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Old 23rd December 2015
Here for the gear
Chris Edberg's Avatar

The 2015 hits it might very well be the case of simple chord progressions of 3-4 chords over and over, like for instance Katy Perry - Wide Awake. I think the OP was meaning that the subtle variance of maybe just switching the chords in question in another order, or add another chord-progression for a pre-chorus and/or chorus was the case, and not necessarily mean odd chords or weird tempo as the discussion here and there got into (I've scanned through the thread).

There's one factor which seems to be forgotten a bit while speaking about hits; there's a difference between hits which last for decades and hits that last maybe just a few weeks and then are being forgotten more or less. While the "long-termed" hits - at least in almost in any case I'm aware of - seems to have the variance of another chord-progression for at least one song-part, the "short-termed" hits perhaps have the feature of what the topic is describing but also could have the before-mentioned feature.

As for the long-termed hits there are of course exceptions proving the rule, like U2 - With Or Without You. Then we have Alphaville - Forever Young, but imho it doesn't count since it's a long progression of 8 chords or more, which will automatically variate the structure (as it would have if the chord-sequence was different for different song-parts). In the cases the rule is broken for these category of hits, there are of course more emphasizing on other things like melody-variations, dynamics and different arrangements etc.

Personally I find it a bit more interesting if there's this kind of subtle variance in the chord-structure for at least one part of the song. Of some reason it make the song less tiresome upon repeated playback to me. That said, I'm not yet very tired of With Or Without You and Forever Young (well, maybe a bit but they are classics). Regarding Wide Awake I have to come back and provide my opinion in 20-30 years as it's to early to know lol (not sure it holds up for a long-termed hit/will be as well-known in the future as the others though).

Regarding the question of the topic I'm not sure it has to do with songwriters today lacking musical schooling more than before, but it might be a cause. I'm not sure it requires schooling to make more than one progression though, but might help of course. At least some knowledge of the Circle of Fifths certainly helps (yes it can be used cleverly in a certain way regarding stuff like these). The phenomenon might connect to the "modern society of consuming" and the less need of long-termed hits as more songs are produced today. It's still money and connections which determines what gets in the spotlight to begin with (more now than before imho), so I'm not sure it has to do what the general public wants.

So, another explanation would be that the guys on the big chairs (while listening to demos) may go for what they found catchy at first glance, and short-termed hits or songs with few chord progressions may be more often considered than before because they believe it will be "quick money". And while at that.. It's worth pointing out is that there are certain songs that grows on you, they may not blow you away on the first listening or you maybe didn't like them at all. Alternatively they sound good and will make you curious so you have to listen again to "fully comprehend". Then, later, in a few years or maybe even after a longer period of time - Now you like them.. Maybe even find them great. With other words, these kind of song are not as much considered although I believe these often are the more "complex" songs that could be the kind of long-termed hits.

Just some spontaneous analyzing.