15 Popular Songs In The Dorian Mode

famous-songs-in-the-dorian-modeThe Dorian mode, with its hauntingly beautiful and slightly melancholic sound, has been a favorite among composers and songwriters across various genres.

In this article, we’ll explore the enchanting realm of songs written in the Dorian mode, a musical mode that has intrigued composers and songwriters across genres, from the haunting ballads of folk tradition to the groovy lines of jazz and the soul-stirring melodies of rock and pop.

First, let’s remind you what the Dorian Mode in music theory is.

What is the Dorian Mode?

The Dorian mode is one of the seven musical modes, originating from ancient Greek music theory and adapted in modern music composition and improvisation. It is the second mode of the major scale, starting on the second degree and running from one note to its octave counterpart.

Characterized by a minor third and a major sixth relative to its root, the Dorian mode strikes a unique balance between melancholic and hopeful qualities. This mode is particularly favored in jazz, rock, and folk music for its versatile and expressive nature, allowing for rich harmonic and melodic textures.

The Dorian mode’s distinct sound comes from its raised sixth degree, setting it apart from the natural minor scale and adding a sense of brightness to its minor tonality.

15 Famous Songs In The Dorian Mode

Here’s a list of 15 songs that effectively utilize the Dorian mode, showcasing its versatility and emotional depth:

#1 “Scarborough Fair” by Simon & Garfunkel

“Scarborough Fair,” popularized by Simon & Garfunkel, is a traditional English ballad that exemplifies the ethereal and haunting quality of the Dorian mode. The song’s arrangement in the Dorian mode contributes to its timeless and melancholic atmosphere, perfectly complementing the lyrics that speak of impossible tasks and lost love.

The modal melody, coupled with the intricate acoustic guitar work, creates a sense of ancient folklore and mysticism. Simon & Garfunkel’s version stands out for its use of counterpoint and harmony, which adds layers of depth to the modal framework.

The song’s enduring popularity is a testament to the Dorian mode’s ability to evoke deep emotional resonance.

#2 “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles

“Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles is a poignant song that utilizes the Dorian mode to enhance its narrative of loneliness and social isolation. The string arrangement, composed by George Martin, is set in the E Dorian mode, which underpins the song’s melancholic melody and contributes to the overall somber mood.

The Dorian mode’s use in “Eleanor Rigby” helps to create a haunting backdrop for the vivid storytelling, painting a picture of the characters’ lives with a depth that goes beyond the lyrics.

This song is a prime example of how the Beatles experimented with musical forms and modes to convey complex emotions and stories, making “Eleanor Rigby” one of their most memorable and innovative tracks.

#3 “So What” by Miles Davis

“So What,” featured on Miles Davis’s groundbreaking album “Kind of Blue,” is one of the most iconic pieces in the jazz repertoire and a seminal example of modal jazz. The composition is primarily based in the D Dorian mode for the A sections and shifts to the Eb Dorian mode for the bridge.

This modal approach allows for extensive improvisation, freeing soloists from the constraints of traditional chord changes and highlighting their melodic creativity. The cool, laid-back vibe of “So What” is directly attributed to the Dorian mode’s characteristic sound, showcasing Davis’s genius in exploring new harmonic landscapes.

“So What” not only exemplifies the use of the Dorian mode but also marks a pivotal moment in the evolution of jazz.

#4 “Oye Como Va” by Santana

“Oye Como Va” is a classic track by Santana that blends rock with Latin music influences, making extensive use of the A Dorian mode to create its signature groove and melody.

Originally written by Tito Puente and later popularized by Santana, the song’s repetitive riff and chord progression are rooted in the Dorian mode, giving it a distinctive minor quality with a bright, danceable feel.

Santana’s electric guitar solos, rich in improvisation and Latin rhythms, further highlight the Dorian mode’s versatility and energy. “Oye Como Va” stands as a testament to the fusion of genres and the powerful, expressive potential of modal music in creating timeless hits.

#5 “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak

Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” is a hauntingly beautiful song that utilizes the B Dorian mode to craft its evocative melody and lush harmonic texture.

The song’s dreamy, melancholic vibe is a direct result of the Dorian mode’s minor third and major sixth intervals, which lend the music an air of longing and unresolved tension.

Isaak’s smooth vocals, combined with the iconic, reverb-drenched guitar riff, create a sound that is both ethereal and deeply emotional. “Wicked Game” is a prime example of how the Dorian mode can be used in pop and rock music to evoke complex feelings and create a hit song that resonates with audiences worldwide.

#6 “Riders on the Storm” by The Doors

“Riders on the Storm” by The Doors is a psychedelic rock masterpiece that embodies the moody and atmospheric qualities of the Dorian mode. The song, set in E Dorian, weaves a narrative that is both eerie and mesmerizing, with Ray Manzarek’s electric piano setting a haunting backdrop that perfectly complements Jim Morrison’s introspective lyrics.

The Dorian mode contributes to the song’s sense of unease and foreboding, capturing the feeling of an impending storm. This track stands out for its seamless integration of poetry and music, with the Dorian mode playing a key role in creating its timeless, ethereal quality.

“Riders on the Storm” remains one of The Doors’ most iconic songs, showcasing their ability to explore complex emotions and narratives through their innovative use of musical modes.

#7 “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” combines a compelling narrative with a groove that defined the 1980s pop scene, partially due to its use of the Dorian mode.

The song’s bassline, crafted by the legendary Quincy Jones, operates within the Dorian mode to create a sense of intrigue and complexity that complements the song’s lyrical content about a seductive and dangerous woman. This mode helps to maintain the song’s energy and suspense, contributing to its massive appeal and success.

“Billie Jean” is not only a testament to Jackson’s exceptional talent and charisma but also to the power of the Dorian mode in adding depth and sophistication to pop music.

#8 “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams

Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” featuring Pharrell Williams, is a modern disco-funk anthem that radiates positivity and infectious energy, thanks in part to its use of the B Dorian mode. The track’s smooth, upbeat groove and catchy melody capture the essence of a night out filled with hope and the pursuit of fun.

The Dorian mode lends the song a slightly melancholic yet optimistic quality, balancing the track’s overall feel-good vibe with a touch of depth.

“Get Lucky” stands as a testament to Daft Punk’s genius in blending classic disco elements with contemporary sounds, creating a timeless hit that resonates across generations.

#9 “Mad World” by Tears for Fears (famously covered by Gary Jules)

“Mad World,” originally by Tears for Fears and famously covered by Gary Jules, uses the F# Dorian mode to paint a poignant picture of despair and disconnection.

The Dorian mode’s inherent melancholy is fully leveraged to enhance the song’s reflective lyrics, creating a stark contrast between the simplicity of the melody and the depth of its emotional content.

Jules’ stripped-down version, in particular, highlights the song’s haunting quality, making the Dorian mode’s contribution to the song’s atmosphere even more pronounced. “Mad World” remains a powerful exploration of mental health and alienation, demonstrating the Dorian mode’s capacity to evoke deep emotional responses.

#10 “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple

“Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple is one of rock’s most iconic tracks, notable for its unforgettable riff that employs the G Dorian mode. This song recounts the true story of a fire that engulfed the Montreux Casino in 1971, with the Dorian mode adding a dark, compelling edge to its narrative.

The simplicity of the riff, combined with the mode’s distinct sound, creates a sense of tension and urgency that mirrors the chaos of the event. Deep Purple’s use of the Dorian mode in “Smoke on the Water” showcases the mode’s versatility and its ability to convey storytelling in music with a raw, powerful energy.

#11 “Light My Fire” by The Doors

“Light My Fire” stands as one of The Doors’ most iconic tracks, largely due to its innovative use of the Dorian mode which imbues the song with a seductive, mysterious quality.

Centered around Robby Krieger’s captivating guitar riff in A Dorian, the song seamlessly blends rock, jazz, and psychedelic elements, showcasing the band’s musical versatility. Ray Manzarek’s organ solo further explores the Dorian mode, weaving through modal jazz improvisations that add a layer of complexity and depth.

The song’s lyrical theme of desire and urgency is perfectly complemented by the Dorian mode’s naturally moody and enigmatic sound, making “Light My Fire” a timeless classic that captures the spirit of the 1960s.

