Archive for January, 2013

Layla – Derek and the Dominos – Tom Dowd – 1971


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A long track that is really two different pieces of music stitched together.

The first half is the famous riff and verse chorus song. The second half is a piano driven instrumental piece.

It starts with an electric guitar intro – two guitars, one playing the lead line while the second provides rhythm. The lead line sounds doubled or more likely ADT. The rhythm guitar is more distorted and chunky. Technically the intro is only the first half of the riff repeated, and it acts like a call.

When the full band kicks in there are three guitars – the rhythm continues, the lead jumps an octave and plays the full riff, call and response, and a third electric guitar panned left is soloing away doing counterpoint and is almost mixed out of the track. Meanwhile the bass and drums thunder away in the centre with added percussion (tambourine).

When the vocal enters the song changes key and the mix changes to focus on the vocal instead of the guitar. In fact it sounds like the main lead guitar drops out altogether as does the tambourine. The rhythm guitar continues on and the soloing guitar keeps noodling away in the centre. Or possibly it is the main lead guitar that is continuing under the vocal and it is the counterpoint guitar that drops out or joins the rhythm part. The drums have toms placed around the stereo image and the bass plays a more involved melodic role in the verses.

The chorus is the return of the riff but with lead vocals and backing vocals. The vocals are pushed back in the mix with reverb and are quite forcefully sung, almost shouted.

A second verse the same as the first and another chorus and then a third verse and double chorus.

Then there is an instrumental section where the guitars go nuts, there are multiple drum fills and there is shouted whooping. This section slows down and stops as the track segues into the second, piano driven part of the song.

The bass and drums and guitars return (but vocals never return). There is an acoustic guitar doubling the piano melody later on.

In this second part of the song the mix stays fairly much the same in terms of the drums and bass. The guitars are pushed back in the mix, allowing the piano and acoustic to come to the fore. There are some nice cymbal crescendos throughout this section that shimmer over the top of the mix (i wonder if these and the tambourine in the first section are overdubs). The track features a natural ending – meaning it is played rather than faded out.

The two sections are fairly even in terms of overall volume which makes the piano section seem a little more intimate than the first section that features screaming guitars and shouted vocals but distant in the mix.

Overall a fairly straight forward production except for the stitching together of two different pieces of music. It’s impossible to tell if it was recorded in a single take or if the two sections were recorded at different times – so in terms of creating the feeling that it is all one performance it is very successful.

In the Rain – Midnight Oil – Malcolm Burn – 1996



Unusual production on this track – especially when heard in the context of the Breathe album. It is track 8 on a 13 track album and sits between two of the heavier songs. It makes the sound of this short, gentle track all the more striking. It has a very distinct room sound, like a warehouse or similar large reverberant space.

The drums, which are restricted to kick and snare/tambourine, are very boxy. They almost sound like beating on a wooden crate or 44 gallon drum. There is no discernible bass guitar but in the first chorus there enters a low end root note sequence that could be bass guitar or piano, or both! It continues in the next verse and until the end of the track.

Off to the right there is a high plinky plink guitar part for the entire track, reverbed and distant in the mix.

The main chord sequence is driven by a reverbed guitar off to the left, playing single sustained notes. There is an echo on the guitar that is only noticeable at the end of the track when a palm muted sound is made. But the echo must be what is helping push that guitar back in the mix.

Essentially all the instrumentation is placed in this ‘warehouse’ sound that pushes it back in the mix, so that when the vocal enters after four bars it is very present and up front. It is the only vocal for the whole song – no doubles or backing vocals. It has a little reverb on it but not enough to push it back into the instrumental backing. The vocal is performed quietly, and with a cracked falsetto in the choruses. It creates an intimate feeling, especially when contrasted with the distant band, and even more so when heard in the context of the album.

