Vincent – Don McLean

Vincent by Don McLean is a classic song of its time, still gets regular performances around folky settings and seldom leaves an audience dry eyed.

It’s a pretty easy one to play in terms of chord shapes, but there’s plenty you can do with it in terms of ‘finger picking’.  It’s a good example of taking a set of simple chords and using standard embellishments to form a more interesting accompaniment.

But it’s also a weird one because Don doesn’t stick to standard numbers of bars.  Very often when an audience tries to join in with the song things get very out of time.  This is because instead of sticking to the standard 4 bar lumps usually used for pop music he drops bars.  His focus is purely on the lyrics.  But people expect music in 4 bar lumps, so when this one is played people don’t know when to come in with the next line.  But hey, he wrote the song on a paper bag!  He also uses a lot of rubato – stretching the beat lengths to give greater musical expression.  

A good solution might be to come up with some guitar work to fill out the missing bars.  Here we present the version as it occurred on the album.

Structure

Vincent is a simple structure.  There’s no intro or outro.  Three verses and a bridge.  All you need to express the lyric with sufficient variation for interest.

Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus.

Chord Progressions

The verse really has one repeated 8 bar chord progression:  G | % | Am | % | C | D7 | G | % |

The chorus has the classic G – D/F# – Em move and the brief move to the D major (dominant modulation) given by the A7, then the Beatlesy A7 – Am.  Lots of good tricks.

The bridge starts with the same progression as the first line of the chorus.  Line 2 has a iv (a minor IV chord) which takes us into Cm (melodic minor to my ear), then E7 (key of A) and then back to G major.  This gives a great strength to the harmonic movement, ideal for a bridge section.

Strum Pattern

There are 4 beats to the bar in this one, mostly, depending on how he was performing it that day.

Of course he was fingerpicking his guitar, not strumming it.  If you want to have a go at the fingerpicking version have a look here.  OK, Justin’s technique and posture are all over the place, but you’ll get the idea.

We’ll upload a video of how to do the strum pattern soon, promise!

This strum pattern is in quavers and starts on beat 1.
Stroke:  D  (U)  D   U  (D)  U   D  (U)
Count:   1   +   2   +   3   +   4   +

Chords

Lyrics

 

== VERSE 1 ==
              |G     2   3   4           |G   2   3          4              |Am       2    3   4     |Am   2   3        4     
Starry, starry night                              Paint your palette         blue and grey                     Look out on a 
              |C      2     3   4        |D7        2        3        4     |G     2   3       4
               summers  day         with  eyes that know the darkness in my  soul      Shadows on the 
              |G     2   3   4           |G   2   3          4             |Am       2    3   4     |Am   2   3         4      	       
               hills,                             sketch the trees and      daffodils		                 catch the breeze and the
              |C      2     3   4        |D7       2        3        4      |G     2   3   4         |G    2    3       4
               winter chills           in colors   on the   snowy    linen   land                           And now I   under-
         

== CHORUS ==

|Am  2  3  4  |D   2 3        4       |G      2   D7/F#  4  |Em  2       3        4
 stand               what you tried to Say to me,                how you suffered for your
|Am 2    3  4  |D  2       3        4       |Em         2         3       4 
 sa-nity           How you tried to set them free, they would not listen, they did 
|A7      2    3   4  |Am   2    D7           4      |G  2  3  4  |1  2  3       4
 not know  how,              Perhaps they'll listen  now                Starry, starry


== VERSE 2 ==                     


G      2   3   4           |G   2   3       4           |Am       2      3   4     |Am   2   3        4     
night,                             flaming flowers that  Brightly   blaze,                   swirling clouds in
|C      2     3   4        |D7       2         3       4    |G     2    3       4
 violet haze              Reflecting Vincent’s eyes of China Blue       Colors  changing
|G     2   3   4           |G   2   3          4             |Am    2    3   4     |Am   2   3         4      	       
 hue.                               Morning    fields of      amber grain                    Weathered faces 
|C        2     3   4        |D7        2         3       4      |G     2       3       4 
 lined in pain            Are soothed beneath the artists loving  hand      And now I   under-



== CHORUS - LAST LINE THIS TIME ==

|A7    2  3   4  |Am   2  D7           4      |G  2  3        4
 not know how,         Perhaps they'll listen  now   for they could not


== BRIDGE ==


|Am       2  3  4  |D   2    3          4       |G      2   D7/F#  4  |Em  2       3      4
 love you,               but still your love was true                                 And when no
|Am       2       3     4      |Cm      2      3     4    |G         2       F      4        |E7  2  3      4
 hope was left in sight On that starry, starry night,  you took your life as lovers sometimes do      but I could have
|Am       2  3   4      |C         2     3         4     |D7  2    3    4     |G  2  3  4  |1  2  3       4
 told you, Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful  as   you. (extra bar)        Starry, starry


== VERSE 3 ==                     


G      2   3   4           |G   2   3         4       |Am    2       3   4     |Am   2   3         4     
night,                              portraits hung in  empty   halls                     frameless heads on
|C        2     3   4      |D7        2         3         4        |G     2        3         4          
 nameless walls       with  eyes that watch the world and can’t for-get   like the strangers that you’ve 
|G   2   3   4 |1  2     3      4       |Am     2     3   4    |Am     2    3      4      	       
 met                 the ragged men in ra agged clothes                 the silver thorn or
|C      2     3   4      |D7          2      3      4     |G     2     3     4 
 bloody  rose        lie  crushed and broken on the virgin snow    And now I think I under-


== LAST CHORUS ==

|Am  2  3  4  |D   2 3        4       |G      2   D7/F#  4  |Em  2       3        4
 stand               what you tried to say to me,                how you suffered for your
|Am  2  3  4  |D  2       3        4       |Em  2  3  4  |1   2          3   4
 sanity           How you tried to set them free,             they would not listen, they’re not 
|A7        2      3   4  |Am   2  D7           4      |G  2  3  4  |1  2  3       4
 listening  still,                Perhaps they never   will.

%d bloggers like this: