Music education always & always looking forward.

Shifting the Pace: Changing Meter in The Toadies' "Possum Kingdom"

Constant change in the song's meter contributes to the song's narrator's tenuous grip on reality.

From my perspective, this song is so 90s it physically hurts.  It played for years after its release on my local alternative rock station, and the production, the chunky guitar riffs, and the strident, nasally vocals of the song scream 90s to me.  Not only that, the song contains some truly disturbing subject matter and yet made it all over the radio anyway.  Sounds pretty 90s to me.  And although it's a good example of a popular song containing changing meter, you might not want to play it for your students past the first chorus.  Fair warning.

“Possum Kingdom” - Toadies

Intro: An alternative radio staple in 1995 from their album Rubberneck, “Possum Kingdom” essentially put Texas-based band The Toadies on the map. The song achieved a #3 slot on the Canadian RPM Alternative 30 and a #4 rank on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks.

Analysis: Starting in 4/4 time on a dominant chord, “Possum Kingdom” alternates between 4/4 time and 3/4 time wildly and at inconsistent intervals throughout the song. Although at least one published edition shows an alternation between those two key signatures, it is very possible that the song could actually alternate between 4/4 and 7/4 time. Either way, the constant oscillation between an even (symmetrical) simple meter and an odd (asymmetrical) compound meter pervades the song, with the exception being the very short choruses, identified by the lyrics “I will treat you well / my sweet angel / so help me Jesus”.

Considerations for Teaching: Although the lyrics at the beginning of the song appear to be totally innocuous, songwriter and Toadies frontman Vaden Todd Lewis has been recorded stating that the song is rooted in the urban legend of a lake north of Fort Worth, TX, and the possibility of cult members gathering there to immolate themselves as a form of moving to the afterlife. He stated that “Possum Kingdom” is specifically about a cult member who has become "just smoke, and ...he goes to Possum Kingdom [Lake] and tries to find somebody to join him." At the bridge, the lyrics turn from discussing “my sweet angel” and become more sinister: “Give it up to you wanna be my angel?” and then further asking “do you wanna die?” more and more loudly, until the latter line repeats in a full-throated growl until the final repetition of the song. If, in the classroom setting, you feel comfortable playing the first minute of the song to get across the point of alternating symmetrical and asymmetrical simple meter, do so without playing the final minute of the song, as the subject matter becomes too dark and sinister for classroom use as the song finishes.

Wishing for Edinburgh

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