15 Step bleg

by John Holbo on December 6, 2013

You know what’s a great album? Radiohead, In Rainbows, that’s what. I was just relistening, and then relistening again, and then again. What a great rhythm section, perfectly setting off the ethereal-cerebral Yorke vocals!

Take just the first track. The 5/4 “15 step”. Such a funky, danceable track. It’s like, I dunno, the Purdie tsakonikos shuffle or something. Played by a robot. It would be fun to make a music video for it using a loop of the 5/4 Fred Astaire dance from this video. Just speed up the video a little bit to match the beat.

So that’s someone’s homework assignment. Kindly upload the results to Youtube when you’ve got it properly synched. And give us the link.

Update: Thanks!



Cleisthenes 12.06.13 at 9:04 am

You’ll be after the 15 step/7even mash up then:


Release 12.06.13 at 9:32 am

You’ll want to see this 15 Step / Take Five mashup as well:


Metatone 12.06.13 at 10:34 am

I sometimes appear to be the only one, but I find Radiohead’s aural aesthetic just not very appealing. They write some great songs, but most of them sound better performed by others…


Ray 12.06.13 at 11:53 am

You have In Rainbows disc 2 as well, I hope?


Philip 12.06.13 at 3:56 pm

I think they get better and better. Their last couple of albums have a hypnotic quality that makes the vast majority of contemporary music pale by comparison. The rhythm is key, I agree. The Afrobeat influences are more obvious in Thom Yorke’s solo work (and with Atoms For Peace) but there’s something of that genre in Radiohead’s rhythm too.


Trader Joe 12.06.13 at 4:32 pm

Most of what they’ve done since about 2000 I’ve thought was pretty creative and I think is a better reflection of the band being what the band wants to be.

Their mid-90s stuff, apart from being massively overplayed (at least in the UK), always felt overmanaged to me like someone was shooting for some sound that was a mangled mashup of Pearl Jam, REM and Nirvana with maybe a dash of the Beatles or something. You could see talent, but it didn’t make me warm to it. Seems like now they’re saying here’s what we want to make and if you like it, buy it, if not, so what.

It just feels more pure. Like sitting in on sessions.


bill benzon 12.06.13 at 6:55 pm

I’m not hearing the 5/4 in the Astaire piece. I’ve not got the clapping sussed out, but the music sounds like 4/4 to me. Here’s what the Wikipedia says:

“Coffee Time”: A jazzy, innovative and exuberant dance routine for Astaire, Bremer and chorus, blending complex repeated syncopated rhythms (inspired by Loring’s idea of setting a five-count dance phrase against a four-count musical phrase) in a visually stunning setting incorporating a wavy black and white dance floor (designed by Irene Scharaff) and chorus dancers dressed in brightly colored costumes.

Makes sense to me.


speranza 12.06.13 at 10:25 pm

The clapping section is definitely in 5/4. What’s more, the Radiohead song’s tempo happens to be almost exactly five-fourths that of the Astaire bit. And thanks to a happy coincidence involving common video frame rates, it’s not all that difficult to speed something up by a fourth.

(Warning: might be a bit headache-inducing after the second or third time through the loop. De gustibus and all that.)


Substance McGravitas 12.06.13 at 10:42 pm

You CAN rock to funny beats. 10/4 is nice because the drummer can stick to a groove while the other stuff flows over the top in a slightly disorienting way.


bill benzon 12.06.13 at 11:29 pm

@Sperance: OK, got it now. Thanks.


speranza 12.06.13 at 11:37 pm

@bill benzon — you’re definitely right about the rest of the song being in even time. And the transition still kind of eludes me — maybe a bar of 7?


Phil 12.06.13 at 11:54 pm

speranza – very nice! Took me right back to the Haçienda, back when actually dancing was still sort of uncool – it’s just the kind of degraded film loop they’d have had on their monitors, except that in their case nobody would have made the effort to sync it to anything.


matt 12.07.13 at 1:03 am

Speranza, kudos. Now do “everything in its right place”?

In Rainbows is surprisingly good. But I maxed out some sort of Thom Yorke falsetto auditory intake limit soon after this album was released.


Uncle Ebeneezer 12.07.13 at 3:04 am

Morning Bell (off Kid A) is also a great 5-based groove. 5/4 is probably my favorite time signature to play. When done right I think it feels quite natural (Nick Drake’s “River Man” being possibly my favorite example.)

I’m actually always surprised to read praise of Radiohead. In recent years it seems that I mostly see them called over-rated on blogs. Couldn’t disagree more. I also think that The Bends was a seriously awesome album, though I love the way they’ve grown/evolved since.


