You’ve Got a Friend was written by Carole King and recorded by James Taylor in 1971. In this recording of a concert at the BBC, Carole is accompanying James on piano. It’s a beautiful song:
James Taylor’s version is in the key of A major, although it’s actually played in G major with a capo on the second fret. For now, let’s assume it is in G.
The G major scale is G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G and if you build triads on each of these notes you get the following chords: G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em, F#dim, G. All of these appear in the song except the F#dim.
The verse of the song actually starts in the relative minor key for G major, which is E minor. The natural E minor scale is E, F#, G, A, B, C, D, E which, when extended into triads leads you to the chords of Em, F#dim, G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em, which are exactly the same chords as for the key of G major. However, the melodic minor scale is used selectively in this song, which modifies the minor scale to give you a C# and a D# rather than a C and a D. That also changes the chords, so F#dim becomes F#m and Bm becomes B. You could go further and adjust other chords to use the C# and D# (G becomes G+, Am becomes A, C becomes C#dim, D becomes D#dim) but this doesn’t happen in this song or commonly in other music because, as I said, the melodic minor key is applied only selectively. In practice, the use of the melodic minor key added two chords to the mix: F#m and B.
Why does all this matter? Because it explains the palette of chords used in this song (and many more). And, because this is a particularly nice song, we should perhaps try and employ the same palette of chords in our own work.
So, here are the chords for You’ve Got A Friend. In practice, James Taylor provides a lot of embellishments. He uses suspended fourths a lot on the G (adding a C) and the D (adding a G) – check this out in the intro. He also adds sevenths quite liberally. I’ve stripped these out for simplicity.
Intro: G | C | G | F#m | B7
Verse: Em | B7 | Em B7 | Em | Am | D | G | G | F#m | B7 | Em B7 | Em | Am | Bm | D | D
Chorus: G | Gmaj7 | C | Am D | G | Gmaj7 | D | D | G | Gmaj7 | C | Em G7 | C Bm | Am >>> Intro
The key shifts from G major to E minor and back again are worth noting. The F#m and B7 in the intro perform the shift to Em for the beginning of the verse, while the Am D combination returns us to G major. And similar shifts occur again later in the verse.
It’s interesting how much dissonance there is in the interplay between the melody and the chords. Take the C, Bm, Am run down at the end of the chorus (“and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah”). The melody notes coinciding with these chords are B, G and D, none of which are notes from the chords. The effect of the dissonance is to give the whole song a more, jazzy, sophisticated feel.
All in all, Carole King was a very good songwriter!