The song only consists of two parts (verse and chorus) with an intro, 2 verses, chorus, verse, chorus structure. The song is not about drama or narrative but more about a mood or atmosphere and the production emphasises that – no drop ins or outs, no fade ins or outs, no changes in pan position, no changes in mix settings.

Overall a very unique sound that helps this track have a life of its own on the album.

In the Air Tonight – Phil Collins – Hugh Padgham – 1981



Begins with a subdued drum machine pattern that is far from simple. A big distorted, distant electric guitar strum rings out. Gentle, eerie electric guitar solo wailing far off in the distance over the top of sustained and restrained organ chords that feature a kind of jangling bubbling bell sound very faintly.

The lead vocal enters, with a short delay, perhaps ADT, gives it a small room sound. This first vocal is actually the chorus lyric but sung in a restrained way. Big distorted electric guitar finishes the chorus. Then the verse lyrics follow. The only variation in the verse is electric guitar fading in and out in the background, wailing and yelping.

First chorus features backing vocals thickening the vocal sound, with medium delays repeating the end of each line. Big distorted electric guitar finishes the chorus. Some guitar flourishes continue in the chorus, as well as a high, xylophone like keyboard line.

The next verse starts with vocoder on the vocal, reverse reverb effect fading into it. The rest of the verse features all kinds of vocal effects; vocoder, delays, doubles, harmonies. Plus extra synth pads fading in and out around the vocal.

Big gated reverb drum entrance introduces the final choruses. When the chorus begins a bass guitar riff matches the kick. In amongst all the drum fills there’s bursts of distorted electric guitar, still pushed back in the mix. There’s vocoded backing vocals all through this section.

Fade out is very very long, starting about a minute before the end of the song. During this long fade the lead vocal starts to ad lib melodic variations, reaching a climax.

Overall quite a stunning production. The famous drum break is the climax of the song (although it relies on the bass line and unrestrained singing as well) and it is made so much more dramatic by the gated reverb effect. However, the rest of the song is also full of amazing production especially on the second verse vocals, but also all the background details (electric guitar, keys) which have the space to be heard because of the restrained nature of the main organ and drum machine progression.

Notes: this is the album version. The single version has drums added to the drum machine for the first 3 and a half minutes of the song, somewhat spoiling the impact of the gated reverb drums, in my opinion.

Hugh Padgham invented gated reverb by accident when working on Peter Gabriel’s third solo album on which Phil Collins played drums. The mixing desk they were using allowed for sound to be sent back to the control room through the talkback. It overly compressed the sound, and one day Collins was playing the drums when it was heard in the control room through the desk. You can hear the gated reverb effect most noticeably on the trackIntruder by Peter Gabriel (1980). The drums were recorded in a large reverberant barn, then processed using compressors and gates to truncate the reverb.

I Will Follow – U2 – Steve Lillywhite – 1980


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A novel way to start a rock song – the first eight bars have a distant sound. After a strange tape starting sound, there’s a shouted but very distant count in and then the electric guitar riff starts. It is so ‘far away’ sounding it is almost sounds like a bad recording. Then the glockenspiel comes in, all up front and sparkling, with some percussion hits and then the pounding toms with big reverb making them sound distant – all reminiscent of the ‘underground carpark’ sound of the Stone Roses – see my I Wanna Be Adored post.

A spoken word introduction and then the bass and drums kick in and everything switches to an upfront, clear and present sound. The lead guitar is slightly to the left and the drums are slightly to the right. Vocals and bass dead centre.

The lead vocal has a little reverb on it – you can hear it on the sibilant words. The chorus vocal is doubled, as is the end of the first verse ‘Oh why?’

There’s definitely a second electric guitar part in there but it is so well mixed with the lead guitar it is hard to differentiate at times.

There’s an acoustic guitar panned hard left that appears in the middle section. The middle section features sound effects – bicycle wheels spinning with cutlery in the spokes, glass bottles bouncing and breaking. Some of these sound effects return for the final section. There is a big reverb on the lead vocal for this part and the final part of the middle section vocal is layered and reverbed to drift off. The chiming electric guitar, reverbed vocal and sound effects make for a very atmospheric sound for this part and breaks the song nicely, leading to the return of the riff for the big climax.

