Heart and Soul: the harmonic core of the 50s

October 16, 2007

hoagc.jpgHoagie Carmichael

Paul McCartney said that he and John Lennon always tried to make their songs “a little different” implying that they prefer to not repeat themselves.

One of the most popular chord progressions of the time (1950 – 1963) before the Beatles came on the scene was the I vi IV V chord progression and its common variant: I vi ii V. For you non-music-theory-nerds out there, think of the famous Hoagy Carmichael song “Heart and Soul.” What you will hear is this four chord pattern that goes through the whole damn song. And people like that. I am terrified to imagine that more people probably know this song than anything by Beethoven.

I guarantee you: if you play this at work, there will be a crowd gathering around your computer with people dancing in the aisles. Including your manager who will likely join in. What is it about a chord progression that makes us all get along? Well, this one did in the 50s. I’m sure my readers can tell me more songs that feature this progresion. Perhaps I’ll recommend some enterprising graduate student into taking it on as a doctoral thesis!

At any rate, all I can tell you is to EMBRACE YOUR INNER HEART AND SOUL and if this is the only song you can play at the piano, dammit, play it! You’ll feel better!

I found a perfect video to help demonstrate this: 7 versions of the song (I know, you’re going to curse me for the rest of the day. I could have picked “Sherie” or “Earth Angel” but I prefer this one). [The chord progression in C major would be: C am F G repeated over and over. Transpose it to whatever key fits your voice.]


Heart and soul, I fell in love with you
Heart and soul, the way a fool would do,
Because you held me tight
And stole a kiss in the night

Heart and soul, I begged to be adored
Lost control, and tumbled overboard,
That magic night we kissed
There in the moon mist

Oh! but your lips were thrilling, much too thrilling
Never before were mine so strangely willing

But now I see, what one embrace can do
Look at me, it’s got me loving you
That little kiss you stole
Held all my heart and soul


In a later post, I’ll comment on how the Beatles twist this harmonic tradition into a whole new realm with “She Loves You.”

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