The 6 famous songs that use dominant 7th chords have a special quality to them. A big chunk of that particular flavor is thanks to the use of dominant chords.
In simple terms, a dominant 7th chord uses four notes: the first three make up a major chord and the last one is the flat 7th of the scale. If that sounds like quantum theory to you, don’t worry. It’s not.
If you are a beginner, know that you can turn most major chords into dominant seventh chords by moving one finger. Not too bad huh?
Although dominant seventh chords are common in western music, they are not nearly as used as plain major and minor chords, especially in popular music. However, traditional and other forms of blues music rely heavily on the dominant 7th chord. The most traditional blues form is composed exclusively of dominant chords. So tune up and let’s delve into these 6 famous songs that use dominant 7th chords.
The Beatles gave the world the footprint for the modern artist and created the ultimate paradigm for songwriters. They were also one of the first rock bands to include dominant seventh chords in commercial songwriting. John Lennon and Paul McCartney may be the two greatest songwriters to ever live. However, the writer of “Something” is George Harrison. Yes, he is quite underrated, but that happens if you play in a band with two of the greatest songwriters in history!
“Something” is a classic and one of the Beatles’ most beloved creations. It features a C7 chord in a beautiful motion of descending sevenths. It also features a D7 (D dominant seventh) that creates tension before landing on the G. Simply stated, “Something” is a masterpiece by the ultimate songwriting crew.
This song has a story like no other that begins with composer Leonard Cohen banging his head on the floor of a hotel room while writing the 80th draft of Hallelujah. Cohen recorded and released “Hallelujah” but it was not a hit. Then John Cale recorded it as well to no acclaim, and it was this version that Jeff Buckley knew.
Buckley then recorded the song and died a few months later, making him a legend and giving “Hallelujah” its first taste of world fame. The song was then featured in the movie Shrek, cementing its classic status. “Hallelujah” features an E-dominant 7th chord on each of its verses and in one of the highest melody notes, creating a unique sense of tension that is central to this masterpiece of songwriting.
One of the ultimate rock anthems of all time. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and features a B7 in the introduction. The introduction of this song is as legendary as the song itself, and it came to guitarist Keith Richards in the middle of the night. It is one of those most popular guitar riffs of all time and for decades has been a crowd-pleaser for the constantly sold-out Rolling Stones tour. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” features a brilliant use of tension in great part thanks to its dominant seventh chord.
This song was composed in 1939 for the movie the Wizard of Oz. Harold Arlen wrote the music and Yip Harburg the words. “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is such an iconic song and has been recorded by so many great artists that it is hard to come up with just one definitive version.
It features several dominant seventh chords, mainly in the way of an ii V chord progression.
“Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is also a jazz standard, and part of this is due to its use in a motion picture from the ’30s as well as the use of sophisticated harmony that features tons of tension and release with dominant seventh chords.
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This classic Metallica song employs a B dominant seventh chord (B7) right on top of the word “Nothing”. This is no accident, as the dominant seventh adds tension right on the title and central message of this song. Even though “Nothing Else Matters” is considered a ballad, it certainly isn’t sweet or devoid of darkness. A reason for that is the deliberate use of dominant seventh chords on each of the verses, adding tension and pain at the right spot on every single verse.
“Nothing Else Matters” is one of the most beloved songs on the seminal black album (entitled Metallica). This album is still the most popular in the band’s discography and one of the greatest records ever released.
Jimi Hendrix broke so much ground on so many fronts, and harmony is one of them. The classic “Purple Haze” features an E7#9 chord that became so famous; it is known as the “Hendrix Chord” or “Purple Haze Chord”. It is a dominant seventh chord with the addition of a sharp nine, also known as an altered dominant. If that sounds like Greek to you, don’t worry. It just means that this chord has even more tension than your regular seventh chord.
“Purple Haze” features an amazing combination of spunk, attitude, tension, and fun, and it is a common song for jam sessions, especially for guitar players. Even though Hendrix’s version is the definitive one, there are countless other renowned musicians that cover this song regularly, including Steve Vai and Eric Gales. Simply said, “Purple Haze” is a fantastic example of seventh chord use in a popular song.
These 6 famous songs that use dominant 7th chords are classics known around the world. The songwriters that composed them are some of the most renowned ever. They know how to use different types of chords to create a specific effect. These dominant 7th chords add tension and can create an effect that regular major and minor chords can’t duplicate.
Take the time to learn a bit about music theory, and other types of chords as well. This will make you a better musician with a greater understanding of how music works; which will, in turn, help you play better. Just learning the basics will go a long way. Keep in mind that dominant chords are a must-know tool for any songwriters, guitarist, and musician in general. If you have other music theory topics that you’d like to learn, feel free to share them in the comments section below.