Archive for January, 2013

Stuck in the Middle With You – Stealers Wheel – Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller – 1972

stealers wheel

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The track begins with a loose acoustic guitar panned left. I call it ‘loose’ because the main acoustic guitar that drives the track is sharp and rhythmic in comparison. This first acoustic is boomy and full sounding while the latter guitar is thinner and steelier.

A deep bass guitar run introduces the song and the main instruments enter (and the first acoustic drops out) – bass in the centre, sharp steel string on the right, handclaps on the left. The drums seem to consist of simply a kick drum playing a straight four to the floor beat. The lead vocal enters, fairly dry and intimate. It is reinforced at the end of each verse with a harmony singing ‘Stuck in the middle with you’. After the first verse an electric guitar joins with short sharp stabs.

When the first chorus arrives a snare kicks in along with a tambourine/hi hat. The vocals are harmonised in the chorus.

The chorus ends with the ‘Please… please…’ section sung in falsetto that features a cow bell panned left and clean guitar strums panned right.

The second verse is much the same as the first but with a soloing electric guitar on the right. This verse is followed by an instrumental break that sees the soloing guitar continue and joined by another electric guitar on the left.

A second chorus follows but with more prominent tambourine/hi hat. After another ‘Please… please…’ section, the final verse is the same as the second with the soloing guitar on the right.

Overall an interesting production that uses an acoustic guitar to drive the song and electric guitars to add accents, and counterpoint to the vocal. The cowbell, acoustic strum, ‘Please… please…’ section is pretty much the hook of the song, although the ‘Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right’ chorus is also pretty hooky.

(Just Like) Starting Over – John Lennon – Jack Douglas – 1980


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The track begins with a simple triangle struck four times (reminiscent of the buddhist practice of ringing a bell at the beginning of a ceremony).

Then the lead vocal begins with the first two lines accompanied by strums of steel string acoustic guitar (doubled and spread wide in stereo), on the chord changes. The next two lines are joined by backing vocals. The backing vocals are a group harmonising, and are back in the mix.

When the rest of the instrumentation joins (bass, drums, piano and electric guitar) it all sits a fair bit under the lead vocal. (The acoustic guitar seems to disappear). The honky tonk piano is only just noticeable. The focus is on the backbeat (the snare on the 2 and 4) with an electric guitar reinforcing the snare. The reverb on the snare and guitar push it under the lead vocal. A second dirtier electric guitar, panned left, comes in during the chorus, and the lead vocal is doubled and harmonised during the chorus.

The backing vocals are throughout the verses and choruses and sound almost processed (vocoder?) but perhaps not – maybe just reverbed and pushed back in the mix.

The middle section features a key change. The lead vocal has more noticeable reverb here and is perhaps doubled. The second electric plays a prominent fuzz counterpoint.

The third verse features a call and response pattern with the backing vox going ‘doo doop’. The lead vocal is harmonised with a double.

There is a phasing/flanging effect on the vocals at the end of the third verse, as all stop for a pause … leading into the outro.

In the outro there are some spoken vocals that are EQ processed, to sound like a megaphone, that play an almost solo role in the final stages of the track, before the ad libbed lead vocal returns to be the main focal point. The long fade out starts slowly but then dips suddenly at the end.

An interesting production overall, in that the song is an obvious homage to the Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly sound of the 50s but the production tries to sound more modern. Mostly it is the backing vocals, with the almost vocoder/processed sound, that gives it a modern edge.

Soul Rebel – Bob Marley and the Wailers – Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – 1970



With no use of stereo and a muddy mix (compared to contemporary mixes), this track has all the elements of classic reggae – deep bass guitar playing a riff full of pauses, keys jabbing on the off beat, funky guitar licks, busy percussion, a melodic lead vocal with lots of interplay with group backing vocals.

As a mix it



She Wants to Move – N*E*R*D – The Neptunes – 2004


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The track begins with a barking dog and then a driving punchy tom beat and a very loud hi hat. Various whispered vocals introduce the bass line.

The chorus is characterised by a distorted electric guitar line and shouted vocals.

The second verse has an acoustic guitar, which is then dropped out for the pre-chorus which features a piano line.

The second chorus is much the same as the first.

Then there’s a breakdown section and middle section that introduces a new chord sequence.

Then it returns to the chorus. The final chorus features a cymbal/hi-hat that is played so vigorously it loses it sense of rhythm and becomes a sizzle of white noise.



Rockit – Herbie Hancock – Bill Laswell – 1983


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The track begins with very ‘artificial’ sounds – signposting the style of the track – electronic drums and vinyl record ‘scratching’ in sync.

The production is essentially ‘instrumental’ – meaning it has no vocals. There are a smattering of vocal samples throughout but these also match the ‘artificial’ production style, sounding overtly processed. Instead of a lead vocal there is lead synth melody line that functions as the main hook.

Scratching is used as a lead instrument also.

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