How about unusual time signatures in pop music?

So, there are a few pop songs with some weird shit going on, like odd time signatures or some extra bars thrown into the soup. What’s “time signature”? It shouldn’t cause you headaches. It’s the thing you can count over the groove of any song, um… rhythmically. For example 4/4 would be one-two-three-four, and 5/4 is one-two-three-four-five, and so on. But it’s fun, trust me on that one. Why the creeped out face?! Anyway. Tension can be created with it, so it’s a good device in the right hands. (And a bad one in the left hands, ok you knew it’s coming, now, didn’t you?)

Ambiguous measures

Mozart thinking in 3/4 like a champLet’s take “Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel for example. When you first hear it, it’s a fine song. But then it sneaks under your skin and you realize what an awesome piece of music it is, and you keep wanting to hear it more and more… and more. At least part of what makes it magical is it’s almost entirely in 7/4. Which can be interpreted as alternating between 3/4 and 4/4 measures – which would make it a so called “mixed meters” – in this particular song, that’s probably a more natural way to hear the groove of it.

Peter Gabriel – “Solsbury Hill”

Then there’s that other one, kind of even more subtle example, “Logical Song” from the band Supertramp, composed by Roger Hodgson. It’s in 4/4, but the way the verse melody notes and chords are laid over the groove causes it to sound somewhat odd and at the same time interesting, intriguing. It sounds like a 4/4 measure, than a 2/4 measure, than two 4/4 ones, than a 2/4 one again, than finally a 4/4 measure again, then it starts over in the next verse. You can even take a listen to the song below. As long as it’s there, which is usually not long, at all.

Supertramp – “Logical Song”

Blues with a twist

And now let’s put on some blues, for a change. Every n00b can play the blues, right? You go to a blues jam and you see all these ‘tards and semi-tards noodling over the well known changes of the twelve bar, until they literally nauseate all over the floor, with the same old arrogant smile stuck on their face. Ain’t that the story of your friend’s life… yup. Now let’s show ’em “Money” by Pink Floyd, and I guarantee you it’ll pull the most genuine wtf-face out of their empty pockets and place it right on the middle of their heads. Why? Because it’s in 7/4. Check it out if you don’t believe me.

Pink Floyd – “Money”

5/4 – The coolness factor

There’s this British guy nicknamed Sting, he can come up with crazy stuff quite frequently, some tasty stuff that gets the girls soft in their knees, if you know what I mean. Once upon a time this English bloke was very unhappy about the ratio of complex to simple time signatures in pop music, so he quickly composed “Seven Days” in 5/4, as a solution. He succeeded.

Sting – “Seven Days”

Comments (3)

  • Peter Warmington


    Many Burt Bacharach is a master of mixed meters too…consider “say a little prayer”…”The verses of “Prayer” are constructed of 2 successive measures of 4/4, a measure of 10/4 (using 4/4 + 2/4 + 4/4), and 2 final measures of 4/4. The chorus is in 11/4 (using 4/4 + 3/4 + 4/4).”

    Many songs include an ‘odd bar’ that gives a jolt into the chorus say, the control of time can be as effective as harmony tricks to keep things interesting but in the rong hands, can just sound like a gimmick…or worse…

  • Mike Oliver

    I think “Solsbury Hill” has an alternating time signature. It doesn’t work if you count to a 7/4 beat but, if you alternate bars 8/4 then 6/4 it works. Either that, or it’s 2/4.

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