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I’d imagine that a large number of people, on reading Duffy’s Instagrammed description of her recent problems, will have reminded themselves of what a great record “Mercy” was, and still is. When it came out in 2008, I must have heard it dozens of times before the penny dropped: it’s actually a 12-bar blues.

Well, not quite. The verse is a 12-bar which stays on the tonic in bars 5 and 6 and is extended to 16 by repeating bars 9-12. The chorus is a straight 12-bar. And I love that the tune, the singing, the weird hard-rubber bass, the cheap organ sound and the guitars — including that devastating bent double-stop against silence after the breakdown — are all drenched in the blues, an updated version of the Thames Delta sound of the early ’60s.

OK, have a guess: how many times has a 12-bar blues topped the UK pop chart? Off the top of my head, I could think of only the Stones’ “Little Red Rooster” — straight from the Thames Delta! — in 1964. So I looked through all the UK No 1s from 1952-1999, and I could find only Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime” and “Baby Jump” and T. Rex’s “Hot Love” that fit the spec (before you ask, “Hound Dog” only made it to No 2 for Elvis in 1956). Curious, isn’t it, that the basic foundational template of so much popular music should be so thinly represented?  If someone else wants to check through the last 20 years, be my guest — and please let me know if you find anything.

Anyway, all best wishes to Duffy. That “Mercy” link has been clicked almost 80 million times. And maybe, to paraphrase Ornette Coleman, this is when the blues leave.

23 Comments Post a comment
  1. The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “You Can’t Do That” are de facto 12-bar blues, both embellished with bridges, however.

    February 26, 2020
    • GuitarSlinger #

      As well as ” Money ” . Then there’s the whole plethora of hits by the Animals , The Yardbirds ( the majority of which are 12 bar blues in one form or another ) Led Zeppelin ( can’t count how many but the count is high ) Pink Floyd ( christmas day in the morning … ” PF’s ” Money ” is the very epitome of a 12 bar blues … albeit in an uncommon time signature huge hit )

      And then there’s the Faces , The Small Faces , Humble Pie , etc .. etc etc … et al .

      Fact is .. if one truly comprehends the reality of 12 bar blues influence on pop … one would be hard pressed to find hits that are NOT at least somewhat 12 bar blues based

      Seriously Richard …. y’alls in desperate need of my ” The Note that Changed the World ( of music ) ” lecture .

      That note by the way is the addition of the flatted five to a minor o pentatonic scale . As an example … A – C- D – E – ( Eb ) – G … which changed everything .. including classical music

      February 26, 2020
      • As so often seems to happen when you choose to respond to one of my pieces, you try to show off your musical knowledge having completely missed the point I was making. I was concentrating not on hits or influential records but — as I stated more than once — on records that made No 1 in the UK pop charts. How much clearer could I have been? Even for you? I trashed your other post because it was crudely unpleasant about Duffy. Once again I’m forced to say that I can’t stop you reading the Blue Moment, but I’d be happy if you were never to send another comment.

        February 26, 2020
  2. Steve #

    An excellent post Richard. Anyone with an ounce of compassion will feel appalled at what happened to Duffy; hopefully the support of her family friends and fans will help her to heal and get through these hard times.

    February 26, 2020
    • GuitarSlinger #

      What happened to Duffy ?

      Seriously mate .. spend a few weeks in a cancer ward ( as I just did ) looking around at patients ten times worse than you a … and then and only then will you realize what a genuine ‘ Crisis ” is and the fact that Duffy’s crisis ( assuming it wasn’t a publicity stunt ) … was anything but .

      February 26, 2020
      • yuck . . . richard – i, of course, completely support what you wrote above about this would-be ‘mate’ who shelters behind a nom de guerre . . .

        February 27, 2020
  3. Rock Around The Clock? (Jan 1956)

    February 26, 2020
  4. MS #

    I Hear You Knocking, only slight variation with 5 and 4 flipped on bars 9-12
    Ballad Of John And Yoko – 16 bar because of long verse, but preserves chord shape
    Hot Love isn’t a strict 2 bar blues because on bar 6 it drops to the very unbluesy minor chord

    February 26, 2020
  5. Just from reading, I thought: don´t know the tune.
    But after listening – I knew it. Always thought it to be a new rendition of “Suzy Q”
    Now, here comes my question: who is able to detect the meter of the monster vamp
    in part two of ” America Undefined” from the the Pat Metheny album “From this Place”?
    It took me more than an hour to find out…

    February 26, 2020
  6. Great post and point Richard. I wanted to contribute that ‘The Jean Jeanie’ is straight out of Howling Wolf. But sadly it only got to no 2, so it doesn’t count.

    Interesting that Duffy was bigger than Adele for a while. Sad what twists life throws in the way of raw talent.

    February 26, 2020
  7. Richard – didn’t you once point out to me that Pharell’s “Happy” is at root a 12-bar?

    February 26, 2020
    • Nope, Martin. That would have been “Mercy”. The connection is that my favourite three 45s of the 21st century to date all have two-syllable single-word titles: “Crazy”, “Mercy”, “Happy”.

      February 26, 2020
      • Yes! Conflation plus misremembering… I wish Duffy well, and also wish she would make another record. Rockferry has stood the test of time…

        February 27, 2020
  8. Jailhouse Rock?

    February 26, 2020
  9. Also Green Door (Shakin’ Stevens, 1981).

    February 26, 2020
  10. Dennis Muirhead #

    Thank you for reminding me of Duffy. Mercy has nearly 130 million streams on Spotify.

    February 26, 2020
  11. Charlie Seaward #

    Get Back, The Beatles.

    February 26, 2020
  12. Tim Adkin #

    Funnily enough I was wondering ‘whatever happened to Duffy?’ whilst seeing the rather good Falmouth Soul Sensation give ‘Mercy’ the full 4 piece horn section treatment at a Grenfell Tower benefit gig at The Acorn Penzance a few weeks back. Now we know. ‘Stepping Stone’, also from ‘Rockferry’, is a song also worthy of a mention. But who was the bright spark who thought it a good idea to team her with Albert Hammond for the follow up album?

    February 26, 2020
  13. Serge Encore #

    Wanderin’ Star. Seriously. Try singing it. Not quite the same as being born under a bad sign but still.

    February 27, 2020
  14. I’d forgotten what a good song it was and the Northern Soul style dancing was very impressive.

    February 27, 2020

    It has such terrific swagger, that record! Had never realised it was a twelve-bar. Another for the list might be Herman’s cover of I’m into Something Good.

    February 27, 2020
  16. James Allen #

    Your mention of Ornette in your last post reminded me of the interview you did with him when you were presenting The Old Grey Whistle Test way back when.
    Being a great admirer of Ornette’s music since the early 60s I thought it was a very brave and surprising move to have him on what was,after all,an excellent showcase for the rock bands of the time.
    Was it your decision or the producer’s?
    Any background information would be interesting!

    February 28, 2020

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