Music that later makes you go, "Hey yeah, I never noticed that!"
July 24, 2010 12:35 AM   Subscribe

Pop-rock songs with unusual/unique constructions, structures, patterns, tempo changes, time signature changes, instrumental/vocal interplay, etc... Stuff you probably don't realize upon a casual first listen. And not necessarily something obvious like "multiple songs in one" (eg "Happiness Is a Warm Gun"), or songs with no chorus.

The only three examples I can think of right now: Weezer's "Only in Dreams" - Near the end, the drummer plays eighth notes on the cymbal, then quarter notes, then half notes, then whole notes, then reverses it.

Foo Fighters' "My Hero" - It starts with just drums for two measures. Then bass is added for the next two. Then a guitar. Then another guitar.

Foo Fighters' "Long Road to Ruin" - The song goes verse, chorus. Then it's verse, chorus twice. Then it's bridge, chorus three times.

So other potential "concepts" would be something like a song starting in 3/4 time, then moves to 4/4, then 5/4. Or maybe a bridge where one instrument plays a riff, and it's repeated by other instruments one after the other.

Preferably these would be fairly well-known mainstream songs that have a subtle "trick" to it, that play with the very nature of songs. Any Beatles examples would be excellent. I'll try to give feedback to narrow down what it is I'm looking for.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing to Media & Arts (49 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
This might fall outside your 'multiple song' restriction, because I'm not sure where that line is drawn when looking for dramatic shifts, but the song that first comes to me when thinking of unusual construction and tempo changes is Layla
posted by Some1 at 12:42 AM on July 24, 2010

The end of "Fear of Falling Under" and the beginning of "Who Would Have Thought" on Darren Hayes's This Delicate Thing We've Made (they're the first two tracks) flow together. You don't necessarily realise this unless you listen to the songs separately is "hey, this sounds familiar..."
posted by divabat at 1:03 AM on July 24, 2010

MacArthur Park mixes 9/8 with 4/4. It's been covered quite few times.
posted by Mike1024 at 1:23 AM on July 24, 2010

well, i'm trying to think of something foo-contemporaneous, and you have to admit that feel good, inc. is a pretty weird song to have risen as far into the pop stratosphere as it did. (via the iPod commercial with the jam skater? thats where i first hear it!). for me the "trick" is that while the music is unified throughout, there are three separate vocal naratives: rappin' de la soul, rappin' damon albarn, and singin' damon albarn. plus there's a bridge where everything drops out for a second then resumes that i hadn't heard infiltrate the mainstream before — its such a midnight clubby effect.

re: the beatles, ive been told the "trick" and a winning hit song formula is to place the chorus first, as in the case of please, mr. postman, can't buy me love, paperback rider, early george martin stuff i guess, before all the mind-expanding & the yokos & the whatnots.

"Martin asked the individual Beatles if there was anything they personally did not like, to which George Harrison replied, "Well, there's your tie …" — wikipedia
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 1:35 AM on July 24, 2010

Sunday Sunday by Blur runs through two verses at double speed from 1:31
The Rockafeller Skank by Fatboy Slim gets lower and slower and slower and sloooower until an airhorn sounds and it rolls along in halftime then gradually speeds up again to the original speed.
Take Me Out by Franz Ferdinand starts off as Strokes-esque indie rock before it slows down and changes into a dancefloor stomper.
Michael by Franz Ferdinand has a bridge that kind of fits what you're looking for; one guitar, then two guitar, then bass and drums are added, then back to the chorus.
posted by minifigs at 2:03 AM on July 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Very related (see links in comments):
posted by querty at 3:10 AM on July 24, 2010

When it comes to geeking out with mathrock, nobody beats the classics.
posted by billtron at 3:49 AM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pink Floyd's Money starts off in 7/4, and moves to 4/4 for the guitar solo (3:02 in), before returning to 7/4 for the final verse.

For the Beatles, the definitive reference source is Alan Pollack's Notes on the Beatles. It's full of these little details: like the "harpsichord" solo in In My Life was actually a George Martin electric piano solo played back at double speed. Or Good Morning, Good Morning, which veers between 3/4 and 4/4 with some bars in 5/4.

