The history of the power chord, popular music’s best friend

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By James Lynch

It is one of the most commonly used songwriting techniques in popular music.

Power tuning has been an undeniable mainstay in the last 60 years of popular music. Browsing through some of the greatest rock songs of all time, such as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Iron Man”, it’s easy to spot the familiar ring of the power chord. Whenever the chord appears, we are reminded of its raw intensity, muscular tone, pure strength.

That’s pretty impressive for something that many argue doesn’t even count as a deal. Traditionally, a chord should consist of three degrees – that is, three single notes – and when played together, the characteristic of the final chord is informed by the three amount parts. The power chord, on the other hand, has less going on. He is formed of only two degrees, which makes his inherent power somewhat counterintuitive.

However, its sound so often combines with the help of distortion, which is why it was not in common use until the mid-20th century. In fact, in classical music playing these chords back to back was considered bad form, although we can understand why composers may view them as brittle or dull on the piano or strings, without the strength of the distortion.

When the two-note interval is distorted, a number of frequencies and harmonics are added to give the chord a richer sound. When this happens to a three-note chord, too many frequencies can be generated and the effect can be cluttered and messy. With two notes, the result is bold and assertive.

The origins of the power chord are a bit hazy. Throughout the 1950s, the power chord began to appear on recordings, with some pointing to blues guitarists John Lee Hooker or Willie Johnson as the true creators. Back in the late 1950s, Link Wray released ‘Rumble’, which others cite as the first use of the power chord, but on close listening you can hear that’s not quite true. no more. Interestingly, the song was banned from some radio stations because broadcasters feared the track’s rough sound would inspire juvenile delinquency, which says a lot about the power of the distorted guitar.

In 1964, The Kinks released their hit “You Really Got Me”, and with its frenzied opening riff, the power chord has gained a permanent place on the mantle of rock ‘n’ roll history. Sounding both hoarse and cheerful, the stage was set for generations of rebellious rockers, from the Ramones to the Runaways and Green Day, with a penchant for the power chord.

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