John Holbo 12.07.13 at 3:28 am

Thanks speranza, that’s very close!

That’s definitely the idea (and the quality of the vid is low enough that trying to get it perfect is rather a vain objective. Then again, as Phil says, maybe that’s a feature.)


John Holbo 12.07.13 at 3:48 am

Bill B. yes, the funny thing about both the song and the dance is that we have what is, in effect, a 4/4 against 5/4 effect. That’s what makes them work, individually, hence together. I think the thing to do then – if one were a perfectionist, which is easy to be when someone else will have to do the perfecting, ’cause I’m not – is synch up the video so that the guitar comes in just at the moment when the dancers really hit their 5/4 stride, which is when Fred first starts to spin his partner, around 00:24. That corresponds to about 50 seconds into the song. So the thing to do is buy a DVD of the movie, extract another 30 seconds of video prior to this scene – which probably doesn’t exist, because it looks like it’s the start of the scene. (But that’s ok. The start of the song is disorderly. Start the video with the last 30 seconds of the previous scene. Or loop the first part of the scene, before the turns start, in some way. But that would be tricky.) I think it might be possible for the dancers and the musicians to sort of settle into it together, and then have the dance spins match the smooth guitar.

Bottom line: thanks again for the video, Speranza!


John Holbo 12.07.13 at 4:25 am

Just to finish the analysis. The guitar riff seems 4/4 because it’s four notes, at its simplest, and it feels groovy. It’s easy to say bum-BAAH bum-bum along with the snaky guitar. But when you count it it’s 1 2AND3 4 5. It’s easy to think you are hearing the 2AND3 just as 2, hence that 4 and 5 are 3 and 4. (If you are unfamiliar with this stuff, and reading along, count a steady 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 -5, then add an AND between 2AND3, while keeping the pace. Then start whispering the 2 and the 3, while making the AND really loud. Now you’ve got the guitar. But, of course, you got it already, cause it’s groovy!)

Of course, all the while the drums are hammering on 3. 1-2 THREE – 1-2. 1-2-THREE-1-2. And sometimes it’s 1-TWO-1-2-3, 1-TWO-1-2-3. So basically the drums are always kicking on 2 or 3, but the guitar, despite feeling like it’s playing 1-2-3-4, never really hits either 2 or 3. Pretty neat, rythmically.


Belle Waring 12.07.13 at 4:46 am



John Holbo 12.07.13 at 6:26 am

You know, after all that work you did Speranza, I want to retract my finicky criticisms. Your video is awesome.


speranza 12.07.13 at 7:55 am

Thank you all. And not to worry, I agree, for the most part. I did take a quick peek down the high-res, frame-perfect rabbit hole, but in the end thought it best not to let the perfect be the enemy of the done.


Katherine 12.07.13 at 10:10 am

I always find it easiest to count 1-2-3-1-2 to get in the 5/4 rhythmn after my mother (a music teacher, amongst other things) described it as 2/4 followed by 3/4.


matt 12.07.13 at 2:14 pm

“The guitar riff seems 4/4 because it’s four notes”

I don’t think this is right. Katherine’s explanation is better: the riff consists of alternating 3-beat and 2-beat measures, where all the beats are the same length. It would be counted “1,2,3,1,2;1,2,3,1,2….” The guitar doesn’t articulate the 3 beats of the 3-beat measure, but rather plays 2 long notes against the 3, subdividing the length into 2 longer pieces, rather than 3. This is why the second note of the two long notes has a syncopated,* punchy feel. So, “long, LONG, short, short; long, LONG, short short.”

Fancy types will claim that this isn’t a true 5 beat measure (cf critiques of “take five” as a phony five). But that’s exactly why it’s easy to groove to. The music in the original film clip, on the other hand, doesn’t depend on alternating triple and duple measures, at least not that I heard. That’s why it’s weirder, less groovy, and more amazing that they could dance like that to it.

*not really syncopated, but hemiolic.


John Holbo 12.07.13 at 3:11 pm

“I don’t think this is right.”

Well, I didn’t mean that I think it actually is 4/4. Your long LONG short short is the same as my 1 2AND3 4 5. So we can agree to agree, I think.

Isn’t there triple and duple measures in the original music for the dance. The clapping? Gotta go relisten.


mdc 12.07.13 at 4:22 pm

Ach, now I think we were both sort of wrong. It’s maybe not a five beat cycle at all, but two beats in 6/8 followed by two in 2/4. That is, four beats altogether, but of different lengths. (“I like to LIVE in rhode IS-land, EV-ry thing’s GOOD in rhode IS-land, ONE-two-three TWO-two-three ONE-and TWO-and” The Take Five mashup is great, but you can hear that although the grooves are commensurable, 15-step’s driving 6/8 triplets are absent in the 3+2 Brubeck. Let me stop now before the power of self-suggestion leads me to further blind alleys.


