Music education always & always looking forward.

Post Punk Rocking in 5/4 Time: Asymmetrical Simple Meter in XTC's "English Roundabout"


Many music fans will tell you that you can learn all of the theory basics you need by listening to prog rock.  I would nominate XTC for that mantle, too. Though this band would not for a second be considered lords of prog rock, the music of XTC appeared all over my DIS project.  Well-timed key changes, experiments in meter, measures of 7/8 thrown in various songs all qualify them as important artists to study as we search for teachable theory moments in popular music.  They have historicially been one of my favorite bands, as they are for many music lovers, but their reputation seems to be lacking among younger listeners.  This is a shame.  In a classroom rock band setting, this song is a workout and a real way to stretch students' chops and understanding of meter.

"English Roundabout" - XTC

Intro: Although they have not toured since 1982, when guitarist and songwriter Andy Partridge developed ulcers and possibly a nervous breakdown, XTC has seen over 20 years of prolific creation, evidenced by the release of 13 studio albums as well as work on side projects (e.g. Dukes of Stratosphear, Fuzzy Warbles box set). “English Roundabout” appeared on the band’s 1982 album English Settlement, which reached #5 on the UK Albums chart and #48 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart.

Analysis: Entirely in 5/4 time, this song could be making reference to the Yes song "Roundabout", hence the "English" modifier in the title. There seems to be a connective thread between many popular songs in 5/4 time in that they often describe or discuss some sort of motion. This song may be referencing the multitude of traffic roundabouts in England, fitting in with the motion and travel concept. 

Considerations for Teaching: This song contains no inappropriate subject matter or language, making it a suitable classroom listening example.

Very lightly edited for content on July 19th, 2018.

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