I've posted before on talk.bizarre how I've got a passion
for music with odd time signatures, where odd means "abnormal",
although a good measure of abnormality is that the topmost number
in the meter is not even (except if it's 3; technically, you
just get the prime factors from the top number, and if any are
larger than 3, it's odd).
I'm so aware of time signature stuff that I can, without reference
to anything, trivially sort the performers I listen to into
clumps, depending on whether or not I own at least one song
of theirs in an odd time signature (normally, but not this time,
I count dropped beats as odd times as well, e.g. a single measure
of 3/4 in a 4/4 song).
some very incomplete lists of "rock" music in odd times
(The Bobs aren't on any of them because I don't own any
of their albums, but "Mopping, Mopping, Mopping" is in
odd times... I kinda wonder if that's why it gets the
weird vocal delivery...)
Performers who aren't/weren't afraid of odd time signatures, or at
least not by "later" in their careers...
- The Beatles
- Led Zeppelin
- Black Flag
- Pink Floyd
- Cop Shoot Cop
- Nine Inch Nails
"Progressive" rockers, for whom it's just part of the genre
- King Crimson
- old Genesis
- Frank Zappa
- Dream Theater
- Mr. Bungle
Performers who seem to have stopped using odd time signatures
- PJ Harvey
- Peter Gabriel (at least for So)
Performers who have, like, one novelty song in odd times
- The Cars, Touch and Go (well, ok, and Panorama too)
- The Police, Mother
- Roxy Music, Amazona
Performers who I don't own anything by them with odd time signatures
- David Bowie (he must have some, though)
- The Smiths (They have a "novelty" song, but I don't own it)
- Lisa Germano (although Sycophant does switch back and forth)
- Talking Heads
- Soul Coughing
- Sarah McLachlan
Standout albums for odd-time signatures outside the prog-rock genre:
- Sting Ten Summoner's Tales (two or three songs in 7, and
Seven Days in 5--is that a little joke on his part?)
- PJ Harvey's Dry (three songs in 5, and one song in 6 that
occasionally drops beats to 5)
- Nine Inch Nails Downward Spiral (not as much, but much more dramatic;
one song mixes 7/8 and 4/4, and another alternates between 7/4 and 6/4)
Once I mentioned on talk.bizarre an "Index of Meters", and perhaps
I posted an attempt at it, I don't recall any more. The idea would
be to attempt to document just what meters do get used. To give
you a taste:
An index of (mostly prog-rock) 7/8 songs, again still off the
top of my head so there may be a few more in my collection that
I'm just not thinking of.
- 5/4: You can tap your foot to it. You can even swing it
(call it 15/8 if you want). This is, I think, the most popular
"odd time" amongst non-prog-rockers, and it seems always to be
broken down as 3+3+2+2/8:
Paul Desmond's Take Five,
the theme from Mission Impossible,
Jethro Tull's Living in the Past,
Everything's Alright from Jesus Christ Superstar,
Seven Days by Sting.
DIY by Peter Gabriel is an example
of a different breakdown. (Personally, I like the syncopated
3+2+2+3, although I've never heard anyone else use it.)
- 7/8: Most people play this as a 4/4 measure with the
last eighth note chopped out--or at least that's the effect
it has, creating propulsion and a sense of rushing. It
appears several times in Jesus Christ Superstar,
and is quite popular amongst prog rockers;
Subdivisions by Rush and
Any Day Now by Cop Shoot Cop
are good examples, the latter one definitely having the "rushing" effect.
- 7/4: However, non-prog-rockers seem to prefer 7/4, since you
can tap your foot to it. Often a drummer with play "straight
through" it (in 4/4), effectively making it 14/4. (And sometimes
a song that is otherwise in 7/8 becomes 7/4 due to the drummer
and some misplaced desire to allow people to tap their foot);
Pink Floyd's Money is the big one here;
Sting's Straight to My Heart is another;
and Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill reminds me of the
"standard" 5/4 pattern. The keyboard break/guitar solo
in Rush's Tom Sawyer is also in 7/4, featuring a different
kind of 7/4 that I've heard them use in other places.
- 5/8: By all rights, this should be a popular time signature;
it's a smaller prime than 7. However, i think it's just too
asymmetric for people. 7 is often a "shortened 8", which gives
it a propulsive feeling; interpreting 5 as a shortened 6 is very
hard, because it's not long enough to get the pattern--i.e.
compare 2+2+2+2 -> 2+2+2+1 vs. 3+3 -> 3+2. There are a few
dramatic 5s, though. The bit in Jesus Christ Superstar that
goes "How can you say that" (and similar bits) sounds to me like
5, although it may not actually be--but in my head it's a string
of 5 equally weighted notes, with no subdivision.
The Cop Shoot Cop song
Nowhere is arguably in 5/8, but since it follows the 3+3+2+2
format, I prefer to think of it as a very fast 5/4. Rush has
only one song in 5/8 (whose name escapes me now, it's on
Signals), and even there it's only for the verses. The George
Harrison song on Sgt. Pepper's is in 5/8, if I recall correctly
(it's been ten years since I heard it)--Within You, Without You
maybe? Anyway, I think it's just very hard to phrase vocals to fit
it, although I personally love the effect, especially with the
(extremely common) breakdown of 5/8 as 3+2. Common? Well, 5/8 does
get used a lot by certain people in non-vocal situations, and when
it does, that breakdown is common. The aforementioned Rush song is 3+2.