Pollack's essay on Tomorrow Never Knows is a great analysis of a highly unconventional song:
The "beep" tone in the midst of the first line of the verse which follows the break; reminiscent of the phone company or radio station's hourly time check. I'm fairly well convinced that this is placed here exactly at the mid-point of the track (1:28)...
posted by Electric Dragon at 4:21 AM on July 24, 2010

Devo's Gut Feeling has a slightly unusual progression
posted by the noob at 4:34 AM on July 24, 2010

Genesis' "Turn it on again" is mostly in 13/4. And it probably goes without saying, but "Take Five" by The Dave Brubeck Quartet is in 5/4.
posted by usonian at 4:53 AM on July 24, 2010

Sorry, on reread: Take Five is jazz- but it was quite a popular tune in it's day, despite its weird time signature.
posted by usonian at 4:55 AM on July 24, 2010

Peter Gabriels's Solsbury Hill is in 7/4 but would never register as anything other than 4/4 unless you paid close attention.
posted by crapples at 5:48 AM on July 24, 2010

Many Fugazi songs have odd arrangements where the bass carries the melody and guitars are a weird rhythm/bass line hybrid. Odd rests too and quirky structural stuff, and layered repeated ultra-short figures that add texture.
posted by werkzeuger at 6:35 AM on July 24, 2010

Animal Collective is doing strange things in their music, particularly with time signatures and tempos. The two that immediately come to my mind are:

Who Could Win A Rabbit?

Brother Sport

Also, my favorite XTC song, River of Orchids probably qualifies. It starts with a repeating downward progression, but each note is added to the progression over a few minutes. The effect is like the beginning of a rainstorm. It's a complex and interesting song.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 6:41 AM on July 24, 2010

Eleven by Primus is 11/4. Not particularly a popular song, though :-)

Mr. Brightside by The Killers is just one verse repeated twice. For some reason, I didn't get that for a while...

This Wikipedia article lists a bunch of songs (mostly not just pop/rock, but there are a number of Beatles songs)
posted by Gorgik at 6:43 AM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Come on Eileen" moves in an out of double/half time and slowdown-speedup fairly awesomely.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:43 AM on July 24, 2010

Gorgik- Donna Summer's "Last Dance" is the same- one verse repeated, just faster and up the octave the second time.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:45 AM on July 24, 2010

OK, re Last Dance- there is a bit more to the song than the repeated verse.... the outro section is different. But essentailly that's the extent of it.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:46 AM on July 24, 2010

Have you checked out Blonde Redhead? They do some pretty fun stuff with rhythms and their singer is like no one else.
posted by Go Banana at 6:51 AM on July 24, 2010

Some people are aware that "When Doves Cry" has no bass. Fewer are aware that the solo vocals by Dez Dickerson and Lisa Coleman in the opening verses of "1999" were originally recorded to be part of a three-part harmony vocal. More arrangement than song structure - but pretty cool.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:53 AM on July 24, 2010

The tempo shift done by the piano at the end of "The End," on Abbey Road, is delightful and entirely unexpected, beginning on "equal."

"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:58 AM on July 24, 2010

I love this kind of thing! OK, I've grouped this into song structures, chords/harmony, and odd time/meter/tempo, but there's a lot of overlap. No parenthetical after the song title means I think the interesting features are pretty obvious.

Adventurous song structures

The Beach Boys - "Good Vibrations"

Queen - "Bohemian Rhapsody" (plenty of interesting key changes too)

Queen - "Bicycle Race" (also unexpected changes in meter, key, and tempo)

Radiohead - "Paranoid Android" (also harmonically adventurous, of course)

Prince - "Computer Blue"

The Toadies - "Possum Kingdom" (also interesting time signatures and chromatic notes)

Pantera - "Shedding Skin" (also great tempo changes)

The Kinks - "Lola" (two different bridges, etc.)

Guns 'n' Roses - "November Rain"

The Arcade Fire - "No Cars Go"

The Smashing Pumpkins - "Through the Eyes of Ruby"

Television - "Marquee Moon"

The Postal Service - "Brand New Colony" (slowed-down coda)

The Arcade Fire - "Crown of Love" (coda is in different tempo and feel than rest of the song -- sort of the reverse of "Brand New Colony"!)

