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Could someone assist me in analyzing the chord progression found in 'Save My Soul, Not My Ship' by Enjoy?

A brief caveat with regard to the title: please note that my analysis of the progressions may not be accurate. Kindly read on for additional information.

I've been a fan of the ii-V-I-vi progression ever since I heard it in Human Sadness. Since then, I keep hearing it pop up in all sorts of songs.

Yesterday, my brother introduced me to this song by Enjoy and asked for my thoughts on the chord progression. After listening, I suggested that it sounded like a ii-V-I-vi progression (confirmation bias perhaps?). Interestingly, the progression even features a passing note in the bass (an A natural in this case), reminiscent of the passing note in the demo version of 'Human Sadness', which I believe is the third scale degree, leading to the root of the ii chord.

Upon further investigation of the Enjoy tune, I found myself confused on several fronts. Initially, I thought the progression was a ii-V-I-IV in the key of Gb Major (which would just be a slight variation on the progression discussed above). I stuck with that idea until I realized that the A natural passing tone doesn't belong to the key. Taking some of the guitar notes into consideration, I determined that the second chord is actually a minor chord—C#m. I then utilized a harmony tool plug-in in Ableton to expedite the process. The plug-in indicated that the progression was G#m-C#m-F#-B. When I inputted these chords into an online key-finder tool, it identified the key as B major. Consequently, the progression can be interpreted as vi-ii-V-I. What perplexed me was that despite the rearrangement, the chord progression still evoked the initial progression, and the presence of the A natural didn't align with the key of B major either!

If someone could lend a hand in analyzing this progression (and comparing it to the Human Sadness progression, if there is anything interesting to observe there) I would greatly appreciate it. It's been driving me crazy! Thank you in advance.

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  • I listened to your entire suggested song by Enjoy and couldn't hear any G#m-C#m-F#-B chord progression in it. In fact, I heard the song as being in F major and sometimes F minor instead...and I even disagree with your chordal analysis (that starting chord isn't even consistently a vi chord, and the V chord also may even be more of a v chord instead). Which timestamps in the Enjoy song do you want to highlight?
    – Dekkadeci
    Jun 24, 2023 at 20:37
  • Thank you for the comment and answer @Dekkadeci! I'd say just 0:00 to 0:07, as that contains one full instance of the progression.
    – 286642
    Jun 24, 2023 at 21:09

3 Answers 3

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Taking your question naively, ii-V-I-vi and vi-ii-V-I are rotations of each other - just "claim" to start each looping chord progression in a different place or equivalently put the ending chord of one at the beginning and you get each other. It's rather like how a Google search for "vi IV I V" gets you a ton of results for its rotation I-V-vi-IV.

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    Thank you! I noticed this pattern as well, but shouldn't having the tonic on the 3rd beat (strong beat) result in a significant difference compared with having the tonic on beat 4? I rarely see the last chord of a progression being a I chord in pop songs, but that could just be me
    – 286642
    Jun 24, 2023 at 21:12
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As already noted, the root motion and main chords are the same, but I don't think that totally explains it. It sounds like the chords in both songs aren't just triads, but include extensions (sevenths, sixths, ninths or other intervals in addition to the root, third and fifth). There may also be some inversions, for example a major six chord is an inverted version of a minor seven chord. I am not honestly sure on the analysis of either song. They may even be the same chords. But if we include the inversions and extensions, even with different chords they could have the same root motion and contain chords that are only different by one note. For example, I6 - vi7 - IVmaj7 - V6 and vi7 - ii7 - V7 - Imaj7.

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They sound the same, because it is the same progression of chords.

The only difference is the placement of the bar line...

|vi-ii-V--I|vi-ii-V--I|vi-ii-V--I|vi-ii-V--I|
   |ii-V--I-vi|ii-V--I-vi|ii-V--I-vi|ii-V--I-vi|

Placement of the bar line can be very important, especially if you're dealing with actual functional harmony and cadences. The difference between these two identical progressions is based on bar line placement...

I|V I
I V|I

...where the resulting difference is a half cadence versus an authentic cadence, and if you understand the structural importance of cadences it is a profound difference.

However, I imagine that your two progressions will involve a lot of repeating - ||:vi ii V I:|| or ||:ii V I vi:|| - and not necessarily aligned with phrase/section ending, and so are not particularly functional in the structural sense. In such cases the progressions may sound nearly identical, because there is no cadential/structural aspect at play to differentiate them.

I hope I'm not sounding to vague about cadence and structure. It requires familiarity two quite different harmonic styles. Something like the progressions/cadences/phrasing of a Bach chorale compared to the repetitious groove patterns found in pop/rock music. You may see chord root progression by descending fifths in both styles, but they are used very differently in terms of structure and phrasing.

Maybe the way to put is this: if the V and I chords in either of your progressions does not coincide with some kind of phrase or section ending, then they aren't really "functional" as dominant and tonic chords, not in the sense that function relates to structure, and without that distinction, there really isn't much to make the two progressions sound or feel different.

If, instead of...

||:vi ii V I:|| or ||:ii V I vi:||

...the bar lines were like this...

| ... vi ii | V | I ...

or

| ... ii V | I | vi ...

...the two progression should then feel quite different.

You find that type of structural use of descending fifths progressions (in a pop music setting) with old 32 bar standards. Surely in other pop styles too, but old standards would be a good source to study.

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