Music Harmony 101: harmonize your melody by using the chords based on the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of the scale, commonly notated using the Roman Numerals I, IV and V. If you want a bit of spice, add the chord based on the 6th note (VI).
That’s enough for most western music: rock, pop, country, punk, hymns, national anthems, you name it.
You can just repeat a sequence endlessly, like I-VI-IV-V, as used in Stand By Me and a million other songs.
You can follow a rigid formula, like I-IV-I-V-IV-I, the 12 bar blues pattern used for a healthy majority of blues songs, also sped up with a backbeat for early rock ’n’ roll.
Or you can mix ‘em up endlessly like Jackson Browne does in Running On Empty.
The basis of the song is a jumped up groove on the church cadence (“amen”): IV-I. Once you’ve got that approaching the hypnotic, let’s take it somewhere by adding the 6th: IV-I-VI.
Now let’s go crazy for the bridge. VI-IV-V-I, then switched up to VI-V-IV-I. Back to VI-IV-V-I, then IV-V-I (this last sequence being something used by everyone from Bach to The Ramones).
Just four chords, mixed up and stirred around in a way that makes it both familiar and fresh at the same time.
Just what you’re hoping to find.