There are certain chord progressions, rhythms, licks, etc., that show up over and over again in different rock and pop songs. Some are distinct and easily recognizable.
For example, here’s a VERY incomplete list of songs that use the drum pattern kick kick kick snare (dotted quarter note, eighth note, quarter note, quarter note) :
[The songs are listed chronologically in order of their release dates].
Be My Baby (The Ronettes, 8/1963)
Leader Of The Pack (The Shangri-Las, 9/1964)
Rag Doll (The Four Seasons, 6/1964)
Still I’m Sad (The Yardbirds, 10/1965)
I’ll Be Back (? And The Mysterians, 6/1967)
Teengenerate (The Dictators, 1/1975)
Say Goodbye To Hollywood (Billy Joel, 5/1976)
Hand In Hand (Elvis Costello, 3/1978)
The Card Cheat (The Clash, 12/1979)
Glory Days (Bruce Springsteen, 6/1984)
Just Like Honey (Jesus and Mary Chain, 9/1985)
Joey (Concrete Blonde, 5/1990)
What’s A Girl To Do (Bat For Lashes, 9/2006)
Black Magic (Jarvis Cocker, 11/2006)
I Want To (Best Coast, 7/2010)
Every Time The Sun Comes Up (Sharon Van Etten, 5/2014)
Lust For Life (Lana Del Rey, 4/2017)
Another example: There must be 100s of songs, from the 1950s onwards, that use the doowop chord progression: / I / vi / IV / V /, [ In the key of C: / C / Am / F / G / ].
Here’s a VERY incomplete list of these:
Earth Angel (The Penguins, 10/1954)
In The Still Of The Night (The Five Satins, 1956)
Why Do Fools Fall In Love (Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, 1/1956)
Walking Along (The Solitaires, 1957)
A Teenager In Love (Dion & the Belmonts, 3/1959)
Stand By Me (Ben E. King, 4/1961)
Crocodile Rock (Elton John, 10/1972)
Starry Eyes (Roky Erickson, 9?/1975)
Baby (Justin Bieber, 2010)
[In jazz the word “contrafact” means a tune that uses the chord progression of a pre-existing song. I’ll use that as a generic term for these borrowed rhythms, progressions, etc].
Some of these contrafacts have a definite point of origin. For the drum lick it’s the intro to Be My Baby, recorded in 1963, with Hal Blaine on drums. Every subsequent version either imitates Be My Baby, or imitates someone who is imitating Be My Baby.
The doowop progression’s starting point is less clear. No doubt someone has pinpointed the first doowop song to use the progression, but the same progression was used in earlier songs, including “Blue Moon” (Rodgers, Hart, 1933) and “Heart and Soul” (Carmichael, Loesser, 1938).
This: / I / bVII / IV / I /, [In C: / C / Bb / F / C / ], is a less well-known contrafact than the 2 above.
Here’s a list:
[In each song, the progression is used throughout a verse or a chorus, unless otherwise indicated].
2 bar versions: / I bVII / IV I /
Can’t Explain (The Who, 12/1964)
Joey (Bob Dylan, 1/1975) [Intro and interludes only].
4 bar versions: / I / bVII / IV / I /
If I Were A Carpenter (Bobby Darin, 9/1966)
Dear Mr. Fantasy (Traffic, 12/1967)
Hey Jude (Beatles, 8/1968) [In the coda]
Hear My Freedom (Jimi Hendrix, recorded:10/1968, released: 2010 )
Sympathy For The Devil (Rolling Stones, 12/1968)
Fortunate Son (Creedence Clearwater Revival, 9/1969)
Thank You (Led Zeppelin, 10/1969)
Rock’n’ Roll Queen (Mott The Hoople, 11/1969)
Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ (Velvet Underground, 9/1970)
Can’t You See (Marshall Tucker Band, 4/1973)
Taking Care Of Business (Bachman Turner Overdrive, 12/1973)
Juke Box Music (The Kinks, 2/1977)
Who Are You (The Who, 8/1978)
Sleep (The Oblivious, 9/1993)
Hey Steven (Mondo Cozmo, 6/2018)
8 bar versions: / I / I / bVII / bVII / IV / IV / I / I /.
Road House (Flamin’ Groovies, 7/1970)
Rock Against Romance (Holly & the Italians, 2/1981)
Sweet Child O’ Mine (Guns N’ Roses, 7/1987)
Variants: [The chords occur in the same order as in the others, but their duration is different].
What Goes On (Velvet Underground, 3/1969) / I / I / bVII IV/ I/
Rock And Roll (Velvet Underground, 9/1970) / I / bVII/ IV/ I / I /
See No Evil (Television, 2/1977) / I / I / I / I /bVII/ IV / I / I /
Partial: [Unlike the other examples, the chord progression in these doesn’t last for an entire section].
Morning Dew (Bonnie Dobson, 1962) First 8 bars of the verse: / I /bVII IV/ I / I / 2x
Something Following Me (Procol Harum, 9/1967) First 8 bars of verse: / I / bVII/ IV / I / 2x
Mistress Of The Salmon Salt (Blue Oyster Cult, 2/1973) First 4 bars of verse: / i / bVII/ IV / i /
I Need Lunch (Dead Boys, 10/1977) First 8 bars of verse: / I /bVII IV/ I / I / 2x
Oddities: [ 2 examples where a medley was created out of different contrafacts].
Dear Mr. Fantasy/Hey Jude medley (Al Kooper-Mike Bloomfield, 2/1969)
Rock And Roll/Sympathy ForThe Devil medley (Jane’s Addiction, 5/1987)
The earliest appearance of something like this contrafact is “Morning Dew”. It was recorded by many different artists; Lulu’s version was in the Top 10 in Britain in 1968.
The earliest of the 4 bar versions (by far the most common form) is “If I Were A Carpenter”, written by Tim Hardin. It was an international hit with many cover versions:
Bobby Darin (9/ 1966) [#8 in US, #9 in UK]
4 Tops (4/1968) [Top 20 in the US, #7 in the UK]
Johnny Cash/June Carter (1/1970) [#2 in US country charts]
Other early covers were by Johnny Halliday (1966) and Joan Baez (1967).
So both Morning Dew and If I Were A Carpenter were widely disseminated and known. It seems likely that one or both of them was the starting point for all subsequent contrafacts.
Finally, I’d like to close with something Don, my mechanic, once said to me:
Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc.