It's well known that The Beatles made good use of every existing musical idiom in their work, a side-effect of talent borne from constant live performance. In this case, I'm curious if anyone can help me identify a musical precursor to one of their idiosyncrasies.

One unusual feature is an extra beat in the tune "Don't Let Me Down" that breaks the prevailing 4/4 signature in a lead-up to the chorus.

The five beat bar precedes the word "does" in the chorus line "like she does."


( )"Nobody ever loved me like she does..."


( )"And if somebody loved me like she does..."

Is this five-beat-bar in a 4/4 song a Beatles innovation? My inclination is to doubt it, and I'm curious if there are examples of popular music earlier than this tune that use a similar extended bar that the Beatles may have borrowed this style from.

  • 1
    It's just a "bit of a 60s thing" imo. They first did sig changes in We Can Work it Out, in 65 [but 4/4 to 3/4]. By 69, everybody had had a go. All You Need is Love [67] was probably a completely world-wide ground-breaker in the pop genre. – Tetsujin May 10 '19 at 16:56
  • 1
    Rolf Harris had an extra beat in 'Two Little Boys', probably later. – Tim May 10 '19 at 17:26
  • 1
    Burt Bacharach used a lot of meter changes, and the Beatles covered Baby It's You, so they knew his music. Have a listen to "Anyone Who Had A Heart" from 1963, which most sources notate in 5/4 + 4/4 time (although you can find the weirdest versions online). – Your Uncle Bob May 10 '19 at 17:35
  • 1
    Even if 5/4 time was firmly planted in popular culture, this particular extended measure seems different to me than classic examples, especially Mission Impossible which has something of a 3/4 // 2/4 split, as opposed to a 4/4 + 1/4 vibe. – RaceYouAnytime May 10 '19 at 21:56
  • 2
    @ToddWilcox Also, Dave Brubeck's Take Five was a huge hit in 1961 in both the USA and the UK, and probably inescapable on the radio even if you were not a jazz fan. But that is 5/4 throughout, whereas Don't Let Me Down and some Bacharach songs establish a meter and then interject odd bars here and there; e.g. the two ways in which the title is sung in "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" from 1963. – Your Uncle Bob May 10 '19 at 22:20

There are innumerable examples of this sort of thing in 16th and 17th century hymn tunes, though most of them were edited out in the 19th century by tidy-minded pedants who preferred their music to have the same number of beats in all the bars.

Another early example is the final variation (the "quodlibet") of Bach's Goldberg Variations, where he is imitating a bunch of singers simultaneously performing two or three different popular songs of the day. At the end of the penultimate line, one of the singers needs an extra beat to get to the end of the line of his song. Bach fudges the notation using short note values to squash all the notes in to one beat, but (especially since the whole set of variations is full of musical in-jokes) it seems clear enough that what he wrote was not exactly what he meant.

| improve this answer | |
  • Please could you point me at a source which has examples? (There are no doubt dozens of old hymn-books on IMSLP but it's not just any old 17th-C hymn tune I'd like to see, but irregular hymn-tunes which have newer tidied versions.) – Rosie F Jan 14 at 19:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.