Best non-prog uses of odd time signatures

This one’s mostly for the music-major friends who have recently befriended me on Facebook. And the Popdose gang. And anyone else who likes seeing weird old PJ Harvey videos.

These three songs all have odd time signatures. And yet they rock. They’re not some sort of prog-rock “Hey, look at us, we’re so sophisticated because we can count to 13” mathematical exercises. Here goes:

The verses — in 11/4 — are the easy part. The choruses are more erratic, not easily described in one time. Alternating measures of 9/4? Rapidly switching from 3/4 to 2/4? Hard to say.

Then near the end, it slams into 4/4. Brilliant stuff.

I put the downbeat number in the middle. This is Tori Amos’ sprightly little ode to her own miscarriage.

It’s moving and quite intense, with verses that seem timeless. (Most of the time, it’s 13/8, but she throws in a couple of twists at the intro.) The gentle choruses are in simpler triplets. Then, like PJ Harvey, she resolves to something simple for the climax of the song.

The live version from Jools Holland’s wonderful show Later omits a transition into that thrashing section at the end, which you can hear on the studio version that I apparently can’t embed. Even after hearing this song 100 times or so, I sometimes get chills around the 2:50 mark. The video projects a completely different dramatic storyline on the song which, like Tori herself, is strange but compelling.

In both versions here, Tori has a secret weapon — the always excellent Matt Chamberlain on drums.

And we’ll close with one in which Chrissie Hynde just decides to skip a beat in each line of verse, giving us a skip between 7/4 and two bars of 4/4. Don’t crank this up at work — lyrics are a little suggestive. So suggestive I still don’t even know what she’s talking about. I probably shouldn’t.

I’m going to try to update the old blog more often, but I can’t promise anything.


4 thoughts on “Best non-prog uses of odd time signatures

  1. Have always loved Tattooed Love Gods, even before I started playing Balkan music. I’m definitely going to have to listen to these, now that I’m really comfortable with non-4/4. Interesting timing on this. I had a conversation with someone just last weekend talking about what well-known songs diverge from 4/4. And it seems to me it’s most commonly 7 — ‘Money’ being the one example I could think of. Which, of course, falls back into 4/4 to make everyone happy.

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