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This might look like is just curiosity to know something about one particular song, but is not, I'm hoping it'll help me understand better when I'm doing song analysis.

I keep struggling when analysing chord progressions. Seems like everything that sounds good is always impossible to fit in the diatonic rules, there's just too many exceptions to consider things as rules I believe.

Anyway, I understand (more or less) the concepts of substitutions and modal interchanges. I have this example, however, in which I just wish to know what is the proper way of referring to this chord progression, and I don't think any of those interchanges is happening.

The tune is "Love Foolosophy" by Jamiroquai, and it goes Bm7 Em7 Cmaj7 Bm7 for the most part.

First thing you'd think is this is in B minor key, but C instead of C#? the progression would be a i iv bII i, and that flat two there, the C that should be a C#, why does it sound so in key when is actually out of the key? And is not even an cool low volume note, the guitar actually plays the same notes from Em, but the bass goes to C making it very obvious. As I said, it sounds great.

I was thinking one option is that the tune is not really in Bm but in Em, and then the progression would be a Vm I VI Vm, but that is too weird, isn't it?

Something else I'm thinking is, could we call that chord Em/C instead of Cmaj7? Then the progression would be i iv ivb9 i?

And to make things even more confusing, when it gets to the chorus, it does actually go B to F# to C# to E, there's the C#, which makes all the sense in Bm, and it sounds good as well.

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What would be really swell is if you could include 2 things: 1) a link to an audio or video of the song itself - 2) a link to the sheet music or chord chart. I tried to answer your question but when I googled for these things, and compared them to your analysis, I was so puzzled that I decided not to answer. So please, let us know exactly what song you mean, and I'll try. –  Roland Bouman Apr 30 at 1:30
@RolandBouman The second result when googling "foolosophy" is the song in question ( youtube.com/watch?v=oMk1wBPiUIo ) I doubt you will find sheet music for it easily/free. –  Fergus Apr 30 at 3:54
The only version that showed up was love foolosophy, which starts on D and moves to Dsus4. Help ! –  Tim Apr 30 at 15:33
Yes, what @Tim said :) –  Roland Bouman Apr 30 at 18:38
Love foolosophy is the full name for the song. Once the bass comes in the D sounds as a Bm, Dsus as Em ect –  Fergus Apr 30 at 19:52

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Just because the notes happen to belong to Em you shouldn't jump to the conclusion it's in the key of Em! What's important is how it perceived by the listener.

The first thing you should do is find the tonal centre, the note that 'sounds like home', ending on any other note sounds like an unfinished.........sentence.

the melody clearly points to a Bm tonal centre.

The Bm chord is held for twice as long as any other chord.

The song starts on a Bm.

The song ends on a Bm.

Therefore the tonal centre is clearly Bm throughout the entire song.

(If the harmony doesn't imply a clear tonal centre, always check the melody)

The verse is
i7 iv7 bIImaj7 i7

The chorus is
i v ii iv
(Bm7 F#m7 C#m7 Em7)
(I suppose you could consider a modulation to C#m but I don't think it's necessary)

The melody throughout is mostly Bm pentatonic with the addition of both 6th degrees (b6: G and 6: Ab) used to emphasize the chromatic movement in the chorus harmony.

The chromatic movement is A > Ab > G > F# or relative to B it's: b7 6 b6 5
You will hear that chromatic movement again and again in that type of music. Bm7 E7 G Bm is one example, it should sound familiar.**

The verse can be thought as a B Phyrgian mode progression or a Bm progression with a bIImaj7 borrowed from parallel phyrgian mode.

The chorus can be thought of as a Bm progression with a ii borrowed from the parallel major (Bmaj) key (or from parallel Dorian mode) A very common borrowed chord in minor progressions in pop/rock as the diatonic chord is a min7b5 chord, not a particularly nice chord to spend much time on! Plus in this case it sets up that nice chromatic line in the harmony.

Here are plenty of other examples of borrowed chords (among others)


You will see borrowed chords a lot in rock and pop so get a firm grasp on them.

You need to think "how do these chords/notes relate to the tonal centre I've identified?" definitely not "what key could these notes and chords belong to?"

(I hesitate to use key and tonal centre interchangeably because some folks may say a key is not established until an authentic cadence is heard and that this is a modal song with a Bm tonal centre..)

** these voicings show the movement well:

If you don't play guitar, any voicings where the chromatic line is at the top should do.

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+1 for taking the perception of the tonal centre as criterion. –  Roland Bouman Apr 30 at 17:34
I must be listening to a different song.Same title/ artist. –  Tim Apr 30 at 18:43
Phrygian mode, that's the answer! I always thought of Phrygian and Locrian as modes you wouldn't find often in this kind of music, I never looked at it in detail, but after reading your answer, Phrygian is just Aeolian with a flat second, which is exactly what the verse on this tune is. Then for the Chorus it just switches to B Aeolian. THANKS! –  palako Apr 30 at 20:02
Great. The chorus isn't strictly Aeolian, the C#m is not diatonic as I mention in the answer. –  Fergus Apr 30 at 20:13
Right, it would be C#dim (C#m7b5 in 7th harmony) to be strictly Aeolian, correct? –  palako May 1 at 7:35

There are many ways to analyze the progression. It could be a modal progression because it has no tonic-dominant relation whatsoever. It could be also a tonic prolongation in tonal-wise prespective - with a modal interchange chord interfering. But I guess it doesn't end with cadence, so it can be modal. But sometime it doesn't have to be modal despite it has the sense of key. One could just make a random progressed chords and at the same time demonstrate such direction we call key, but it doesn't have the same function a modal progression could have. And ofcourse the term key for this kind of tune is inappropriate as it must be first has the character of major/minor system. Usually, when it comes to pop music, I don't really care about the specific analysis. Most of the time pop music doesn't fit with any kind of analysis. If it has the sense of "key", then it's enough.

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"Most of the time pop music doesn't fit with any kind of analysis". That's exactly why I'm so intrigued by it. Just curiosity, or music geekness, but I'm sure that most of what I'm understanding as "non fitting" is just following rules that I haven't learnt yet. –  palako May 1 at 7:38

I don't know the song but I'd agree with your analysis that says the key for the verse is actually Em rather than Bm.

That way Em is chord I, Bm is chord V and the C maj is a chord VI. You've already considered this, but you reckon it's weird. I don't think so.

It's not unusual to do tritone substitution - replacing a V7 chord with the chord an augmented fourth away from it. For instance in C major, a II-V7-I progression is Dm G7 C. You can replace the G7 chord with a C#7 chord because both the G7 and C#7 chords contain the augmented fourth interval F-B. But because the chords in your question are minor, I don't think that's what's going on here. I only thought this might be tritone substitution because the V chord in B is F# major, but decided it wasn't because the tritone replacement for F#7 is C7 not the Cmaj7 that actually appears.

And I think the key for the chorus is B major.

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