John Holbo 12.07.13 at 6:05 pm

Hah, you are a hard man to agree with, mcd – if you are the same as matt, as apparently you are. (You can’t even agree with yourself about what your name is.) You are saying, now, that it’s a 4-beat theme. Sort of a slow 2 for one measure followed by a fast 2 for one measure. We don’t feel it as five. We feel it as a constantly tempo-switching 2. That’s sort of what I think I meant by ‘seems 4 but isn’t’. I haven’t really worked out what’s going on the dance. I probably can’t understand it. But I think there is a certain amount of Sway-sway step-step. Spin-spin step-step. Which gives you a regular, four-ish groove corresponding to the guitar’s slow-slow-fast-fast. But sometimes the dancers are doing more of a Greek folkdance 5-step. Isn’t that right? (Need better video quality and what the hell do I know about Greek folkdance anyway. Nothing.)

But what about the drums? My minimal competence as a drummer is exceeded here. I think you are right about one thing. It isn’t really 1-2-3-1-2 as much as I was suggesting. I was saying that because the guitar suggests it, by hitting on the two 1’s. But the drums don’t hit the 2nd 1. Are you suggesting that it’s really slow-2 fast-2 also at the level of the drums. slow[triplet-triplet] fast[ba-dum-UM]. But the ‘ba’ of the fast bit anticipates the beat, thus crossing tempo lines? And actually, is the ‘dum’ there? It sort of drops out. Like if Stewart Copeland were playing 5-4 and decided to drop the 2nd 1? Now I’m thoroughly confused.


John Holbo 12.07.13 at 6:09 pm

OK, drummers out there. Someone notate the drums for us!


matt 12.07.13 at 6:30 pm

It’s not a tempo change, it’s a meter-change. 6/8 to 2/4. If you go “TRIP-el-et TRIP-el-et DUP -let DUP-let” with each syllable of the same duration, I think that’s it. The drummer can tap out each syllable (the eighth notes) totally isochronously.

I’n not sure about the super-fast ba-dum-UMs you’re hearing. I hear something like that in some stretches on the second (upbeat) duplet, therefore as a pickup to the whole cycle: “TRIP-el-et TRIP-el-et DUP-let ba-dum-UM”

I am the same person, my different machines disagree about their autofills.


godoggo 12.07.13 at 7:00 pm

Here’s a couple of partly 5/4 songs that I like.
Ha ha ha, you have to click to find out what they are.


godoggo 12.07.13 at 7:04 pm

Vimeo really doesn’t work good on my computer. Maybe I’ll let in load til after lunch.


godoggo 12.07.13 at 7:36 pm

In case anyone is curious, I do “appreciate” the chops and cleverness on display in that song, but no I’m not a fan.


godoggo 12.07.13 at 8:04 pm

But yeah, nice groove. All done!


John Holbo 12.08.13 at 1:48 am

OK, matt, I see what you mean.


matt 12.08.13 at 2:45 am

The exact same sort of 6/8 – 2/4 riff is found in Stereolab’s “Percolator.” But note that this pales in comparison to the awesome 5 beat track on the same album, “Tomorrow Is Already Here” (great lyrics to boot).


Uncle Ebeneezer 12.08.13 at 11:00 pm

Here is a particularly great 5 groove.


Not sure how well you can hear it but Vinnie is using a 4-beat accent pattern on the hi-hat to play against the 10/8 groove.

And since we’re talking Radiohead and odd times, this another great tune of theirs done jazzy:


godoggo 12.08.13 at 11:45 pm

Vinnie can play anything. Not sure he should.


godoggo 12.08.13 at 11:46 pm

Some things.


godoggo 12.09.13 at 12:00 am



mattski 12.09.13 at 1:21 am

Not sure he should.

There’s no accounting for taste.

How about a free-for-all post on favorite music videos? Could be epic.


mattski 12.09.13 at 1:28 am

Here’s a teaser!


godoggo 12.09.13 at 4:03 am

Well, I feel just a little bit gayer now.


mattski 12.09.13 at 4:12 am

Oh, I call bad attitude!


godoggo 12.09.13 at 4:34 am

OK. maybe a little turned on. But in a fabulous way.


mattski 12.09.13 at 12:17 pm

OTOH, there’s this:


godoggo 12.09.13 at 5:22 pm

I’ll note that the Flesheaters had quite the gay following back in the day. Apparently their singer was “totally butch.”


clew 12.10.13 at 1:37 am

There’s a dance, the Zweifacher, that alternates pivots (180d in one step on two beats) with waltz measures (180d in three steps on three beats). There are easy ones in which everyone knows how the turns alternate. There are harder ones in which the musicians make up the pattern and the dancers are supposed to jump in as they work it out. The hardest ones, there are odd numbers of waltz measures, so the overall pattern is doubled, once left-footed and once right-footed.