The Beatles - "A Day in the Life" (and many other interesting features, of course: the orchestral crescendo, the "Paul" section in a different key from the "John" section to represent waking up to reality)

Shudder to Think - "X-French Tee Shirt" (similar to "Hey Jude"'s structure) (In fact, I think you'd like this whole album, which is full of tuneful dissonance and angular odd time signatures. Great band from the '90s that didn't get enough attention.)

Chord/harmony experimentation

Jimi Hendrix - "Burning of the Midnight Lamp"

The Beatles - "I Am the Walrus" (The chords are made up exclusively of every major chord in which the root note doesn't have a sharp or flat. In other words, the song uses A, B, C, D, E, F, and G -- all major, not in that order -- and no other chords. The long fade-out is an M.C. Escher-like descent downwards: E, F, G, A, B, C, D, then repeating. These observations are from the book Revolution in the Head by Ian MacDonald, which I think you'd like.)

Stevie Wonder - "Living for the City" (pretty standard in the verse and chorus, but the "da-da-da dahhh da da..." section has unusual chord changes, and his vocal harmony in this section near the end is sheer genius)

St. Vincent - "Black Rainbow" (intense ending, climbing up to higher and higher keys)

Stevie Wonder - "Too High"

Soundgarden - "Black Hole Sun"

Rufus Wainwright - "Shadows" (mainly the vocal harmonies)

every song on the Futureheads' self-titled album

also too many songs to list by Joni Mitchell and Talking Heads

Odd time signatures, meter, or tempo

St. Vincent - "The Strangers" (4/4 to 3/4, and the heavy guitar at the end toys with your rhythmic expectations)

Radiohead - "Go to Sleep. (Little Man Being Erased.)" (10/4? Then standard 4/4)

Radiohead - "Just" (The verse starts out being organized by groups of 3 measures of 4/4 each -- [1] "Can't get the stink out," [2] "It's been hanging around for days," [3] guitar/bass figure -- then switches into a more conventional grouping. This is also the only rock song I know of that uses an octatonic scale.)

Sufjan Stevens - "Come On! Feel the Illinoise!"

Soundgarden - "Spoonman"

Dntel - "This Is the Dream of Evan and Chan" (in the chorus)

Clue to Kalo - "Seconds When It's Minutes"

The Beatles - "All You Need Is Love" (verse in 7, chorus in 4, plus several musical allusions: "Greensleeves" from the orchestra, John singing "She Loves You" in the fadeout to remind us how far the Beatles have come from their early days, etc.)

The Beatles - "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" (verse is a pretty standard 4/4, but the other part is 3/4, in a very different rhythmic feel, and organized by groups of 10 measures; of course, there's also the piled-on guitars and brutal edit at the end)

Also, two recent albums that have a lot of the kind of thing you're looking for: Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest (for instance "Southern Point"), and Dirty Projectors' Bitte Orca (for instance, "Useful Chamber").
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:06 AM on July 24, 2010 [9 favorites]

I myself enjoy when a song reverses the downbeat. The only example I can think of offhand is the very beginning of Joe Walsh's 'Rocky Mountain Way': part of the rhythm section begins playing and your ear, naturally, hears the regular and identifiable 1 and 3 beats. Shortly thereafter the rest of the band joins in and you learn that what you thought were 1 and 3 are really 2 and 4 and it makes your brain skip for just a second. Love that sensation, achieved by merely denying the correct information at the top. Don't know if there is an official musical term for that, but if there is, I would love to know. Hard thing to look up. If anyone knows more examples, I too, would like to know those, too. Thx.
posted by umberto at 7:07 AM on July 24, 2010

Woops, should have included: for adventurous song structures and general experimentation, I recommend tracks 6, 7, and 8 on the Ritual de Lo Habitual album by Jane's Addiction, especially "Three Days."
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:18 AM on July 24, 2010

Considering the recent Neil Finn love-in on Mefi, I have always maintained that Late Last Night by the Split Enz has one of the most interesting complex structures in a pop song I have ever heard.
posted by ovvl at 7:36 AM on July 24, 2010

A subtle thing that, once I noticed it, always makes me smile, happens in Pink Floyd's Hey You. At around 3:20, after the lyric "and the worms at into his brain..." the music softens, and a distinctive high pitched "ping" plays on every fifth beat, not every fourth beat as would be expected for the song's time signature.

