Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Last Waltz

Hundreds of years ago, music theorists - aided by the church - held that 3/4 time was "perfect" time because it represented the Holy Trinity.  Really.

Skip forward to the mid 19th century, and the rock and roll of the day was the waltz.  With roots in folk music, initially considered scandalous because of the closeness of the dancers, the waltz was eventually adopted by society in general, and dominated popular music for a long, long time.  Sounds like rock, right?

Speaking of rock, many pop and rock artists that helped define music for us were very comfortable with the waltz.  Probably because in America the waltz had slipped back to its folk roots and found its way into country music (think of Leadbelly's Goodnight Irene).  Until the 70's we got a fair number of good tunes in 3/4 time: Dylan, The Stones, James Taylor, Bill Joel, even Jimi Hendrix all gave us waltzes.

OK, Hendrix was Hendrix, so
Manic Depression isn't exactly a waltz ...

Lots of waltzes from The Beatles:  Hide Your Love Away, I Me Mine, Dig A Pony, Long Long Long, and my favourite - Baby's In Black.  John's Happy Christmas (War Is Over) has even achieved anthem status. 

Interesting, by the way, that the list is dominating by John and George, despite Paul's reputation for what John called "grannie music."  (Actually, he didn't use the word "music".)

By the late 70's, though, the waltz was all but gone.  Scanning my iPod, all I can find is one song by Pink Floyd (In The Flesh?), and one by The Pretenders (2,000 Miles), and that's about it until this century, with Wish I Could by Norah Jones and Smile by David Gilmour.  So I guess the waltz is dead, and long live rock.

Too bad, in a way, because a departure into triple time now and again would provide a nice break from the relentless thunder of the modern rock beat.

Hmmm ...  maybe that's the attraction to the domination of triplets in the blues.  Maybe that's why slow blues (in 12/8 time) is so hypnotically alluring.  3/4 time inside 4/4 time.  Maybe that's "perfect" time.

No comments:

Post a Comment