Rock Waltz? John Hiatt, “Cry Love” (1995)

John Hiatt’s “Cry Love” is a rock song that astonishes by really rocking out in three.  It’s a great swooping three, mind you, no mincing waltz.  Now, if you start tapping your fingers with it—and your fingers are at all fluttery—you’ll find that you need to go all the way to 12 ticks per measure (beyond 3/4 and 6/8 to 12/16) before you feel comfortable.  Once you’re tapping out 12, you can readily discover the amazing relevance of the Rhythm That Isn’t There, Yet Is:  a figure of four triplets lurking under the palpable figure of three quadruplets.  The figure of three is palpable because beats 1, 5, and 9 are each marked by an emphatic sound—“love” at 1, the main snare hit at 5, and “Cry“ at 9.  Meanwhile, nothing that we’re hearing particularly marks beats 1, 4, 7, and 10 to give us a feeling of four.  It’s an unrealized possibility that is just waiting for you to come along and fill it.  Go ahead, tap out the polyrhythm of a four together with the song’s three:  you want the four because this is a rock song.

“Cry Love”

THE THREE:       1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 – 11 – 12

THE FOUR:         1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 – 11 – 12

I think we implicitly feel ourselves doing that, or feel drawn to do it, even when we don’t do it.  It’s part of why the three feels so swell in this rocker.  It’s a jolly composition. Compare how Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” won’t allow this polyrhythmic expansion because it swings so vehemently in threes of threes, syncopating on that pattern ad hoc:

“Manic Depression”

1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9


At the other extreme, “Synchronicity I” by The Police is a rocker in 3 (more naturally counted as 6) so unswingingly straight-ahead that we get only the most subliminal circular feeling of three:

“Synchronicity I”

* * * * * * *

“Cry Love” shifting gears to a 4 + 2 feel at the end (see Comments):
“Cry Love” end


About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Rock Aesthetics, Time and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Rock Waltz? John Hiatt, “Cry Love” (1995)

  1. Matt says:

    “Cry Love” is totally in four to my ears — albeit a four with a hitch, that extra two beats in each measure that stop us in our tracks, teetering (this is always accentuated in the chorus by a cymbal crash or rumbling bass drum over beats five and six), dying to move forward in our familiar rock stride. As you don’t mention, Hiatt finally fulfills that urge and rocks out in an unimpeded four at the song’s end. There’s a fair comparison to be made with “My Wave,” referring back to your post on odd meters.

  2. Matt says:

    Oops — should have relistened to the song before commenting. Hiatt doesn’t actually go to a pure four at the end, but he does move into double-time, fulfilling in a different way our pent-up urge to rock.

  3. Steve Smith says:

    You’re right, the feeling is strongly 4 + 2 once he shifts gears at the end. I added a clip for this in the post.

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