In Paul Simon's You Can Call Me Al at about 3:40 in, there is a very brief fretless bass riff. The ascending last half is just the descending first half reversed by playing the tape backwards.
posted by The Deej at 7:47 AM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

after the lyric "and the worms at into his brain..." the music softens, and a distinctive high pitched "ping" plays on every fifth beat

God, The Deej, I have always loved that frackin' "ping". This a billion times.

I will also listen to that annoying Cake song, 'The Distance' anytime to hear the trumpet play the dissonant note on the chorus.

And while not a time or pitch weirdness, since I'll never have another reason to mention it, in "What I Am" by the New Bohemians, the first two times through the chorus, after Edie Brickell sings, "What I am is what I am are you what you are or what?" the leslied organ gives a little octave pop that warms my heart so....
posted by umberto at 8:02 AM on July 24, 2010

The Jellyfish--Brighter Day: Beatles/Pet Soundsesque power pop hook as all get-out with multiple time and feel changes.
posted by sourwookie at 8:18 AM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

The bass solo in Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al" is a musical palindrome.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:48 AM on July 24, 2010

Frank Zappa also did quite a bit of what he called xenochrony, which is a studio effect achieved by layering and normalizing separately recorded racks in different signatures -aligning them over the length of a song to get rigged times like 112/128 and things like that. Not something that makes you go "Hey!" though, so much as "WTF!"
posted by umberto at 8:50 AM on July 24, 2010

"Jelly Roll" by Blue Murder has a pretty significant tempo change halfway through the song.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:20 AM on July 24, 2010

Lisa Loeb's Stay doesn't follow a verse/chorus structure; the music mirrors the narrative in the lyrics, building to a climax and then ending the same way it began.

(I never noticed it until now, but the whole song is her complaining about what her partner says about her, and then the last lines are "and you say, stay... you say I only hear what I want to" - she hears him saying "stay," because that's what she wants to hear, so she ignores all the stuff she was just complaining about, and the music turns nice and soft and pretty and resolved for a moment, but then they are right back where they began, implying that it's just going to start all over again, and omg my mind is blown.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:37 AM on July 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Songs with no chorus that I can think of off the top of my head are Deathcab for Cutie's Grapevine Fires and Airborne Toxic Event's Sometime Around Midnight.
posted by zorrine at 12:54 PM on July 24, 2010

Broken Social Scene's 7/4 Shoreline, is in 7/4 time.

Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova's When your mind's made up is in 5/4.

Spoon's Is Love Forever? has an odd clash of timing between the delivery of the vocals in the first verse, and the rhythm of the guitars. It reminds me of watching car indicators go in and out of phase when your waiting at a traffic light.
posted by robotot at 3:09 PM on July 24, 2010

Yeah, early John Lee Hooker often has some swell stuff where the verse goes in at arbitrary places over the beat.
posted by ovvl at 4:00 PM on July 24, 2010

Cars Hiss By My Window by the Doors is a simple E-A-B blues progression, but where the vocals in the first and third verses come in on the A, the second verse comes in on the E, giving the impression of a key change without actually changing keys. Simple yet utterly perfect.
posted by platinum at 4:05 PM on July 24, 2010

Can't believe nobody's mentioned Stewart Copeland's triplets on the high hat (among other rhythmic awesomeness) in The Police's "Walking on the Moon."
posted by jocelmeow at 5:40 PM on July 24, 2010

The Cure's Hot Hot Hot starts with only guitar 1 and drums, then adds guitar 2, then bass and eventually, vocals and synth. Each instrument (save drums) is playing it's own independent melody that continues throughout most of the song, so you have have five independent melody lines all playing on top of each other, yet somehow working really well together.
posted by mosessis at 7:22 PM on July 24, 2010

Non-fiction burning off of the Red, Hot + Rio compilation by PM Dawn and Flora Purim has always struck me for its odd time signature, but as a non-musician, I can't tell you what is so weird about it. I would love it if someone could explain it to me.
posted by msali at 7:32 PM on July 24, 2010

cattle and cane by the go betweens has funky timing and changes time signatures.
posted by onya at 7:52 PM on July 24, 2010

posted by Crane Shot at 8:25 PM on July 24, 2010

Since you mentioned Weezer, "Keep Fishing" has a time signature change for the post-chorus "Oh girl" verses.