There is a strange synth sound that throbs in the final section and is very noticeable as the final sound in the short fade out. (It is actually there in the very first distant 8 bars …)

Overall a very involved production with a lot added to the simple guitar/bass/drums/vocal line up of the band. The glockenspiel in particular is a major part of this production. It is still totally reliant on the guitar riff, the forceful drumming and the pleading vocal but the distant sound at the start, which emphasises the entry of the full band, and the glock and sound effects throughout add so much interest and colour to the song. When played live this song has none of those details mentioned above. It still works but it relies totally on force. This recording has more light and shade and even delicacy – who would’ve thought of adding a glockenspiel to such a violent post-punk riff?

I Want You Back – The Jackson Five – Berry Gordy – 1969


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Stereo is used in this production to separate the instruments. Only three positions are used (left, right and centre) and nothing moves from its fixed position.

The track begins with a piano glissando from high to low, panned left and ending with a bass note centred and a cymbals splash panned right. These will actually be the pan settings for the piano, bass and drums for the whole track. But the effect created here at the beginning is of movement from left to right.

Straight away the four bar intro begins with a funky electric guitar jangling away on the right, bass line and hand clap in the centre and piano doubling the bass line on the left. For the second four bars of the intro strings and bongos are added panned left which shifts the balance of the track off to the left.

Another piano glissando and the balance is restored with all the instruments arriving in their stereo positions. Drums and backing vocals join on the right and the lead vocal is centred for another four bars of introduction.

LEFT = bongos and tambourine, strings, piano
CENTRE = bass, hand claps, lead vocal
RIGHT = drums, electric guitar, backing vocals

The first verse actually sees the drums drop out, leaving only the funk guitar and occasional backing vocals on the right, tilting the balance to the left again, as the piano, bongos, tambourine and strings continue on the left and the lead vocal, hand claps and bass fill the centre.

The chorus sees all the instruments return again.

The bridge still features all the instruments – except the strings drop out. The different parts create a different sense of space. The lead vocal does a call and response with the backing vocals. The backing vocals on the right – a rapid monotone ‘I want you back’ – are doubled by the strings on the left. The drum part breaks down to just kick and snare, the piano vamps on high notes while the hand clap pattern changes.

The second verse and chorus return to the instrumental parts of the first verse and chorus but with a bit more activity in the strings on the left and the backing vocals on the right.

The middle section actually breaks the rule I claimed was in place for the whole song – the funk guitar appears in the left suddenly. This middle section comprises of a breakdown with the drums, strings, bass, piano and percussion dropping out. This leaves just the funk guitar on the left and the backing vocals on the right. The bass returns in the centre, and the bongos return on the left. A second vocal (one of the four backing vocalists I presume) sings a new part on the right which then gets doubled by the lead vocal in the centre before they switch into a call and response pattern. With the return of the lead vocal the tambourine returns on the left. The drums return as a climax for the middle section.

And into the chorus with everything returning to their previous pan positions. A little bridge with backing vocalists doing some solo parts on the right. Then another chorus, then another little bridge, another chorus and so on as the track fades…

The fade is the classic 15 second long fade that has become standard.

Overall a full sounding production is given space and clarity through stereo placement, with 3 elements in each of the three positions at the height of the track. There are no other real production ‘tricks’. Except for the whole track fading out, there are no fade ins or fades outs, no edits, no overt use of effects. You can see that this was a well polished, well worked, well rehearsed live band that didn’t need to be enhanced in the studio except for finding space in the mix for all the elements. It is quite representative of the mixing style of the time – each element is given a place in the mix, both in terms of width (stereo placement) and depth (volume) and it stays there for the whole song. The switch in funk guitar from right to left for the middle section and back again is the only exception to this rule.

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