The beat gets odd

The Beatles did the coolest things with rhythm and I’ve always wanted to write about them. Now I have an excuse. The hooks (as far as I’m concerned) of two of their songs come from the ways they break up the measure, change the beat, just for a few bars.

Let me say a bit about bars and time in music so we’re all on the same staff. (Skip this if you know it.) Bars (measures) mark the pulse of the music. They occur regularly every two or three or four  (or more) beats. In pop music most bars have an even number of beats. You can usually count the same even number for each bar through a whole song. Think of Yesterday or Love Me Do. You can easily count One-2-Three-4 to them.

On the other hand, waltzes and minuets, for example, have three-beat bars. Think of the first waltz that pops into your head (or try this one) and count to it. You’ll see that One-2-3, One-2-3 works.

Usually a whole song goes along relying on that unchangeable beat. When a band messes with that, it sticks out. The song I have in mind, the actual excuse for this post, is You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.

Unusually, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away is written in three beats. But the beats are paired up, so it’s still a double meter (ONE -2-3 TWO-2-3). Listen to this bit counting ONE -2-3 TWO-2-3, ONE -2-3 TWO-2-3. You’ll see what I mean (I hope).

But then the chorus messes that up. You count three going into it: “Hey (two-three) you’ve got to . . . ” But “Hide your love away” shifts that beat. The beats come in pairs: “Hide -2 your – 2 love a . . . ” Then back to three “way 2-3 Two-2-3, ONE -2-3 TWO-2-3. Listen to this  second sample.

Here’s what it looks like:

Hey       you've got to |hide    your    love  a | way
1 - 2 - 3 - 2  -  2 - 3 |  1 - 2   1  - 2  1  - 2 |  1  - 2  -  3

That one hide-your-love-a bar makes the song extremely different. It does something you hardly ever hear in pop music. But the Beatles sell it so well it becomes just part of the song. It’s the hook, the thing that makes the song stand out, but it doesn’t leave listeners shaking their heads and saying, what the heck just happened?

It’s even more interesting when you realize that it would have been very easy, completely natural, to write it with the original rhythmic structure.  There are a couple of ways to do that. One way is to have the Hide measure work exactly the same as the Hey measure by holding that “hide” an extra beat then singing “your love a” on three equal beats like “you’ve got to”. Like this:

Hey       you've got to |hide           your   love    a | way
1 - 2 - 3 - 2  -  2 - 3 |  1 - 2  - 3    2  -    2 -   3 |  1 - 2 - 3

Just another reminder of what geniuses Lennon and McCartney were. (And how lucky I was to be 18 years old in 1963.) Here’s the whole song from the movie Help thanks to YouTube:

Another Beatles song that messes with time is Here Comes the Sun. I’ll talk about that another time.


About charles thiesen

I live in Dorchester, MA with five housemates and a cat named Chat Cousteau. I write novels and ride a recumbent bike, among other things.
This entry was posted in pulleys + levers, rock to world and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The beat gets odd

  1. Tigereye says:

    If you’re interested in unusual time signatures, Sting is in the habit of putting at least one song in 7/4 time on every album for roughly the past 25 years. Some of the best are “Straight to My Heart,” “Love is Stronger than Justice,” “I Was Brought to My Senses”…

  2. ravishd says:

    Hey Tigereye, thanks a lot. I’ll check them out, maybe use them in a later blog. Put them together with Balkan choral music or something

  3. grems1 says:

    I haven’t thought about time signatures in a long time. When I was learning to read music and to count the beats etc., I struggled with counting times such as this.

  4. ravishd says:

    I hope this was more fun than struggle, then, Grems. (Thanks for your comment.)

  5. Pingback: Here comes the hook | ravishdears

  6. thirdculturemom says:

    Thanks–this is great. I’d heard the song many times, of course, and I did notice there was something happening with the time on those lines, but I never thought about what it might be. I think I assumed they slowed down a bit or something.

  7. daveaa says:

    Yes, Charles: time signatures are very important to pay attention to, and in this case, I would commend to you a couple of things. First, I think the sheet music for this piece, if any existed, would have it set in 6/8 time (although others could be specified). Before I forget, I’ll mention that this is a John Lennon piece–the most “important” Beatle in my world.

    I submit that there are tied notes in this piece, which help to effect the result that you have noted. (And by the way, I think you are calling attention to the same things that I am struggling to illustrate here.)

    You have:
    Hey you’ve got to |hide your love a | way
    1 – 2 – 3 – 2 – 2 – 3 | 1 – 2 – 3 2 – 2 – 3 | 1 – 2 – 3

    I think one might want to divide these measures in half, and note that each of the three words, “hide,” “your,” and “love” come in “early,” generating, I think, an imperative in the phrase. At sometime after midnight that means that “hiding” doesn’t really work, that “your” is the piece of “yours” that is reserved from the “presumed holders of the accepted set of cultural norms,” and that “love” is something incredibly personal, that no longer needs to conform with the demands of all the others.

  8. Pingback: Time Out | ravishdears

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