I wish there were annual conferences, or music festivals, with rival presentations on what most importantly happened in hook history in a certain year.
Since I’m conducting a festival of sorts for 1967 here in these last months of 2017, I’ll go ahead and give you my thesis for the year of wonders: the bIII [flat-third] chord became established in the rock vocabulary as the bright-eyed sibling of the bVII [flat-seventh]. As I would tell the story, the bIII note had long since become a strong melodic destination in the blues and bluesy rock — well represented by the piercing B-flat note in the key of G in the signature line of “Sit-tin’ On Top Of The World” (Cream version, 0:34), with the sore-tooth feeling of pressing the major third downward or minor third upward; but in 1967 the bIII as a whole major chord became a strong harmonic destination.
You could say “Rock And Roll Woman” (Buffalo Springfield, 1967), one of the many signs of the new times, is like a blues drone in that it shuttles constantly between the I and the bIII. But “Rock And Roll Woman” feels vastly (though not totally) different than the blues. What has happened?
The possibility of going to the bIII chord was previously established in multiple contexts, I’m sure, but my own antennae pick it up in a British tradition. It’s a “Greensleeves” move (the first chord change). Like the bVII, it could register as “medieval” or “Renaissance” or “folk.” What it is emotionally, I submit, is an alternate world that we are longingly reaching for and contemplating for at least a half-measure. There is a sad seriousness about the relationship of the beautiful alternate world to the given world of the song’s primary key. It is not the complaining or bleak joshing of the blue note.
In a “Greensleeves” experience the bIII is the sweet relative major of the primary minor key, a very natural place to go but, sadly, not to stay. In a rock song the bIII chord is brashly passionate. When you go to it from the minor I in “Somebody To Love” (Jefferson Airplane, 1967), for example–“don’t you want some-body to love / don’t you need some-body to love”–it doesn’t sound like the lovely short visit of “Greensleeves,” it furiously stakes a claim.
Now consider how the bIII chord in the chorus of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” (1967) differs from the melodic bIII of “Sittin’ On Top Of The World.” In the chorus (first starting at 0:53) the I is reset as G-sharp major–that’s the V chord relative to the I of the verses, C-sharp. Now we go up from the G-sharp to its bIII, a B major, thus: “I’ve been waiting…,” “to be where I’m . . .,” “in the sunshine . . .” That B major chord, struck once for two beats, is brilliantly strong, a full partner to the bVII (F-sharp major) that comes next. It’s bursting with the specific poignancy of the rock bIII chord.
To elucidate this poignancy I want to argue that the rock bIII chord gets some of its effect from the actual or implied proximity of the IV chord. It can be defined as the strong-sad bVII relative to that chord (thinking of the assertive major IV as an alternate home-base I), for it is a whole step down from it. The “Greensleeves” comparison is good for pointing out the new IV-related rock meaning of bIII because “Greensleeves” not only lacks a major IV, its natural minor scale won’t allow it. The major IV is the key to the different path that “Rock And Roll Woman” is on. Even though you don’t see the IV on the song’s chord sheet, notes of the major IV are heard repeatedly in the main acoustic guitar + vocal figure (“bah bah bah bah bah bah rup bah bah“).
Back to the “Sunshine Of Your Love” chorus: there the brilliant B major is heard in relation to the C-sharp major above it that would be the IV of the chorus. This IV, though not actually played in the chorus, is very much in our minds because it’s the main chord of the whole song, the I of the verse. The C-sharp point of reference lets us feel the B major as the bVII relative to the I in the verse harmony while also feeling it as the bVII relative to the IV in the chorus harmony. The verse and chorus keys are joint parents of this romantic child.
In “Somebody To Love,” you first go to the bIII from the minor I, greensleevesishly, but the chord cycle in that chorus quickly brings you to the IV (“don’t you,” “wouldn’t you,” “you better“) right before you next hear the bIII, and does so three times.
