Today’s playlist theme was suggested by Kellie Walsh, who – to quote her exactly – thought that “songs in unusual time signatures” would make an intriguing theme for this Sunday’s program. I felt challenged (my other favorite theme).
These songs might actually be in standard 4/4 time or in waltz time, which are not so unusual, really, but are just disguised under a heavy masking of rhythmic textures. I’ll let you be the judge. Each of them had sufficient rhythmic irregularity to stand out to my ears, though. If you can think of other songs that fit Kellie’s mercifully loose definition, I’d really like to hear them. If I get enough of them, I might put together a sequel.
Approximate playing time: 79 minutes.
- Chicago “A Hit by Varèse” (1972)
- Dave Brubeck “Unsquare Dance” (1961)
- Dire Straits “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1979)
- Jethro Tull “Thick as a Brick” (1972)
- Arcade Fire “Modern Man” (2010)
- Led Zeppelin “Black Dog” (1971)
- Crosby, Stills & Nash “Guinnevere” (1969)
- Sam Yahel “Money” (2008)
- Dionne Warwick “Promises, Promises” (1968)
- Bread “Could I” (1969)
- Radiohead “Pyramid Song” (2001)
- Sting “Saint Augustine in Hell” (1993)
- Air “Alpha Beta Gaga” (2004)
- The Beatles “I Me Mine” (1970)
- Nick Drake “River Man” (1969)
- U2 “Breathe” (2009)
- Pat Metheny Group “The First Circle” (1984)
Some notes on the songs:
- Radiohead has so many songs that fit this description that it was tough to choose just one. I chose “Pyramid Song” because the vivid memory of replaying that track dozens of times at Laser’s Edge when Amnesiac was a new release was so strong in my mind. We had endless debates about what the actual rhythm was, a la the now-classic in-store scenes from High Fidelity at Championship Vinyl. There is a steady signature in this song, but you have to be patient to find it, and it is easy to get distracted from it. I’m sure the band did that on purpose. By the way, there is a Facebook page devoted solely to the puzzle of this song’s time signature, and it’s great geeky fun.
- “Money,” from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, fits this playlist well, in my opinion. But, rather than the original version, the rendition here is by jazz organist Sam Yahel’s combo. It retains the original’s rhythms very well. The album it is drawn from is titled Jazz Side of the Moon, an entirely jazz-leaning performance of the entire Floyd album.
- Burt Bacharach, like Radiohead, uses odd time signatures in a great number of his songs. This is confounding when you think of how very popular so many of his songs have become (working off of the premise that songs with odd time signatures are inherently unpopular). His voice of choice – Dionne Warwick – is one of my favorite singers, currently sitting in my last.fm account’s top 30 listened-to artists. But recently (and we’re entering extreme sidebar territory here), I’ve had the urge to toss all of my Dionne records and CDs in the garbage after watching her snarl “Hussy!” at her competitors on Celebrity Apprentice.
- Hand-clapping bookends this playlist, with Dave Brubeck’s “Unsquare Dance” and Pat Metheny’s “The First Circle.” Classical composer Steve Reich uses hand-clapping to great effect in one of his phase shift works, “Clapping Music.” Check out a very brief excerpt of it here.
- There is no Primus and there is no Rush on this playlist because, frankly, I’m just not that familiar with them. From what I do know, they’d probably otherwise have made the cut. Red Hot Chili Peppers, too.
- And while we’re on the subject of “time,” there’s this: