One of the most popular chord progressions that have been applied to dozens and dozens of popular hits over the years is the very catchy I-V-VIm-IV chord progression.
The most common keys for these changes are:
C – G – Am – F
D – A – Bm – G
A – E – F#m – D
G – D – Em – C
E – B – C#m – A
Often times we'll learn the open position chord patterns for the C, G, Am, F cycle in our early playing days. These patterns are fairly easy to play and can be moved to different keys using a capo.
Where a chord movement like this can take on an even more interesting sound is when the chords are performed as triads on the interior guitar strings. These shapes may require more practice, but their overall effect is often times more interesting musically.
The Australian comedy group Axis of Awesome did an interesting video on this chord progression. They’ve only covered 30+ songs in this vid, but the next time you listen to the radio, look out for the progression in use.
From the top of my head, other songs that have used this progression at one point or wholly: ‘Head Over Heels: Alanis Morissette’, ‘When I Go Around: Green Day’ ‘No Woman No Cry: Bob Marley’, ‘Since You’ve Been Gone: Rainbow’ etc etc.
How can you write your own hits with this progression? My advice: Play with different beats and let a clean melodic bass line guide you: for example – “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” or “With or Without You” etc etc. The rest, you will find in your own unique way.