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What's the (non-music-theory) significance of "Eight To The Bar"?
July 20, 2008 12:10 AM   Subscribe

What's the (non-music-theory) significance of "Eight To The Bar"?

I've been listening to some forties/big band music, and hearing the phrase "Eight To The Bar" come up a lot. There's the song, "Beat Me, Daddy, Eight To The Bar", the Chattanooga Choo-Choo will play its whistle eight to the bar when nearing Tennessee, and the Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy plays eight to the bar.

I'm well aware what it means in terms of music, (I'm sure someone will skp the More Inside and post an explanation of this anyway) -- what I want to know is, how did the phrase come to be in common usage, to symbolise, what, hipness, coolness, maybe blackness?

It's as if words like "shredding" for fast guitar playing, or "cross-fading" for what DJs do with their decks became commonplace terms. It's a reasonable obscure technical term. How did it make it into broader cultural usage -- and did it extend further? Did people say "I love your hat, it's so eight-to-the-bar"?
posted by AmbroseChapel to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
While you were wandering Wikipedia, did you read this?
Critics may perceive that the song refers to a woman asking her "daddy" to beat her, but this simply is not the case; rather, he beats a piano with a boogie beat. The title was taken from a phrase commonly used in the hipster jargon by Raye's friend, Ray McKinley, while the latter was playing in the Jimmy Dorsey band, with Freddie Slack, who he called "Daddy Slack," on piano. McKinley, as lead singer and drummer, would kick certain uptempo songs off by telling Daddy Slack to beat him eight to the bar. For that reason, Don Raye gave partial songwriting credit to McKinley for the song, although it was filed under McKinley's wife's name, Eleanore Sheehy, since McKinley was under a songwriting contract with another publisher. The nickname "Daddy Slack" was also used in the 1941 recording of "Pig Foot Pete," with Don Raye singing in Slack's band.
Did people say "I love your hat, it's so eight-to-the-bar"?

Calling out for eight to the bar meant something like "Let's boogie!" in the way someone in later years might say "Let's rock!" but this was not, that I have ever seen, generalized to mean something extramusical in the manner that "This rocks!" now means something other than music.
posted by pracowity at 12:37 AM on July 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Boogie-woogie (later swing) tunes counted eight-to-the-bar were, from the outset, dance music. The point of eight-to-the-bar was to be a fast dancer's count, for jitterbug, Lindy hop and swing style dances. So, the call to "beat it eight-to-the-bar" was a request from dancers to play up tempo, with strong rhythm, suitable for dancing like this.
posted by paulsc at 12:53 AM on July 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


Have you seen Chicago

When the narrator says "5-6-7-8" and the music kicks in? He's beating eight to the bar. It is, as paulsc said, just a way of counting off a bar for nothing in an uptempo style to set the mood.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:45 AM on July 20, 2008


So it just means 8th notes? As in 8 notes per bar?
posted by jpdoane at 10:05 AM on July 20, 2008


I'm well aware what it means in terms of music, (I'm sure someone will skp the More Inside and post an explanation of this anyway) -- what I want to know is, how did the phrase come to be in common usage, to symbolise, what, hipness, coolness, maybe blackness?

I don't believe the three examples you gave really show that the phrase had a common usage outside of a musical context, and I can't think of any other examples where it was actually used in that way. "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar" is about a piano player playing eight beats to the bar, the lyric in "Chattanooga Choo Choo" is about the train whistle blowing in an eight-beats-to-the-bar quick tempo as the train approaches Tennessee, and the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy also blew eight beats to the bar, "in boogie rhythm."

That's not to say that the term didn't cross into a broader cultural usage, I'm just not aware of any examples of it. I do fully endorse using the term as in your "I love your hat, it's so eight-to-the-bar" -- but it doesn't really make much sense.
posted by Balonious Assault at 11:12 AM on July 20, 2008


"So it just means 8th notes? As in 8 notes per bar?
posted by jpdoane at 1:05 PM on July 20

Mostly. A 4/4 rhythm would normally be counted with a strong downbeat on 1 and secondary emphasis on the 3rd beat. Beats 2 and 4 are unaccented. 4/4 "beat eight-to-the-bar" puts unaccented 1/2 beats on eighth notes into that basic structure. So
4/4,counted in 4:       DO __ da __ Do __ da __
4/4 eight-to-the-bar:   DO pa da pa Do pa da pa

posted by paulsc at 1:45 PM on July 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


The character of Simon says this in an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I think people who answer you above are accurate and Sorkin probably misused it, but in that context Simon used it with a "alright! woo-hoo! yes!" meaning.
posted by WCityMike at 8:24 AM on July 22, 2008


Thanks everyone for your replies. I might update the Wikipedia entry to reflect some of this information.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:56 PM on July 22, 2008


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