Non-vocally, there's the intro to Incommunicado by
Marillion. Robert Fripp seems very fond of 5, so lots of King
Crimson songs have bits of 5/8: the clangorous intro to Neurotica is
in 3+2; some of the layered guitar parts at the beginning of
Neil and Jack and Me are in 5/8 as well; and the last two
songs on Starless and Bible Black have quite a bit of 5/8.
- 9/8: 9 isn't prime, and in fact, 9/8 is usually just
a "triplet-time" 3/4, if you know what I mean. It is however
possible to play it differently, and I bothered mentioning this
since it's part of a song title: Genesis' Apocalypse in 9/8.
Also found in Led Zeppelin's The Crunge.
- 11/8: The little transition bit in Here Comes the Sun by
The Beatles is 3+3+3+2, although this is made less "odd timey"
by the fact that the immediately prior measure drops an 8th note,
so you could tap your foot through it (although the rhythm is
so strong I doubt anyone would). No others come to mind.
- I can't think of any stand-out 11/4 songs. The Rush song
Jacob's Ladder uses alternating 5/4 and 6/4, except the effect is
reduced by the fact that chord changes occur in 4/4.
The middle section of Starless by King Crimson is the standout example.
I'm not even sure it's reasonable to claim it's subdivided; it simply has
a melody which "adds up to thirteen". (The most plausible subdivisions:
8/4 then 5/4, although one might even suggest it's actually 17/8 + 9/8,
although since eighth notes are swung this seems inappropriate.)
Turn It On Again, by Genesis, is largely in 13/4, but it is
more effectively described as alternating 6/4 and 7/4.
Similarly, the middle section to Jacob's Ladder by Rush uses
a guitar figure which is alternating 6/8 and 7/8; is that really
13/8 though? The song Surprise, Surprise by Cop Shoot Cop has
a middle section which I think is arguably 13/8, because it alternates
between the breakdowns 3+3+3+2+2 and 3+3+2+5; given that both appear,
I think the intent is for it to be 13, not 6+7 or such.
- Not much point continuing the list, because the trend should
be clear now; longer time signatures can usually be broken down
into shorter ones, because we naturally want structure. Of course,
it could end up just being a sequence of 3's and 2's, but it's
more likely that we'll cluster those together. For example,
the Rush song Free Will has a structure 6+8+6+7/4; each
number is clearly a musical boundary point, so there's little
point in calling this "27/4". Similarly, there's a beautiful
piano melody in the Dream Theater song Wait for Sleep, whose
structure is 5+5+5+4/8 alternating with 6+6+6+4/8. Should we
call this 19/8 alternating with 22/8? Or just 41/8?
Note that none of these (except the unnamed JCS songs) actually
manage to stay in 7/8 for the whole song. The 5/4 and 7/4 songs
are the only ones with that level of consistency. (There might
be an old Genesis song that stays in 7/8 consistently as well,
I have to listen some more.)
- Heaven on Their Minds from Jesus Christ Superstar (the bridge)
- Bunches of similar songs from JCS are also in 7/8, although
I don't recall their titles:
"Roll on up for the price is down",
"See my legs I can hardly walk",
"What do you think was your big mistake?"
"Come with us to see Caiaphas" (or is that the same as the previous one?)
- Rush Xanadu
- Rush Hemispheres (in various places)
- Rush Red Sector A (intro)
- Marillion Lords of the Backstage (half is in 7+6/8, half in 7/8
that's drummed as 7/4 I think)
- Marillion Just for the Record
- Genesis Cinema Show (the extended instrumental section)
- some other old Genesis songs on some albums I've only listened to once
- King Crimson Frame by Frame
- King Crimson Neurotica ("Arrive in neurotica" part)
- King Crimson Model Man (chorus--actually, two other of this album's
choruses are in 7, but drummed in 7/4 and 14/4, although the guitar figures
generally repeat in 7/8)
- Nine Inch Nails March of the Pigs (7+7+7+8/8)
- Tribe Rescue Me (Ok, you've may never have heard of them, but it's
in my collection and I'm being completist. It's actually 7+7+8+8).
There are some great "strung together" bits, like
the aforementioned Dream Theater song, and the
Genesis song A Fifth of Firth.
On the other hand, it can get silly. With the 80's
King Crimson, Fripp started experimenting (e.g. with
Discipline and Frame by Frame) with layering one
part playing in 7/8 and another in 13/8, thus creating
a continually shifting pattern that doesn't repeat
for 13*7 8th notes. I hesitate to call that 91/8;
unfortunately, the rhythm section often plays 4/4,
suggesting that it is best called "an interesting
melody in 4/4".
The first song I ever wrote with lyrics was in 13/8.
I couldn't really figure out how to make a convincing
instrumental in 13/8 where the 13 sounded natural.
So I came up with the idea of writing lyrics that
wanted to flow in 13/8. I used the metrical scheme
/u/u/u// (althought the text is readable with the
last syllable short), and then sang each long syllable
as a quarter note, each short as an eight; it comes
out as 2+1+2+1+2+1+2+2, or 3+3+3+2+2, with no apparent
"alternating sixes and sevens". It actually worked
pretty well--the song sounded "natural" and flowing.
Although the lyrics were kind of lame. I put the
chorus in 5/4, and later discovered I had ripped off
the chorus melody from Jethro Tull. Oops. And then
a friend of mine played me a Rod Stewart song with
the same chord changes as my verse--even though I
swear I'd never ever heard that song before.