There are a few pieces of popular music that break out of the strait-jacket of 4/4 time, or its somewhat less popular cousin 3/4 time. Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” comes to mind of course, the jazz classic that alternates between 5/4 and 4/4 time signatures.

I recently realized that the 1981 hit Golden Brown by The Stranglers has an intro in 13/4 time. I can’t think of anything else in pop music with a 13/4 time signature.

In particular, the song’s instrumental intro is formed from sequences of four measures that have 3,3,3,4 beats, respectively, for a total of thirteen beats.

Very strange, yet it all works. When you’re just listening to the intro it feels oddly exotic, but completely right. I suspect that there might be some perceptual number theory working under the surface: Three groups of three-beat measures, and then every fourth measure having four beats. Perhaps the logic of this is so compelling that it trumps our cultural expectations.

And I love the fact that when you say the words “Golden Brown” out loud, the rhythm you hear is exactly the same as when you say “13/4”.

It is wonderful when artists do something that according to conventional rules should not work — and then it does.

7 thoughts on “13/4”

  1. Also the ‘middle’ section of King Crimson’s stunning ‘Starless’: 13/4 then, a few minutes later, 13/8.

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