Music education always & always looking forward.

Touching Some Common Beats: Cross-Rhythm in The Cars' "Touch and Go"

Five against four in the intro & verses of this song.


Within every entry I write about a song, I write about the cultural context of the artist (and sometimes the song itself, as often the cultural impact of a song outweighs the artist who created it).  When I was working on my original DIS project, this was one of the more tedious aspects of my writing -- culturally quantifying artists.  I know which artists mean a great deal to me, but it is very difficult to quantify how much an artist's music means to society as a whole.  For example, I could not realistically claim that Neutral Milk Hotel is a culturally important band just because every indie music fan dude I've ever met loves them.

That was an odd thing I came across when looking up information about The Cars -- they've not won any Grammys (although they've been nominated four times), and while they were nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015, they were not included for induction and have not been nominated again. 

But for my money, The Cars are one of the more influential bands of the last 40 years.  Any random bar singalong of "Just What I Needed" will tell you what you need, Grammys be darned.

(And then they were of course inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. Music history is an ever-changing course!)

“Touch and Go” - The Cars

Intro: A highly commercially viable group that made significant stylistic contributions to the subgenre referred to as New Wave in the late 1970s and early 1980s, The Cars released six albums between 1977 and 1988. “Touch and Go” was the only single released from their third studio album, 1980’s Panorama. Demonstrative of the band’s New Wave style, using both guitar based riffs as well as prominent synthesizers, “Touch and Go” reached #37 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart, with the album attaining a #5 rank on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. The band was nominated for four Grammys in their heyday. The majority of The Cars body of work is highly regarded by critics and by fans, so much so that frontman Ric Ocasek reunited with the surviving members of the band to tour and record in 2010. The Cars were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.

Analysis: Appearing on an album that was considered to be more influenced by progressive rock than new wave pop, which the band had been known for, “Touch and Go” includes stylistic features of both of these subgenres. The instrumental introduction and verses contain polymeter, creating a cross-rhythmic feel throughout. The drumset and bass play in 5/4 and the vocal line, guitar, and keyboards are heard in 4/4 (particularly notable as the keyboards play a steady eighth note pulse and change chords in a 4/4 time pattern). This features the cross-rhythm feel often heard in progressive rock (bands such as Rush, Yes, and early Genesis) as well as the new wave instrumentation of guitar and synthesizer paired together. The pre-chorus and chorus sections of the song return all instruments to a strict 4/4 meter, with the polymeter appearing again as the intro to the second verse begins.

Considerations for Teaching: This song is an excellent example of polymeter in a rock song as well as being accessible as a pop song, and contains no inappropriate lyrics or subject matter.

Edited for additional factoids, May 7th, 2018.

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