Music education always & always looking forward.

Asymmetrical Compound Meter in David Bowie's "Up the Hill Backwards"

When it comes to our heroes, we have to be honest.  As a role model, there was not really a lot to recommend about David Bowie.  He was accused of taking advantage of young girls, he went through some "artistic" stages that suggested he supported fascism, he abused drugs, and did some reprehensible things. 

The sucker that I am, he still meant a whole lot to me.  The morning that he died in January, my husband woke me up from a dead sleep to give me the news.  I could hardly believe it.  His music meant so much to so many people and formed the very basis for most of the genres and artists I enjoy today.  If you're teaching songs in 7/8, you can give your students a good listening example with this tune while discussing (and being honest about) his legacy.  And remind students of the effectiveness of changing meter.

"Up the Hill Backwards" – David Bowie

Intro: Upon his death in 2016, the impact and influence of the Thin White Duke has become more apparent. David Bowie was possibly the most influential popular musician of the late 20th century. He turned down both a Commander of the British Empire and knighthood in the early 2000s. He did, however, accepted the honor of Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government. An active performer and composer since releasing his first album David Bowie (I) in 1967, Bowie has released 27 studio albums, the last released just days before his death in 2016. He has won only one traditional Grammy in his lifetime (and one posthumously for the album Blackstar) and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006, as well as three BRIT Awards. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. “Up the Hill Backwards” appears on his 1980 album Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).

Analysis: The instrumental intro of this song features a 7/8 time signature (starting in the video recording heard here at :06), subdivided in groups of 2+2+3, punctuated by drumset toms & bass guitar, before giving way to 4/4 time as the vocals come in (at :22).  After the second repetition of the chorus (2:05), the meter change returns but is possibly overshadowed by the blistering guitar of Robert Fripp.  The song remains in 7/8 until the very end.

Considerations for Teaching: Although the lyrics to this song are somewhat non-sensical, this song contains no inappropriate lyrics or subject matter. 


*Edited lightly for specificity & some additional content, September 15th, 2017.

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