« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

Rebecca Black's 'Friday': There are a million good reasons you can't get it out of your head

Rebecca Black 2011-Ark Music Factory 
When responses such as “abomination” and “worst song ever” are the most printable comments about a hit record like Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” you know it’s fully entered the realm of pop phenomenon.

But for anyone who’s surprised that this simple ditty has connected in a big way — the 13-year-old's relentlessly chipper YouTube video is about to cross the threshold of 66 million hits — don’t be.

Patrice Wilson, the entrepreneurial musician who wrote and produced Black’s record and created the video that quickly went viral, has been both praised as a pop genius and villified as the worst sort of exploiter of youthful dreams for charging Black and her family $2,000 for the whole package.

But if nothing else, this tune demonstrates unequivocal songwriting savvy: He tapped a song structure that’s embedded in our collective DNA, one that’s been the foundation of dozens, even hundreds of hit records over the last half a century.

“Friday,” you see, is “Heart and Soul” revisited. It uses that fundamental four-chord progression almost anyone who’s ever touched a piano keyboard has learned. It’s the basis of the most-played pop radio hit of all time, the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody.” 


It’s the same progression that Sam Cooke used in “You Send Me.” And “Chain Gang.” And “Twistin’ The Night Away.”

It’s also the cornerstone of the Penguins’ “Earth Angel” from 1955, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers’ 1956 classic “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” Skip & Flip’s 1960 hit “Cherry Pie” and countless other doo-wop, R&B, pop and rock hits that surfaced in the 1950s and ‘60s — before a couple of fellows from Liverpool came along and knocked down the fences hemming in pop music’s structural vocabulary. And even the Beatles weren’t immune to its pull: Ringo Starr’s contribution to the “Abbey Road” album, “Octopus’s Garden,” used the same formula.

It’s resurfaced regularly since — sometimes with just the slightest variations — in the chorus to Don McLean’s 1972 anthem “American Pie,” in Alicia Keys’ 2007 megahit “No One,” and we’ve heard it somewhere in nearly every season of “American Idol.”

Wilson surely knows how easy it is to apply the simplest of melodies over that sure-fire progression, and that’s exactly what he did for Black, giving her a lead line that requires the barest minimum of a vocal range to handle. You can sing a single note over this progression — which is what Black does with her limited voice for most of the song — and it still sounds musical.

It spans hardly more than half an octave. Anyone can sing this in the shower — and millions undoubtedly have been of late. It's also easy to play on any keyboard (here's an online tutorial some enterprising guy has already posted) or guitar.

Thousands of songs have been written using the basic three-chord blues progression, in musical terms referred to as the I-IV-V progression, based on the spot on the conventional Western musical scale where you’ll find the root notes of each of those chords. The reason it’s so ubiquitous is because of the palpable sense of resolution created when the progression returns to that home chord.

Celebrated country songwriter Harlan Howard famously defined a great country song as one consisting of “three chords and the truth,” a phrase Bono latched onto in one of U2’s most celebrated songs. Howard, the composer of thousands of songs, showed how successful that combination could be on a red, white, blue, yellow or black guitar.

The “Heart and Soul”/“Friday” variation on that progression simply drops a minor chord into the mix after the opening major chord, an addition that creates an extra measure of tension and drama that heightens the rounding-third-and-coming-into-home feeling of satisfaction when the entire I-vi-IV-V chord cycle finishes. The triangle becomes a self-contained, geometrically perfect square.

Lyrically speaking, “Friday” carries the illusion of simplicity in giving voice to one teenager’s big dilemma: whether to kick it with her friends in the front seat or the back seat.

Even those who abhor “Friday” — and there are plenty of them — will probably have to confess that they have a hard time getting it out of their heads.  It's stuck there for good reason.


Patrice Wilson of Ark Music: 'Friday' is on his mind

-- Randy Lewis

Comments () | Archives (12)

It's no mystery that this talented 13-year-old has built on the past. The success of the 13-year-old Frankie Lymon paved the way for young talents like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.

Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers went from singing on a Harlem street corner to stardom with “Why Do Fools Fall in Love.” I recently posted on my Rockaeology blog at http://tinyurl.com/4r3po7q that the inspiration for the song was a love poem written to a neighbor and passed on to the group.

The I-vi-IV-V progression is known as the "50s Progression" or the "Ice Cream Changes". It would have been nice to mention that in the video.

Also, Justin Bieber's "Baby" uses that progression, which probably deserves a mention considering how much Rebecca Black has been compared to Bieber.

Worst song ever. No musical talent, can't sing, nothing.

Thanks for referencing the "ice cream changes." Indeed, I have musician friends who've used that phrase for years, but I didn't want to cite it without knowing the origin, which no one I've asked seems to be able to provide. Do you know where/when/why that came to signify that popular chord progression? I'd love to hear.

Honestly I don't think its too bad. The song itself is horrible but what else can you expect from a 13 year old girl?

If you look around YouTube you can definitely tell that people are enjoying themselves because of all the responses and comments.
For Example;

Some kids made another music video not making fun of the video just their own version.. so this even has seemed to bring out the creative side of some individuals!

No, im sorry but i would have to disagree with you, the I-VI-IV-V progression is not talent, most songs these days that go mainstream are neither artistic nor "talent based" but this song in particular lacks talent, Rebecca Black even has more talent than this Patrice Wilson guy, I would hope so because, he completely lacks it. His lyrics are worse than most 3rd grade poems, and his melodies are simple, requiring little to no talent to make. Its one thing to make a catchy song that is quality music (this is talent,) but it is another to make one that is completely terrible. The nature of human beings is if a asong is "easy" to remember, than it is also viable that one gets it stuck in their head. Rebecca Black cannot be judged by such a song, we should be willing to believe that in the future we can see her untapped talent, that isnt limited by patrice wilson

its hard to believe how low the bar to reach musical talent has come to these days. I mean no disrespect towards the girl, but some things in life arent meant to be. The usic industry was hell of a lot hard to enter back in the 60's 70's 80's and 90's. They wouldnt let just anyone sing in live TV. But now i stumble upon news saying this girl is considered a sensation. look you had your 15 minutes of fame, trust me. You are better off having an education and contributing something better to the world then being negatively criticized by an enormous crowd of cruel teens.

Autotune......................worst invention ever. If you cant honestly sing without it, your better off keeping your yap shut. Everyone is tired of this crap. Time for a new music revolution that steers us away from kiddie bands, (c)rap and hip-hop. Real artists playing real instruments with real singing god given talent. Not electronic enhancement. Prove your worth.

i think she does great for a begining song and i hope she goes on to be famous in the music world if thats what she wants
heck she may already be a millionaire with 66 million hits on you tube

Frankly, I think this song is a success for everyone involved. There is no such thing as bad publicity. If this is what it takes to get noticed then I say bring on the "awful" songs. As a DJ, I get to preview new songs and here is a song that I really think could be this summer's smash hit. It's no "Friday" but it certainly has a "Sweet Melody". Listen to this song and thank me later.



This song is actually not TERRIBLE, but how much can be blamed on her, aside from the desire for fame. She didn't write it, she didn't direct it, she just paid for it, and I think she did a great job performing it on the video as a vanity piece... her friends? Not so much. The girl is mature beyond her years and is actually cool about how much it sucks, but all in all she shouldn't be so embarassed esp if it makes her money. matter of fact some people find deep existential meaning in this which is utterly hysterical and are probably (not sure) kidding. Good luck to her and if she has any talent, now is the time to show it!

the ultimate pop tune


Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Recent Posts

Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.



Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: