Friday, June 24, 2011

Toadies -- "Possum Kingdom" (1994) (part 2 of 2)

I'm not gonna lie
I'll not be a gentleman
Behind the boathouse
I'll show you my dark secret
We're back with part two of our two-part post on "Possum Kingdom," the 1994 hit single by the Toadies.  Click here to read part one if you haven't already.  

Even if you're not a musician, you've probably noticed that there is something very unusual about the rhythmic structure of "Possum Kingdom." 
A typical rock song is built around units of four measures with four beats per measure.  This is how you would count out such a song:

Mechanical metronome

(The "ONE" is capitalized because you usually accent the first beat.  There is sometimes a secondary accent on the third beat.)

But most of this song has a slightly different structure:


It's odd, because the impression this pattern left on me when I first heard "Possum Kingdom" was that they had added an extra beat at the end of the fourth line.  That's mostly because the third and fourth beat of that fourth line consist of repeated chords -- the repetition sounds odd, like the second one doesn't really belong.

But what the band really did was omit the fourth beat of the second measure.

The third beat of the second line is emphasized somewhat, which helps smooth over the transition to the next line -- the omitted fourth beat isn't quite so jarring as it otherwise would be.

I want you to start the video at the beginning and start counting.  Don't follow the words -- follow the guitar chords.

The chords are usually played in pairs -- the first is on the beat, and the second is off the beat.  (That is, between beat one and beat two.)  Another way to put that is to say that the chords are eighth-notes, not quarter notes.

Virtual metronome
So on beat one of the first measure, we get a quick pair of guitar chords -- on beat one and between beat one and beat two (beat 1.5, if you like).  Beat two is silent -- it's a rest.  There is another pair of eighth-note chords on beat three.  And beat four is silent.

The second measure has the two quick chords on beat one, a rest on beat two, and two most chords on beat three (although the chord changes) -- but there is no beat four.  Instead we go right into beat one of the next measure (which consists of the same two chords as all the first beats have).

But when we get to the fourth measure, you get the same quick pair of chords on beat three, which are repeated on beat four -- beat four is not silent.  

After that, we repeat the 4-3-4-4 pattern over and over again.  There are some normal 4-4-4-4 passages, but the song is characterized by four-measure units with the 4-3-4-4 pattern. 

And that, boys and girls, is what makes this song unique.  The skipped fourth beat in the second line propels you right into the third line, and the double pair of chords on beats three and four of the fourth line propels you to the next four-measure unit.  So the song has a lot of rhythmic momentum.

But skipping the beat is unnatural, disturbing, distracting -- try to dance to this song, and you'll see what I mean.  The Toadies get into a pretty good groove, but you never really stop noticing the rhythmic irregularity that makes "Possum Kingdom" so unique.  The song moves right along, but it's a little herky-jerky -- for those of you old enough to have owned LPs, the effect is just like the record skipping.

There's one other rhythmic oddity in this song.  Starting at 2:34 (when the binge-drinking, hot-tub-loving, cougar-pursuing Todd "Danger" Lewis sings "Give it up to me") the song shifts gears again.

The first two lines ("Give it up to me" is the first line, which is then repeated) are six beats each -- the singer rests on the first beat of each line, which makes it a little tricky to locate the first beat.  The next two lines ("Do you wanna/Be my angel") are four beats each.  So the pattern is 6-6-4-4 for a bit.

So what are the Toadies up to today?  According to Linda,

The Toadies are still hugely popular down here, revered really by their fans. They play a one-off show every once in awhile and those sell out immediately.

Oklahoma casino
Linda recently had an opportunity to see the Toadies play at some second-rate casino in Texas or perhaps Oklahoma.  (Can you believe that Oklahoma has 77 casinos?  What is the world coming to?)  For some reason, she didn't go.  You'd think someone who is constantly complaining about not having any 2 or 3 lines stock options might be trying just a little bit harder.

If she had attended that concert, her account would have no doubt been a great post for 2 or 3 lines.  We all could have read about her and Todd meeting backstage after the concert, perhaps sharing another bottle of vodka, etc. -- wouldn't you have loved to read about that?

Here's a live performance of "Possum Kingdom" featuring the band's original lineup, including hockey-jersey-clad bassist Lisa Umbarger (who looks like she would be a natural for that reality show that gives women fashion makeovers):

Click here to order the song from iTunes:

Possum Kingdom - Rubberneck

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