I'm doing an analysis of "Vienna" by Billy Joel to help improve my music theory, and I am confused about the presence of the A♭ Major chord in the song's verses. The song is in the key of B♭, so naturally A♭ Major would not be a diatonic chord, but I can't seem to find its purpose... It resolves to an E♭ Major chord, so I'm wondering if it acts as a secondary dominant or something else?

  • 1
    As @Tim says this is used in an “awful lot of songs”. Here is a great albeit pretty long article about this chord and it’s uses. If nothing else it will show how prolific this chord has been in pop music since the 50’s. icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/VOLUME22/… Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 8:19

3 Answers 3


The ♭VII chord is used in an awful lot of songs, it's almost become the 'next on the list after diatonics'.

Some say it's a borrowed chord, taken from the parallel minor key. Others say that it works as a sort of dominant chord to the tonic. Yet others say it's V/?, a secondary dominant, but it doesn't lead to ♭III here. (Not that secondary dominants have to lead to their own I). Some say it's a sort of reverse V/V - a IV/IV. The rest of us just say 'well, it works, and that's good enough'.

  • And I say: ♭ VII - V7 is just a substitution for ii-V7 : C,E♭ ( the 3rd and 5th of A♭ maj.) - are shared tones with Cm. Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 8:59

I believe its function is secondary dominate.

  • Could you expound upon this a bit?
    – Richard
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 9:58

Ab would be a dominant for Db, so no go on secondary dominant. Ab is a secondary SUBDOMINANT for Eb, or part of a mixolydian chord prog. (bVII)

  • Surprising, possibly, but secondary dominants don't have to resolve directly to the chord a fourth above. They only have to be a chromatic dominant as in non-diatonic.
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 16:17
  • From the standpoint of classical harmony they have to resolve, otherwise the analysis is completely pointless. Moreover, I could argue that Ab in a key of Bb is a tritone sub for III... but that would be a stretch. :) It's nothing more but a major with flat VII. It's quite common in pop music. Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 19:47

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