Christopher Doll (Rutgers University, USA)

Five Taken: The Rhythmic Influence of the Dave Brubeck Quartet on British-American Pop-Rock [BACK]


Considering the overwhelming majority of Western popular music is in some kind of 4/4, the rare track in 5/4 is going to stand out. The few, brief scholarly engagements with such outliers (Biamonte 2014, Osborn 2014, Murphy 2016) have treated them as examples of abstract theoretical phenomena—non-isochronicity, Euclidean rhythms, Platonic-trochaic successions. By contrast, this paper identifies rhythmic similarities between several of these 5/4 songs that are far more specific than what these abstract concepts capture. These similar features are so specific, in fact, that they suggest a direct historical connection between these otherwise disparate songs. A natural question, then, is when and where do these features originate? This paper argues the likely fountainhead of these shared 5/4 elements is the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s cool-jazz hit “Take Five” (1959).

“Take Five” exhibits a 5/4 meter grouped as 3+2, fleshed out with two additional looping patterns: cross-rhythmic accents before 3 and on 4 (in Joe Morello’s snare drumming and Brubeck’s piano bassline), and accents before 2 and on 3 (in Brubeck’s right-hand chords). This specific groove was mimicked in Lalo Schifrin’s iconic theme song to the late 1960s’ television series Mission: Impossible, a possible mediating influence on the numerous 5/4 songs that emerged soon after, particularly in British pop-rock: e.g., Nick Drake’s “River Man,” Jethro Tull’s “Living in the Past,” Blind Faith’s “Do What You Like,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock-musical anthem “Everything’s Alright,” and Led Zeppelin’s “Four Sticks.” These 5/4 songs share much more than their odd meter; their parallel rhythmic profiles are suggestive of direct—conscious or subconscious—influence. “Take Five” is the earliest hit to include all these features, likely making it the original source for subsequent appearances, a small but significant intertextual lineage hitherto unappreciated.

Bio: Christopher Doll is Associate Professor of Music in the Mason Gross School of the Arts, and the School of Graduate Studies, at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, where he teaches classes in music theory, analysis, composition, and the history of popular music. He is the author of the monograph Hearing Harmony: Toward a Tonal Theory for the Rock Era (University of Michigan Press, 2017) and articles on a range of topics, from Bach to Babbitt to Hans Zimmer to “Louie Louie.”

3 thoughts on “Christopher Doll (Rutgers University, USA)”

  1. Love this!
    To me, this reads (or sounds, I guess) like a clear argument for Justin London’s “many meters hypothesis”. Assuming metre is more than just time signature, your video could be seen as an argument for the “Take 5 metre” as being a culturally significant metre of its own – different from other 5/4-metres.

    Sorry for the “not really a question, but a comment”-answer, but as a metre-enthusiast this struck me as something that might invite to discussion, at least. Thanks again!

  2. Hi Christopher,
    Thanks very much for your paper. I enjoyed listening to it—I hadn’t heard Nick Drake like that before!
    Not sure if this is a really daft question but have you managed to find anything on 5/4 groupings that predate 1959? Perhaps it’s just too rare, as you suggest in your abstract. But I guess in country blues and old-time musics, , e.g. Robert Johnson, performers might have the odd bar in a non-4/4 metre but I haven’t listened closely enough to consider the grouping.
    Thanks again.
    Best wishes,

  3. I wanted to say how much I enjoyed this presentation, and how much I got out of it as very much not a musicologist. It made me listen differently, more closely, and it has also prompted me to listen to quite a lot of Dave Brubeck!

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