup of the day today?

  15. Took the 2 year-old German Shepherd to be neutered on Tuesday. Since only one of his testicles had descended, it was a more involved process, with two incisions, one into the abdominal cavity. The invoice says “cryptorchid additional.”

    He’s been miserable ever since. I’ve never seen a dog look so depressed. And he hates the cone, or as the invoice calls it, an “Elizabethan collar.” I put it on him sporadically, and so far he still has his stitches in place.

    The whole house smells like draining wound and there are watery blood stains everywhere he lays down. He’ll only eat if hand fed, and that has been just dog treats. So I finally gave him a can of soft dog food this morning so he’ll have some calories to work with. At least he has an appetite.

    I’m having second thoughts about whether this was a good decision.

  16. Poor pup. That seems like a slow recovery process. I usually had to tie my dogs down to keep them from doing too much by the second day.

  17. Soup Du Jour.

    It’s lovely Pup.


    In human boys (and girls I suppose) cryptorchidism is treated because of the long term risk of increased cancer.

  19. My girl-testicles descended without a hitch.

  20. Happened to my first shepherd too, he pulled off the cone the first night while I was asleep and licked the stitches, got infected and ended up back at the vet for a few days. He still grew into a monster but never trusted a car trip ever again.

  21. I think the trans idiots have started winning over the gay folks (hate is hate stuff). Comparing not wanting to date a trans person to separate water fountains – seriously.

    These are the same gay folks who a few years ago felt no brotherhood with the trans people. I blame it on stupidity, mostly.

  22. We tried the cone with Rowan and Ollie and after seeing how miserable they were and, in Ollie’s case, vulnerable to harassment from the other members of their pack because they’re first class dicks we just took it off and hoped for the best. Thankfully we had no infections.

  23. But it’s all fettish stuff. Jamie Lee Curtis’s son/daughter … is into that anime porn stuff that Leon mentioned way back. It’s on his twitter feed and it’s just gross. And if he imagines himself as one of those hypersexualized/female cartoon folks with a dick … honestly. I can’t even.

    SO who dates “Dylan”? He’s got the blackface/woman look – but still a Pener.

    Ugh. That bringing up these facts is becoming transphoic and the Biden WH wants to make criminal hate speech? What happened to my country? Not an INCH more. And we need to grab back what has been lost.

  24. How does the Gays Against Groomers group/movement fit in with your thought Carin? Are those people the conservative fringe part of the rainbow? Despised by all others?

  25. But it’s all fettish stuff.
    I think the extra T goes in the butt if you know what I mean

  26. Mormon family near me that Mrs C works with at the barn has 5 kids, one daughter decided she’s a boy. Mrs C’s first ex BF decided he was a girl like 15 years ago now, he was an only child, I can’t imagine what hell that put his parents through. We know another family with 3 kids, one is changing “his” name legally.

    We’re probably close to critical mass on this shit. Society will tear itself apart trying to set things right. Weimar Germany was a tiny European country with a decent industrial base and some hefty institutional knowledge base. What happens when Weimar America cracks under the weight of utterly debased currency and rampant sexual degeneracy?

    The gays going along with this are going to get swept up in whatever comes after, and even with their ‘allies’ I don’t think they get that they are outnumbered 25:1.

  27. “Peachy Keenan
    My take: There is no silver lining to a Trump arrest, sorry. It is not good for him, his campaign, us, or the country. It’s all bad, a travesty, and a portent of very dark clouds descending fast. The only thing we get from it is we can now see the full contours of the forces against us – they are ludicrous, petty, squat, clumsy, and inartful, but they are far more vicious and cunning. Cheer for this and you cheer for your own demise.”

  28. not wanting to date a trans person
    (I apologize in advance for this graphic comment)

    Think about what you get, if you’re a guy dating a transwoman you have to stick your peen in a surgically created fistula. If you’re a woman dating a transman you get the chance to be plowed with a meatflap from their forearm.

    love is love only goes so far

  29. I think the gays against groomers are literally the non-zombie members. The gay guys I know LITERALLY have given zero thought to the issue. It is just the thing. The recent thing. The meme they share because all their gay friends are sharing it.

    the irony of being “woke” is that it is no such thing. Being woke means you’ve been propagandized. Turned off your brain.

    I want to ask my gay bud if he would date Dylan. He isn’t even attracted to overtly gay men. So transphobic!

  30. It’s insane Jimbro. And – take JLC’s “daughter”. He/she got married (to a woman) and now she is part of the anime fetish. I dress like a (ugly) woman, but I’ve got a peen.

  31. I’d be interested in knowing how many transwomen are still into women. You know, “lesbians”. Lets see someone do some serious research on this.

    The one guy I know who is switching gender (as an adult, at least) is gay, and wants to be taken care of as a woman would. That’s what he’s after. The stereotypical helpless female icon.


  32. Wait, what?

  33. switching gender (as an adult, at least) is gay, and wants to be taken care of as a woman would.
    So his goal is to look like a woman and either wants a gay guy who likes men to treat him like a woman while going to town on his squeakhole OR a straight guy who like women to treat him like a woman while ignoring his cock and balls while going to town on his squeakhole … got it.

