I have written more about music than probably any other topic over the years.
The blogs and columns are never hugely received (that would be my musings about food) but it’s the one topic I can’t seem to exhaust. I’ll probably be writing sporadically about songs until I retire, and then maybe more so.
A week or so ago I discovered, quite by accident (though happily), that I am a sucker for something called 5/4 time. I was on a jazz kick and looked up Dave Brubeck’s classic “Take Five” to have a listen. I ended up going down a wormhole online and stumbled upon a Spotify playlist called Songs in 5/4.
And this is where things get interesting.
So there’s no way I can explain this because I barely can count it myself. Essentially, a ton of popular songs are in 4/4 time. 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4 and so on. As you might have gathered in 5/4 time there’s an extra -- half-beat? A sly little be-bop between beats 2 and 3? Again, I can’t read or write music but that was my idiot takeaway on the matter. (And I’m not into copying and pasting someone else’s coherent explanation).
“Take Five” is in 5/4 time, most famously so. So is the theme to “Mission: Impossible!” Even the iconic main title theme to John Carpenter’s horror classic “Halloween” (written by the director himself).
I LOVE all three of these instrumentals. They would be on my Tom Hanks/Castaway desert island playlist. This fact about me may be odd but, ya know, music nerd here.
Thus began my experiment. If three of my all-time favorite pieces of music are in 5/4, would I like anything else in the same time signature/syncopation? Or was it a weird coincidence?
Songs I had never heard before I liked absolutely instantly. Regardless of genre. Rock, new age, funk, show tunes, didn’t matter. I had discovered at age 50 that there was some rhyme (rhythm?) to my musical tastes that went beyond deep bass, big horns and funky guitar. Finally there was some (partial) explanation for why I liked what I liked. It didn’t explain all of it, but a window had opened.
For instance I knew the name Nick Drake. Couldn’t have told you his genre, era or a single song, but I at least knew the name. It turns out his song “River Man” is in 5/4 time. And it’s pretty much my new favorite tune.
I could bore you with other tracks and artists. I won’t. Suffice to say if you look up the Spotify playlist “Songs in 5/4” you can do your own research. If nothing else it’ll be a fun way to notice how songs across the musical spectrum can share the same DNA no matter what year or style.