And though the song is annoyingly trite, "Crawling In the Dark" by Hoobastank switches back and forth between two time signatures mid-chorus in a way that shouldn't really work but does.
posted by dephlogisticated at 2:12 AM on July 25, 2010

Here are a couple more songs with adventurous overall structures that I forgot to mention in my first comment:

Tori Amos - "Yes, Anastasia"

Fort Wilson Riot - "An Imagined Civil State" (you can get the mp3 for free on their website here -- near the bottom of the left-hand column) *

* Full disclosure: The singer/guitarist is my friend and former bandmate, so I'm obviously biased. But it's a very well-done, theatrical, Queen-like example of going beyond the standard verse/chorus/verse/etc. The song gets cut off abruptly at the end because it's part of a broader "indie-rock opera" on their Idigaragua album.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:40 AM on July 25, 2010

R.E.M.'s Driver 8 uses the chorus lyrics as the last half of the first verse. So the same lyrics are sung to completely different melodies.
posted by JJtheJetPlane at 2:32 PM on July 26, 2010

A simple but very neat trick it took me a while to notice: in the album version of the song "Cinnamon" by the band The Long Winters, the guitar and vocals are in 3/4 but the drums are in 4/4. Creates a subtle kind of driving, unhinged quality.
posted by chaff at 5:19 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I failed to realize that while one of the non-examples I gave, "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," has obvious changes in melody, all the rhythmic changes weren't as obvious... to me anyway. I knew I had to put in "not necessarily" for a reason.

I appreciate all of the suggestions, but I've only been able to listen to a few of the unfamiliar ones so far. I think, ideally, what I was looking for was a unique sequence, structure, or arrangement that would be amusingly evident when pointed out to even casual listeners. So, not just an unusual time signature throughout, or a single tempo change.

And unfortunately, like msali, I'm a nonmusician, so some of the stuff like chord progressions are likely to go over my head. (And apparently, "Abacab" was derived not from the chords, but the original structure, which was altered before the final cut).

Jaltcoh's breakdown of "I Am the Walrus" was maybe of particular interest, but is it a common occurrence in music? (And I'll pick up the book at the library this week. It seems similar to Allan Pollack's "Notes on the Beatles", which was mentioned on MeFi a few years ago, and the book was linked in that thread also).
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 2:22 AM on July 27, 2010

I failed to realize that while one of the non-examples I gave, "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," has obvious changes in melody, all the rhythmic changes weren't as obvious... to me anyway.

Yes, among other oddities, the drums in the final section stay in standard 4/4 while the rest of the Beatles switch to 3/4 -- very unusual!

Jaltcoh's breakdown of "I Am the Walrus" was maybe of particular interest, but is it a common occurrence in music?

Well, I'm sure there are many songs in A (the same key as "I Am the Walrus") that use A, C, D, E, and G. Those are very standard "rock" chords. To also use B and F would be more exotic. To use all 7 of those chords and no others (including no minor chords at all) has to be pretty rare; I can't think of any other example. (Notice that it's pretty common to have a song with all 7 of the notes A/B/C/D/E/F/G: that would just mean you're staying in the key of A minor or C major the whole time. But when you build major chords on those 7 notes, you get lots of chromatic, i.e. out-of-the-home-key, notes.)

If you have any questions about what makes any of my recommended songs unusual, I'd be happy to explain -- feel free to ask.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:42 AM on July 27, 2010

Most of the album "Violent Femmes" is recorded with an extremely minimal drum set- I think it's mostly just a snare drum and a cymbal. Quite a few songs are recorded with nothing but a snare drum. Somewhat similarly, the Presidents of the United States of America recorded with a three-string guitar, two-string bass, and tiny drum set.

Elliot Smith is one artist who tended to turn on and off identical or near-identical multiple tracks of the same lead vocal track. It can be a very subtle effect.

If you listen for them in "Gin and Juice," there are cheery eighth-note sleigh bells through the whole song buried in the mix. They're not hard to hear on halfway decent speakers, but I missed them the first five hundred times I heard the song.
posted by Clambone at 7:57 AM on August 5, 2010

The other day I noticed that Leg of Lamb by Queens of the Stone Age has no chorus, just verses and a bridge-like section towards the end.
posted by usonian at 9:31 AM on August 5, 2010

« Older What do you get for the Viking who has everything?   |   How do I stick up for my beliefs and not be a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.