  34. In other, happier and less bizarre news, we’re getting a better CFA!

  35. Neil Young is an enormous asshole and can’t die quickly or painfully enough to satisfy me. But I do like “The Needle and the Damage Done” for some reason.

  36. I’m just trying to work through these things pupster. It’s all absurd.

  37. I devoted 23 minutes to the Free Falling video and have two observations.
    1. I wish I knew enough about music to understand half of the shit he was talking about.
    2. I’m glad I don’t know enough about music to wreck my enjoyment of it by overthinking what it is I’m hearing.

    Also, Free Falling isn’t in my top five Petty songs.

  38. I killed the music thread by talking about music. I guess it’s true what my dad used to say about me, I could fuck up a good rock fight.

  39. “Neil Young is an enormous asshole…”

    Well I can’t really argue with you.

    “…and can’t die quickly or painfully enough to satisfy me.”

    That seems a bit harsh, but I get where you’re coming from.

  40. Seems as if I’m getting grouchier and grumpier as I get older. I probably ought to quit starting my mornings off with the JJ Sefton piece at the HQ.

  41. I stopped reading Sefton when I realized how much time it was taking.

  42. CBD’s about to be off the list, too.

    Come to think, I just don’t read the mothership like I used to.

  43. I get too worked up by the JJ. I work with the oblivious. Married the consummate LIV. I can’t even get him to see what is happening to the Church. Todays Gospel. The blind that refuse to see. We have the money to establish a bugout place. He still believes in America.


  45. yeah, I used to read the morning comment, but now it’s a novel

  46. Woo hoo! I picked the nascar winner two weeks in a row.

  47. Strange, but ironic.
    It’s music day here, and I just saw a new, to me, Coca-cola ad. Let me first say I hate Coke, more than I do Pepsi. If I want a soft drink, I prefer 7-up, but that’s a rarity.
    Anyway, Coke chose to have for background music in the ad an ad agency group singing the old Beatles song “Smelly Old Latrine”.

  48. Woo hoo! I picked the nascar winner two weeks in a row.

    YES! It’s hostages weekend! My Powerball ticket brought home the $!! Matched 1 number + the powerball number. I reap $4!!11!!!1

  49. I think I’ll just burn that ticket instead of claiming it. $2 profit, and the government wanting their share…..

  50. is it any wonder central embraces entitlement society, when central itself feels it’s entitled?….. to a quarter?

  51. ^ the coin, not percentage.
    I bet they’d like a pat on the head, too.

  52. I just don’t read the mothership like I used to.

    I have the tab open, but I usually only read it if someone here mentions a post. The ads are so gross, ABP gets a workout every time.

  53. Well, my pup is in surgery at the emergency vet place 25 miles north of me. Infection, infection and ripped stitches. They gave him a shot of methadone when we first got there to deal with his pain. They’ll put him on IV antibiotics and then into surgery this evening. If all goes well, I can pick him up tomorrow around noon. When they told me the price tag, I first balked and asked for oral antibiotics and some more pain meds to get him through tonight and then I could get him back to the regular vet tomorrow morning.

    Then I thought about what a head start the infection already had, that IV antibiotics ought to be a lot more effective, and they would do the surgery tonight. Sigh.

  54. Hope he mends quickly and well, RC.

  55. I could really get behind this performer

  56. Hope your pup responds quickly RC. IV will get the levels up faster than oral even if he managed to keep them down.

  57. In nascar the pole sitter wins 20% if the time.

    Fanduel gave the pole sitter 10/1 odds.

    I will take that bet every time I see it.

    You would think a casino could do math.

  58. Poor puppy 😦 I hope tomorrow he’s feeling a ton better.

  59. Jimbro, your pianist is magnificent.

  60. Prayers for the pupper. And the Pupster. And pray for Oso.

    …and everyone else.

  61. “Jimbro, your pianist is magnificent.”

    Gayest comment ever.

  62. Sorry about your dog RC, hope he does well.

    Re: Neil Young, I’ll echo the sentiments of a Skynyrd of Lynyrd and state that Florida Man doesn’t need him around anyhow.

  63. Scott, I almost attached a whore mouth warning.

  64. Donnie’s Edsel runs poorly.

  65. Big week for me! I need to marshal all my energy. The season is upon us. The weather is breaking. I have a lot of stuff to do after work every day this week.

    Tonight, one last canning session.
    Gotta clean out the greenhouse, get all the big pots and sacks of soil amendments out of there, set up some racks for seedling flats, and change the growing beds layout. Right now I have two wide beds in there, and it was a pain in the ass getting to the stuff planted on the edges. What I need is a wide bed down the middle and then two narrow beds up against the walls. So that’s some spade work ahead of me.

    Slug situation seems to have abated. Regardless, when my chickens arrive their first job on the docket is to scour the greenhouse.

    Peppers are almost all sprouted up under the hot lamp indoors. They look great. I community-sowed them all into the same flat, so, soon I will have to prick them out and move them to individual cells. Toms will be up soon. Asparagus needs to be up-potted to 6-inch pots or bigger and set out in the greenhouse to grow on…
    so much to do, so much to do! Yay!

  66. MMM 537

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