All 17 videos of these 7/8 songs are available at the link below. It took a bit of fudging to put this together as most of these songs are not completely in 7 beats to the bar, but they do throw a spanner in the works of the toe-tapping crowd. -dg
There’s a reason why all those Ramones songs start with “1-2-3-4!” — and also a reason why Captain Beefheart raged against the “big mama heartbeat.” For anyone growing up in America in the last century, 4/4 meter has been the core of popular music — rock, pop, rap, blues, gospel, all the way back to their origins in West Africa. Ergo, lopping off a single beat from two bars of 4/4 is like a car with three and a half wheels: difficult to drive, full of uncomfortable bumps, a mix of the unexpected and the compelling. When a band plays in 7/4 or 7/8 (for non-nerds, just count out “1-2-3-4-5-6-7,” or any mathematical combo like “1-2, 1-2, 1-2-3″) — it feels like a record needle stumbling over a piece of dust or ending a dance move with a rolled ankle.
Rock’s initial boom of 7 came very shortly after the moment when it became clear this this greasy kid stuff wasn’t just for driving, dancing, and protesting. Emboldened by the epic ambitions of the Beatles’ 1967 landmark Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, rock bands started imbuing their music with all the highfalutin trappings of classical and art music, including the shifting time signatures of Mussorgsky, Stravinsky, and Ravel. The Beatles did their own dabbling in 7 (“All You Need Is Love”) and prog rock’s barons of bloat naturally followed suit – Yes, Soft Machine, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Gentle Giant.
In the ’70s and ’80s, New Wave weirdos like Devo, Blondie, the Police, and the Pretenders imbued their songs with 7, adding an extra layer of off-kilter alienation. The bands of the ’90s grunge boom grew up spinning those punks, but they also loved the lurch of Led Zeppelin (who used 7 in 1973’s “The Ocean”), a more likely influence for the mucky riffs of Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, and Nirvana (who flirted with 7 on Kill Rock Stars submission “Beeswax”). Modern art-indie bands like Battles (“Ddiamondd”) and Animal Collective (“What Would I Want? Sky”) keep the 7 banner flying, as well as all the math-rock, mathcore, progressive metal, and technical death metal bands that live on tricky turnarounds.
It was 25 years ago today — March 8, 1994 — that Soundgarden released their fourth album, Superunknown. The album was full of unusual time signatures (per Wikipedia: “‘Fell On Black Days’ is in 6/4, ‘Limo Wreck’ is played in 15/8, ‘My Wave’ alternates between 5/4 and 4/4, and ‘The Day I Tried to Live’ alternates between 7/8 and 4/4 sections”). And the LP was preceded by lead single “Spoonman,” whose main riff was, of course, in 7.
So we’re celebrating a quarter-century of Superunknown by ranking an odd number of songs using septuple meter. Here are the 17 best uses of the magnificent 7.