An even 5/4 rhythm — which the intro to `15 step’ is, to me — is a medium-hard zweifacher. (It’s easier to have it be very clear which is the two and which the three.)


matt 12.11.13 at 12:45 am

Clew, could ‘Mein G’muet ist mir verwirret’ be danced as a Zweifacher?


John Holbo 12.11.13 at 1:41 am

I am amending my earlier amendment about the drums. I’m sure there’s some trickiness going on in there, but basically it’s just 5-4 drumming (or 5/8 if you like), as I opined originally. There’s a bass kick on 1 and a bass (double) kick on 4. So it’s 1-2-3-1-2 at it’s core. (I asked a drummer who knows how to play to play it for me and he decided it was pretty straight that way.)

See this video for a fairly clear example of someone playing it:


godoggo 12.11.13 at 1:53 am

Yeah, I think there were some weird polyrhythms going on between drums and guitar, but I’d have to listen to it a 2nd time.


Substance McGravitas 12.11.13 at 1:54 am

April Wine in 6/8. Somehow trickier to me than the Radiohead thing.


godoggo 12.11.13 at 1:56 am

Oh, 5/4 is pretty normal these days. There’s way trickier stuff out there if that’s your thing.


speranza 12.11.13 at 3:30 am

I think what’s tricky is that the drum machine snare hits on 2, while for the most part the live snare (and one of the guitar accents in the main riff) hit on the and of 2.

As for how to analyze it, it’s all subjective, isn’t it? You could decompose 5/4 into a bar of 6/8 plus a bar of 2/4, if that’s the feel you’re after (and as mdc/matt suggests above).

So then you’re hearing the snare that hits on the and of 2 as being on the 2 of that measure of 6/8. So then it’s ONE & a TWO & a ONE & TWO & …

I think you could get all “use is meaning” in musical analysis as well — for me it’s never been useful to think “the meter objectively, eternally is such-and-such” but more like “how am I gonna get the drummer to hear what I’m after” or more likely “how do I tell the singer he’s clapping in a weird place”?


speranza 12.11.13 at 3:53 am

So, to simplify, because even looking at my above comment gives me a bit of a headache — at any given moment after about twenty seconds in (when a wonky high-pitched live snare joins the clappy-sounding machine snare) you could just as easily hear the upbeat as landing on the third or the fourth eight-note of the figure — there’s one snare sound playing each beat, for the most part, except for when they don’t….


John Holbo 12.11.13 at 4:06 am

“I think you could get all “use is meaning” in musical analysis as well — for me it’s never been useful to think “the meter objectively, eternally is such-and-such”

I am somewhat inclined to bass drum reductionism, ontologically speaking. That is, whatever the bass drum is kicking is what the song is doing. (Of course, that is just a roundabout way of saying you are quite right because who am I kidding?)

(The point gets dicey any time you have an illusion, in effect. A meter that is really x but feels like y. A key signature that is really x but sounds like it is y. If the illusion gets too good then x simply IS y.)

I suppose it might be ok to say that the piece is in 10/8, mostly (6/8 & 4/8). Or you could say that it’s in 10/4 for the first 8 measures or so, then it switches into 10/8. (Listen to the beginning and notice how the way to feel it is to count 10, not 5.) I’m just being silly now.


John Holbo 12.11.13 at 4:09 am

Anyway, it’s fun! When someone showed me how to do it, it’s not that hard to drum a fast, cool 5/4 groove to “15 step”! Try it at home, kids!


speranza 12.11.13 at 4:49 am

It’s true, all the other beats might be negotiable, but the one is The One.

“Spirits in the Material World” by the Police is one where, if you listen to the loud synth chords (or really anything other than the bass), the offbeats simply ARE the beats, and the chorus comes an eighth-note late. Only by fixating on the bass guitar can I count it correctly, and even then it’s easy to slip:


John Holbo 12.11.13 at 5:17 am

Hey that is a great one. Hadn’t thought about that one for a while.


clew 12.11.13 at 8:46 am

matt, I haven’t found a dancy or even bouncy recording of it (though this was charming:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOyNsNr0oYs )
and the church choir versions… if you really tried? You wouldn’t run out of beats but there’s nothing telling you to step, let alone spin.

Is it supposed to be from a dance form, or was it another 5/4 tune, or what?

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