Archive for February, 2013

Video Killed the Radio Star – The Buggles – Trevor Horn – 1979


      play song

The intro is rich with sweet strings, a bass guitar with a thick chorus effect on it, and a reverbed piano.

The verse begins with just a piano and lead vocal but both are treated to sound unnatural. The lead vocal is processed with EQ to sound like a telephone. The piano has reverb pushing it back into the rear of the mix. When the female backing vocal comes in it is rich and clear, and doubled and spread wide in stereo. Sporadic hi hats sputter throughout.

After the first half of the verse the loudest kick drum in a pop song ever enters. Also at this point a flute-like synth line plays counterpoint in the right while strings stabs are on the left. The bridge ‘Oh-a oh, I met your children, Oh-a oh, What did you tell them?’ is joined by a funk bass guitar that fuses with the kick, and a hi hat pattern that plays the off beat.

When the chorus arrives the bass and drums switch to a straight four on the floor rhythm, as strings fill out the mix and the female vocals sing the title line.

The second verse features another female backing vocal ‘oh, ah-oh’ but this is so loaded with reverb it sits under the lead vocal.

The instrumental break features a keys/xylophone/synth line as the main focus, with synthetic hand claps as responses. This synth solo is followed by a return to the intro but this time played by synth strings instead of piano. This section is completed by the only appearance of electric guitar for the whole song, with a classic 80s searing lead break.

There is a break after the next chorus, with the vocal reverb trailing off. As the track returns, with piano, the female backing vocal ‘oh, ah-oh’ emerges from a fog of reverb to be a focal point for a moment. As the kick returns and then all in for the final chorus repeats.

The fade out is criminally short!

Such a unique production, not only for its time but even now it still sounds unlike anything else. No one would dare do a whole pop track with that effect on a lead vocal. Because the lead vocal is processed with EQ to sound like a telephone it makes the female ‘backing vocals’ sound so much more present and up front than the actual lead vocal.

Telstar – The Tornados – Joe Meek – 1962


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blah blah telstar

Stupid Girl – Garbage – Butch Vig – 1996


      play song

The track begins with an 8 bar intro section that sets the drum pattern. Without a bass line or chordal elements it feels like marching on the spot. But a slow glissandi of noise creates a sense of movement as it descends into the melodic beginning of the track. There’s a stereo effect on the hi hat so that when it opens (once every bar) it appears wide. A tambourine (or second hi hat?) joins at the ninth bar.

The ninth bar is the second intro with the addition of bass and a clean electric guitar riff (panned right), and a slow string-like pad underneath it all.

The vocals enter for the first verse which features just the bass and drums, and occasional stabs of dirty electric guitar but not too prominent in the mix, panned left. Another swell/glissando of noise and strings lead into the pre-chorus.

The pre-chorus features a bass drop out. This drop out of bass, coupled with a high minor chord synth pad, higher vocal and strange digital effects (like something stretching, panned right), creates a sense of expectation and tension that is resolved by the chorus.

The chorus begins with a big distorted guitar strum that is sustained. There are rich synth pad chords underpinning the chorus. The chorus ends with a return of the clean guitar riff but over the top of the full synth, bass, dirty guitars of the chorus.

The second verse returns to the sparse mix of the first. There is a call and response effect with the vocal line repeated with an EQ effect pushing it down in the mix. The second chorus is much the same as the first but with a piano line doing a call and response with the clean guitar riff as a lead in to the instrumental break.

The instrumental break features several electric guitar parts at different levels in the mix, placed around the stereo field.

Another pre-chorus and then several choruses finish the track. The final choruses feature the first occurrence of backing vocals. Up until this point the vocal has been truly solo – no doubling or harmonies.

The outro features the guitar riffs trading blows before the track ends neatly on the beat with a spoken ‘Stupid girl’.

Overall a very rich production with many layers of guitar effects and parts. Many parts enter strategically, maintaining interest throughout the repeated verse/choruses – such as the radio effected vocal repeats and the piano line. The most interesting thing though is the pre-chorus – with the bass drop out, and the digital effects. The pre-chorus is effectively the song’s hook.

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