I hear the bIII similarly playing off the just-stated IV in this sequence at the end of “Light My Fire” (The Doors, 1967) (6:31-38):
Come on baby, light my fire
Try to set the night on fire
The bIII-IV relationship is leveraged insistently in “For What It’s Worth” (Buffalo Springfield, 1967) in every other measure of the later verses:
What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Compare “remember (bIII to original I) – what the (bIII to that) – dormouse (IV) said” in “White Rabbit” (Jefferson Airplane, 1967) at 2:08, a high point in that track.
Along the same line, the bIII is a stepping stone between I and IV in the repeating verse pattern of “Purple Haze” (Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1967) , “I Can See For Miles” (The Who, 1967), and “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Magical Mystery Tour,” and “I Am The Walrus” (The Beatles, 1967). (The Stones are not yet scoring with the bIII hook in 1967.)
In “Omaha” (Moby Grape, 1967), with the bIII entering at 1:17 in the instrumental bridge, the quest to establish new equivalents of bVII leads to a further drop from the bIII to its bVII (1:20), which in relation to the original I is the very strange bII (tangy!).
We enjoy the bIII as the second entry in the signature circle-of-fifths hook in “Hush” (Deep Purple, 1967) and as the fourth entry in the circle-of-fourths hook at the beginning and end of “Light My Fire.”
In “Heaven Is In Your Mind” (Traffic, 1967), notice how in the last part of the verse (first heard at 0:39), after sitting on the V for a full two measures, we go up to its relative bIII (0:47) and then immediately realize that chord’s alternate value as the song’s bVII when we take one further whole step to the original I.
That the “Heaven” sequence continues to an unusual sunny major II chord (0:53) goes to show the song’s fundamental interest in staking out multiple worlds to live in–exulting in a freedom that the blues had always been bemoaning it doesn’t have. 1967 has spoken!
A GREAT FORERUNNER. “All Day And All Of The Night” (The Kinks, 1964) works the bIII strenuously, at first relative to the I:
not con-tent to be with you
and then in the same pattern but centered on II:
and again, centered on the V:
Girl, I want to be with you
My 1967 argument tempts me to suppress this evidence from 1964, but I can’t deny that it’s a full-fledged rock bIII. It doesn’t sound bluesy; it sounds chord-happy. Nor is it folky; it’s electric and slamming. I would point out, however, that there is no IV lurking about to lend the bIII that 1967 color. Rather the bIII is coloring and intensifying itself by populating the song’s harmonic space with its three variants (relative to I, to II, and to V). Compared to our other examples it’s saying “I’m no bVII to a IV chord! If you want a IV chord, I’m the IV to the bVII.”
There’s another pioneering bIII in the second chord we hear in “Got A Feelin”” (The Mamas and the Papas, 1966). It’s a beautiful major-seventh that doesn’t register as a rock chord but rather as “Broadway spice.”
I’m so glad I brought this up, because “Got A Feelin'” teems with wonderful hooks–the fact that its melody uses all the notes of a scale in sequence (a device for which there ought to be a word); the gimmick of the slightly musicalized clock sound as its basic rhythm track, the very first thing you hear, surprisingly pretty; and the curiously mixed or balanced mood of the piece. Gently marched along by the clock, it never puts its weight down either on yearning for the love that should be or on scolding the spoiler. The way this song says “The joke’s on you” (1:18, 2:26) is the farthest thing from bwahaha.
Our 1967 poster song “Rock And Roll Woman” pivots between I and bIII similarly and yet totally differently, rocking it up and so getting that love-ambivalence by putting its weight down heavily in two places.
 Some arrangements use a minor IV, which sounds much closer to a major bVI than to a major IV.
 Trail blazed by “Hold On I’m Comin'” (Sam & Dave, 1966) and “Knock On Wood” (Eddie Floyd, 1966).
 As a reminder of where the eligible chords were before 1967, listen to the chorus of “Get Off Of My Cloud”  [0:42, “you!“], which uses the minor chord of the regular third in the place where the flat-third would later be popular. The Stones would not deploy a great bIII until May 1968 in the first chorus chord of “Jumping Jack Flash.” (There’s a nice one in part B of the verse of “Paint It Black” (1966) — “I see the girls walk by” — but in contrast to all my 1967 examples it’s positioned below the bVII and is rather buried.)
 So says Matthew Greenwald in his Allmusic.com review.