A Song of the 50’s Progression

Today’s song is an iconic composition of the 50’s music genre. This song uses a version of the common chord progression now called “the 50’s progression”, which has been called the “Stand By Me’ changes” after the song.

50’s Chord Progression 

There are many iconic songs from this music time era, where the song moves rhythmically from the first chord, to the second, to the third, to the fourth and back to the first, always in the same order. These songs are strongly associated with the “Doo Wop” genre as well, and may be referred to as “Heart and Soul” chords. The first song known to have used this sequence extensively was Blue Moon written in 1933 by Richard Rodgers. The progression is represented in a  key as I, VI(m), IV, V(7). The sixth chord may/may not be minor depending on the key; the fifth chord may/may not be a 7th depending on the tone. When not played in the first to fourth sequence, the same four chords are used in a turn-around manner (see You Send Me, below).


A Teenager in Love (1959): (4/4 Timing) [C] Each time we [Am] have a quarrel, [F] it almost [G7] breaks my heart, [C] cause I am [Am] so afraid, [F] that we will [G7] have to part. [C] Each night I [Am] ask the [F] stars up a-[G7]bove, [C] why must I [Am] be a teen-[F]ager in [G7] love?….

This example shows only 2 strums per chord, whereas, to play A Teenager in Love you would play a full 4 strums per chord. 🙂 

You Send Me (1957): (2/4 Timing) Darling, [G] You -oo-[Em]oo, [Am7] send me [D7]. I know, [G] You -oo-[Em]oo, [Am7] send me [D7]. Darling, [G] You -oo-[Em]oo, [Am7] send me, [D7] honest you [G] do, honest you [Am7] do, honest you [G], [D7] Whoa-oh-oh-oh…. (Repeat, replacing “send me” with “thrill me”.)….

Stand By Me ~ Ben E. King 

Stand By Me was composed in 1959, recorded and released in 1960, by Ben E. King. In addition to the iconic 50’s chord progression in the Key of A, the song departed from the sound of the “doo wop” background singers and used a strong, low bass-line instead. Baaa baaa, ba-ba baa baa, ba-ba-ba baa baa, ba-ba baa baa, etc.

The arrangement I offer you today is presented in the ORIGINAL KEY OF A, which on a soprano ukulele is pretty much unattainable. It is best played on a tenor uke or a uke that is strung with a LOW G STRING. This way you can attain that perfect tone of pitch moving from the low chords to the higher chords.

If you want to transpose it to a higher Key, keep in mind that the second, third and fourth chords change depending on what sharps and flats are in each key, using the Key formula outlined in the paragraph above titled “50’s Chord Progression”. For example, if you truly don’t want to sing it in the original Key that Ben E. King recorded it in (no pressure), then the Key of F would be F, Dm, Bb and C7. (And don’t we all just looooove that Bb!) The Key of C sequence is C, Am, F and G7, which is easier to play but much higher to sing.

However, like I already stated, I have arranged it in the Key of A as originally recorded, and tried extremely hard to have the lyrics in the style that Ben E. King sang them. The only part I don’t have tabbed out for you is the Instrumental, but you can probably find that on the internet somewhere 🙂 and you will have to find someone willing to accompany you doing the “baa baa, ba-ba baa baa” bass-line.

Cheers! Stand By Me A

Below is a wonderful video of Ben E. King singing Stand By Me, with some of the cast members from the 1986 coming-of-age movie “Stand By Me”: Will Weaton and River Phoenix. You can play the chord progression from my arrangement along with this video if you are good at hearing chord changes. Enjoy!


One thought on “A Song of the 50’s Progression

  1. David Mayerovitch March 29, 2016 / 7:48 pm

    Thank you and congratulations on this wonderful site, Cat! Lots of good tunes and stories!

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