Why I Can’t Get ‘Can’t Get It Out of My Head’ Out of My Head (A Uke Lesson)

by Jim D’Ville

My high school years encompassed the halcyon days of early to mid-’70s FM rock radio. The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, and my favorite band, Electric Light Orchestra, were cranking out rock radio classics. ELO was fronted by English songwriter and guitarist Jeff Lynne and fused pop-rock and classical elements to create a lush, hard-rocking sound. My favorite ELO recording is the Jeff Lynne-produced concept album El Dorado, released in November of 1974 in the U.S. The single from the album, “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” was ELO’s first Top Ten U.S. hit, posting at #9 on the Billboard chart.

I remember listening to the song back in ’74 with uneducated ears, and it sounded pretty complicated, what with all those cello and violin strings vibrating. It sounded like something Mozart could have written.

The key to figuring out what a song is doing, and in turn, what makes a song a rock radio hit, lies in understanding the emotional value of the chords used in the song’s chord progression. As we analyze the sequence to ‘Can’t Get It Out of My Head,’ we’ll realize it’s not that difficult of a chart, and the good news for us, as ukulele players, is the original recording is in the key of C.

The first step to internalizing any chord progression is to become familiar with the diatonic chords found in that key. Here are the diatonic chords for the key of C Major:

I-C major, ii-D minor, iii-E minor, IV-F major, V-G major, vi-A minor, vii-Bdim.

The introduction is a simple I-V-IV-V using the major chords of the C major scale:
C-G-F-G (I-V-IV-V) 2x

The verse is a lovely melodic sojourn from the I to its relative vi minor two times. The melody then moves to the romantic IV major with a brief visit to the IV’s relative minor, the ii (minor), then back to the vi (minor) and finishing the phrasing on the V major.

Verse 1:
C-Am-C-Am F-Dm-F-Am-G (I-vi-I-vi IV-ii-IV-vi-V)


Midnight, on the water, I saw the ocean’s daughter 
Walking on waves she came, staring as she called my name

The song then moves to the Chorus, where it repeats the theme from the introduction, but this time it repeats four times.

C-G-F-G 4x (I-V-IV-V)

 And I can’t get it out of my head 
No, I can’t get it out of my head
Now my whole world is gone for dead
‘Cos I can’t get it out of my head, no, no

Verse 2:
(chords same as Verse 1)

Breakdown, on the shoreline, can’t move, it’s an ebb tide
Morning don’t get here tonight, searching for her silver light

Repeat Chorus:

After Verse 2 and a repeat of the Chorus, the song moves to an instrumental Bridge using a lovely walk down from C major down a fret to C major 7 and then one more fret down to C7 (all on the first string). That repeats four times before a beautiful finish resolution back to the I chord—IV7-V-bVI-bVII-I (F7-G-Ab-Bb-C)

Instrumental Break:
C-CM7-C7 F7-G (I-IM7-I7 IV7-V) 3X
C-CM7-C7 F7-G-Ab-Bb-C (I-IM7-I7 IV7-V-bVI-bVII-I)

Now go through Verse 3, repeat the Chorus twice, and finish up with the stunning crescendo, which is the last sequence we played during the instrumental bridge.


Verse 3:
Bank job, in the city
Robin Hood and William Tell and Ivanhoe and Lancelot
They don’t envy me
Sitting ’till the sun goes down,
In dream, the world keeps goin’ round and round

Repeat Chorus: 2x

C-CM7-C7 F7-G-Ab-Bb-C (I-IM7-I7 IV7-V-bVI-bVII-I)

Even though it looks as if there are 20 or 30 chords in this song, there aren’t. There are five diatonic chords and five non-diatonic passing chords. The best way to learn songs in this fashion is by musically internalizing the chord phrases. Humming the melody while playing through the progression embeds it in your musical ear. Before you know it, you won’t be able to get this song out of your head!