The album was intended as an experiment using musical styles Brubeck discovered abroad while on a United States Department of State sponsored tour of Eurasia, such as when he observed in Turkey a group of street musicians performing a traditional Turkish folk song that was played in 9/8 time with subdivisions of 2+2+2+3, a rare meter for Western music.
On the condition that Brubeck's group first record a conventional album of traditional songs of the American South, Gone with the Wind, Columbia president Goddard Lieberson took a chance to underwrite and release Time Out. It received negative reviews by critics upon its release. It produced a Top 40 hit single in "Take Five", composed by Paul Desmond, and the one track not written by Dave Brubeck.
Although the theme of Time Out is non-common-time signatures, things are not quite so simple. "Blue Rondo à la Turk" starts in 9
8, with a typically Balkan 2+2+2+3 subdivision into short and long beats (the rhythm of the Turkish zeybek, equivalent of the Greek zeibekiko) as opposed to the more typical way of subdividing 9/8 as 3+3+3, but the saxophone and piano solos are in 4
4. The title is a play on Mozart's "Rondo alla Turca" from his Piano Sonata No. 11, and reflects the fact that the band heard the rhythm while traveling in Turkey.
"Strange Meadow Lark" begins with a piano solo that exhibits no clear time signature, but then settles into a fairly ordinary 4/4 swing once the rest of the group joins. "Take Five" is in 5/4 throughout. According to Desmond, "It was never supposed to be a hit. It was supposed to be a Joe Morello drum solo." "Three to Get Ready" begins in waltz-time, after which it begins to alternate between two measures of 3/4 and two of 4/4. "Kathy's Waltz", named after Brubeck's daughter Cathy but misspelled, starts in 4
4, and only later switches to double-waltz time before merging the two. "Everybody's Jumpin'" is mainly in a very flexible 6/4, while "Pick Up Sticks" firms that up into a clear and steady 6/4.
In an article for The Independent, Spencer Leigh speculated that "Kathy's Waltz" inspired the song "All My Loving", written by Paul McCartney and performed by The Beatles, as they share similar rhythmic endings to the last phrases of their melodies.