Odd Time Signatures in Popular Music

We are all familiar with the steady 4 beat pulse that permeates much of today’s music. This is called common time or in time signature notation, 4/4. However, not all popular music uses this rhythm – other popular time signatures are ¾, often found in waltzes, and 6/8, often heard in soul music. Some popular songs even use time signatures that are asymmetrical or irregular, or time signatures that change! I’ve put together a playlist of notable songs that employ these odd time signatures.

  1. Tom Sawyer by Rush (Moving Pictures, 1981): Prog rock legends Rush are known for their extensive use of odd time signatures. Tom Sawyer is no different; it features grooves in 4/4 and 7/8.

  2. Nosferatu Man by Slint (Spiderland, 1991):This track by post rock band Slint features sections in 5/4, 6/4 and 4/4.

  3. Money by Pink Floyd (The Dark Side of the Moon, 1973): By far the most popular song on this list, this track’s famous opening riff occurs in 7/4 time with its solo sections in 4/4 time.

  4. Pyramid Song by Radiohead (Amnesiac, 2001): This song by Radiohead is famous for its seemingly nonexistent rhythm – fans can’t seem to reach a consensus on what time signature it is in. Interestingly enough, the song’s rhythm can actually be conceptualized as a heavily syncopated 4/4 groove. Listen for yourself and tell me what you think!

  5. Take Five by The Dave Brubeck Quartet (Time Out, 1959): The best selling jazz single of all time features a memorable piano vamp in 5/4 time.

  6. Never Meant by American Football (American Football, 1999): The subject of many a music meme, this track’s opening riff is most easily described in terms of 6/4 or 12/8 time.

  7. By Fire by Hiatus Kaiyote (Choose Your Weapon, 2015): Like many Hiatus Kaiyote songs, By Fire changes time signatures like nobody’s business. This track alternates between ¾, 2/4, and 4/4 and is tied together by Perrin Moss’ drumming.

That’s all for this playlist! What are some of your favorite songs in odd time signatures?

– DJ Mango