1

Jack Johnson's "Belle" has the following chord progression:

Gmaj7 Gmaj6 Gm7 Gm6
Gmaj7 Gmaj6 Bm7 Cm6
Am7   Am6   Am7 Ab7
Gmaj7 Cm6   Am7 Ab7 :||

I'm trying to write down the Roman numerals of these chords, but am missing a few.

I  I  ?   ?
I  I  iii ?
ii ii ii  bII
I  ?  ii  bII

The ii-bII-I is a typical tritone substitution of the usual ii-V-I. I'm missing the following:

  1. I don't understand how to analyze the Gm chords.
    • My ear wants to view this as the beginning of a secondary ii-V-I to the key of F, but there is no such modulation.
    • Is it correct to simply consider this progression as alternating between I and i (a borrowed chord)?
  2. I don't understand how to analyze the Cm6 chords.
    • If viewed as a Cm chord, this could be analyzed as a iv chord which is a common borrowed chord. However, it is always followed by the ii chord (rather than being used as the "wistful" iv-I cadence) which makes me doubt this interpretation.
    • Since it is always followed by the ii chord (A minor), I tried to see if it is some sort of secondary dominant in A minor. The presence of the Bm7-Cm6-Am7 progression suggests this might be a secondary ii-V-i for A minor. But I can't see how Cm6 is a substitute for E7.
    • Finally, Cm6 can be viewed as part of an F9 chord. But this doesn't seem to help either.
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  • bII>I won't be tts, unless it's bII 7 >I.
    – Tim
    Jul 21, 2021 at 6:49
  • Video unavailable.
    – Tim
    Jul 21, 2021 at 15:25

2 Answers 2

1

This is very reminiscent of classic Brazilian music from composers like Jobim et al. It makes use of a good dose of parallel minor chords, modal interchange and also lots of inner voice movement, all of which are typical to that style. Another element is the use of m6 chords which can be used either for inner voice movement (7-6) or can also be used and interpreted as 7th chords with the 5th in the bass. Playing the 5th in the bass is a common stylistic trait of Brazilian guitarists (check out Rosa Passos, an amazing artist who sings and plays guitar, she does it all the time). I don’t know why they do it but I believe it might have come about for wanting to have a lower note in the bass, perhaps when there was no bass player present and no 7 string guitar with the low string tuned to A to play the low root of the 7th chord.

For part 1 of your question, this is reminiscent of the major to minor in bars 17-21 of Jobim’s “Triste”. “Look to the Sky” has a similar progression in bars 1-4 and also 17-21. I interpret this as simply a I-i, parallel major/minor. The beauty of it is in the inner voice leading of F#-E-F-E.

As for part 2, this chord is a little unusual, not because of what it is but where it goes. It sounds very much like a iv to me but it goes, to ii. It is more common for this chord to go to a I or a iii but it does has a minor sundominant quality to it in this case. It’s not unusual to have two subdominant chords in a row, say ii-IV. In this case they go in the opposite direction and incorporate modal interchange.

Another interpretation of this chord is what you mentioned, an F9. You say “this doesn’t help” but I also see the F9 as an alternate interpretation, a bVII7 chord with an unresolved or delayed resolution to the tonic 4 bars later. However in this case the previous chord and the C root really draws my ear to the iv interpretation.

One thing you did not comment about is bars nine through 12. You simply referred to this as ii-bII but I see it as more than that. To my ear it is a ii-V(with the 5th in to bass) then a repeated ii-V but with a tritone substitution on the second V. Back in the day it was common to repeat ii-V’s (ala Satin Doll), not so much anymore.

This is an homage to classic Bossa Nova and a very nice one at that.

2
  • Thank you again John for a very informative answer. I really appreciate you explaining the specific connections to Bossa Nova, and the two Jobim examples were great examples of the I-i movement. Thank you also for pointing out the interpretation of 6th chords as inversions of 7th chords; the interpretation of the Am6 as a V with the fifth in the bass was illuminating.
    – angryavian
    Jul 21, 2021 at 20:49
  • 1
    I’m glad it was helpful to you. The way those m6 chords are usually voiced, which is from bottom to top on say an Am6 or D9/A is from low to high A-F#-C-E. As a m6 it is 1-6-b3-5 and as a 7th it is 5-3-b7-9, a dominant chord with no root in the voicing, which is a common exclusion in jazz and some styles of Latin music. Jul 22, 2021 at 1:47
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The analysis goes like this:

I I i i
I I {chromatic D-Eb-E with A common tone}
ii ii ii bII
{chromatic D-Eb-E with G common tone} bII

Consider that

  • Bm7 is a substitution for GM7. Both contain B-D-F#, and the A of the Bm7 would certainly fit just fine as part of a GM9.
  • Cm6 is really Am7b5

Thus

I I i i
I I I ii
ii ii ii bII
I ii ii bII

But the key element is the chromatic motion created across the Cm6 (i.e., Am7) chords. Play it as

Bm7/A Am7b5 Am7

and I think you'll hear it.


Regarding the possibility that the Cm6 could be a iv chord, note that it's not uncommon for a IV/iv chord to progress to a ii/II chord. They share common tones and can both act as pre-dominant chords.

1
  • Thanks for pointing out that it is not uncommon for IV/iv to progress to ii/II! Also, outlining the chromatic motion in Bm7/A Am7b5 Am7 was helpful.
    – angryavian
    Jul 21, 2021 at 20:53

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