#12 “Shakedown Street” by Grateful Dead

“Shakedown Street,” by the Grateful Dead, serves as a funky departure from the band’s traditional psychedelic rock sound, utilizing the Dorian mode to craft its laid-back, groove-centric vibe.

The track, particularly in its verses, employs the E Dorian mode, contributing to its slightly melancholic yet danceable feel. This song stands out in the Grateful Dead’s repertoire for its ability to blend disco influences with their signature improvisational style, creating a unique sound that encourages listeners to dance away their troubles.

The Dorian mode plays a crucial role in “Shakedown Street,” providing a sonic landscape that is both reflective and uplifting, showcasing the band’s adaptability and willingness to explore different musical territories.

#13 “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica

Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” is a powerful ballad that contrasts sharply with the band’s usual heavy metal sound, utilizing the E Dorian mode to evoke a deep sense of introspection and emotion.

The song’s melodic lines, especially the iconic guitar solo, navigate the Dorian mode to create a sound that is both haunting and beautiful, highlighting the song’s themes of love, vulnerability, and the bonds that transcend distance.

The use of the Dorian mode adds a layer of complexity and richness to the melody, enabling Metallica to convey a wider range of emotional nuance and connect with listeners on a profound level. “Nothing Else Matters” remains one of Metallica’s most beloved tracks, demonstrating the band’s musical depth and the emotive power of the Dorian mode.

#14 “Loser” by Beck

Beck’s “Loser” merges alternative rock with an eclectic mix of folk and hip-hop elements, underpinned by the use of the E Dorian mode which contributes to its distinctive, slacker anthem vibe.

The song’s guitar riff and vocal melody draw from the Dorian mode to create a sense of laid-back disillusionment, mirroring the song’s lyrical content that oscillates between self-deprecation and ironic detachment.

“Loser” catapulted Beck to fame, encapsulating the early ’90s alternative scene’s ethos with its innovative blend of styles and introspective yet quirky use of the Dorian mode, highlighting Beck’s creative versatility and his knack for capturing the zeitgeist.

#15 “Good Times” by Chic

“Good Times” by Chic is a quintessential disco track that radiates joy and optimism, driven by Bernard Edwards’ bassline that leverages the E Dorian mode to create its infectious groove.

The song’s structure and melody utilize the Dorian mode to craft a sound that is both uplifting and complex, giving “Good Times” a timeless danceability.

This track not only defined the disco era but also laid the groundwork for future genres, demonstrating the Dorian mode’s ability to transcend musical boundaries and inspire artists across decades. “Good Times” remains a celebration of rhythm and melody, showcasing Chic’s innovative use of modal harmonies to create one of the most sampled and influential basslines in music history.


These songs illustrate the Dorian mode’s ability to evoke a wide range of emotions, from joy to sadness, making it a dynamic and expressive tool in music composition and songwriting.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does the Dorian mode influence the emotional tone of a song?

The Dorian mode imparts a unique blend of melancholy and subtle optimism to a song’s emotional tone, distinguishing it from the outright sadness of the natural minor scale or the brightness of the major scale. Its use contributes to a complex emotional landscape, making songs in the Dorian mode resonate with a depth that is both introspective and slightly hopeful.

Can the Dorian mode be used across different music genres?

Absolutely, the versatility of the Dorian mode allows it to be effectively utilized across a wide range of music genres, from rock and pop to jazz and folk. This mode’s ability to convey nuanced emotions and its distinctive melodic character make it a popular choice for songwriters and composers looking to add depth and complexity to their music.

Why do musicians often choose the Dorian mode for improvisation?

Musicians favor the Dorian mode for improvisation because it offers a rich palette of harmonic possibilities that can evoke a wider range of emotions than many other modes. Its characteristic raised sixth provides a unique sound that can be both melancholic and soulful, ideal for creating memorable improvisational lines that engage and move the listener.

What makes a song in the Dorian mode stand out from those in major or minor scales?

Songs in the Dorian mode stand out due to their distinctive blend of minor tonality with a raised sixth degree, which introduces a brighter, more hopeful quality not found in traditional minor scales. This subtle harmonic shift allows songs in the Dorian mode to explore themes of complexity and resilience, offering listeners a musical experience that is both introspective and uplifting.

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