Striking a chord
Here's an easy way to see if a song uses the Sensitive Female Chord Progression: Just sing Joan Osborne's lyric's: 'What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us?' over the suspect four chords.
So what is the Sensitive Female Chord Progression, exactly? It's simple enough for the music theory-inclined: vi-IV-I-V. No good? Well, for a song in the key of A minor, it would be Am-F-C-G. Still confused? Here's an easy way to see if a song uses the chord progression: Just sing Osborne's lyrics, "What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us?" over the suspect four chords. If it fits, you've just spotted one in the wild. Once you're attuned to it, you'll hear it everywhere.
It turns out I'm not the only one intrigued by this phenomenon. Hooters guitarist Eric Bazilian, the songwriter behind "One Of Us," has a particular interest in it. "I think it's a comforting chord progression," he says. "It was iconic with Heart. It became more iconic with Joan [Osborne]. It became even more iconic with Sarah McLachlan. There's not a lot of testosterone in it, even though ['One of Us'] was written by a man. But it was written by a man to impress a girl. Think about that."
The guys play with this chord progression too, of course. Boston's "Peace of Mind" and Iggy Pop's "The Passenger" gave it a whirl in the mid-1970s. The Smashing Pumpkins made it orchestral and ominous with "Disarm," Bon Jovi turned it into a pop-metal fist-pumper on "It's My Life," and the Offspring has used it no less than three times.
Songwriters reuse certain chord progressions all the time, from the 12-bar blues to the doo-woppish I-vi-IV-V (forever familiar to novice piano players as "Heart and Soul") that helped dominate the 1950s with songs like "Earth Angel" and "Donna."