Man in the Long Black Coat – Bob Dylan – Daniel Lanois – 1989


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The track begins with a slow fade in of what seems like crickets or night insects but upon closer listening is actually some sort of synth effect I suspect. Soaked in reverb and pushed back in the mix it sits under a steel string acoustic guitar that plucks out sudden figures on the left and a medium delay repeats on the right. Stabs of electric guitar chords are also delayed but they start on the right and repeat on the left. A low murky bass guitar joins in with intermittent notes.

A rhythm begins with some kind of tapping/thumping with a delay, and a harmonica arrives before the bass and guitars begin the main pattern. When the harmonica appears again it has more reverb/delay pushing it back in the mix. The acoustic is close miked (you can hear the squeak of the frets in the chord changes.) The acoustic on the left is more up front in the mix than the electric guitar on the right.

The vocal arrives, sung in a croaky, throaty and surging style. It feels close and intimate, due no doubt to EQ and compression, allowing the words that are almost whispered to still remain audible and clear over the top of the instruments. There is a slight reverb on the vocal that doesn’t inhibit the intimacy.

In between verses there is a subtle keys tinkling, way back in the mix, and later some strings add to the backing. The strings remain for the third verse and build in the final chorus.

Maggot Brain – Funkadelic – George Clinton – 1971


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Epic 10 minute track, it begins with a delayed static click that echoes across the stereo field, and then a spoken word intro, soaked in delay/reverb. It disappears completely for a second of silence.

The music begins gently with a mellow electric guitar arpeggio, the highs EQed out to give it a very soft, almost organ sound. The drums appear on the left and are very far back in the mix, with a heavy delay on the snare. The drums slowly fade out as the arpeggio guitar lifts in volume. (There is hint of drums at times throughout the track and i suspect it is spill into the rhythm guitar mic, so when it is brought up in the mix so is a faint hint of the snare).

The bulk of the song consists of a searing electric guitar solo, full of distortion, wah wah pedal and dominated by a delay effect that is positioned in the left (with the original signal in the right). There’s big reverb on the solo guitar, especially on the delayed signal. It is hard to tell how much of these effects are controlled by the guitarist live and how much have been added in post production. Certainly the volume swells and wah wah are part of the performance but i’d say some of the extreme reverb and delay effects have been added in mixing.

As the song progresses the arpeggiated guitar drops back and then rises again in the mix (particularly at the 2 minute 45 mark where it gets big reverb and a rise in volume). At around the 6 minute mark it is barely there but the hi hat beat returns keeping the beat. By the 6 and a half minute mark the arpeggiated guitar has dropped out completely as the solo slips into a funky riffing style. Then at the seven minute mark the arpeggios return and slowly build in volume. By the 8 minute mark that rhythm guitar as slipped into a strumming pattern as the track reaches it’s final climax.

At the 9 minute mark the intensity has dropped again, and the only vocal appears (reverb soaked spoken word) before the track closes with a final bit of soloing and delay swells. There are clicks and pops that are echoing in the delay as the track is quickly faded out.

Notes: Apparently the track was recorded in a single take, with a full band playing but in the mix, when it became obvious how powerful the solo was virtually on its own, Clinton made the decision to remove most of the rest of the band from the mix.

Let Down – Radiohead – Nigel Godrich – 1997


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The track begins with sweet lullaby-like electric guitar chiming single notes on the left and a glockenspiel or xylophone on the right and a second picked guitar in the middle. Lots of reverb gives this intro a spacey, atmospheric feel. (This spacey feel is accentuated in the middle instrumental section with delay effects shimmering in the background). The metre suggested by this intro is misleading so that the arrival of the bass and drums is a bit of surprise. The drum part includes a tambourine part that seems to be doubled and spread wide in stereo. this in effect works with the vocal because it too is doubled and spread wide.

The vocal is doubled and set hard left and hard right. But in the third verse the vocal appears in the right, and then a second part joins on the left with a counterpoint melody. The hard panning during the first part of the song, which seems odd and unnecessary, makes sense at this point, as the counterpoint adds drama and is all the more interesting and dramatic because it is separated by being spread as wide as possible. There is a harmony vocal added to the centre of the choruses.

In the chorus the chiming guitar plays a call and response role with the lead vocal. The guitar chimes a few notes between vocal lines.

The drum part during the first part of the song is dominated by toms, so that when the snare and ride cymbals comes in (halfway through the second verse) it fills the mix with more drama. During the peaks of the track (the choruses essentially) the guitars are barely noticeable, being buried in the mix, and in effect the track doesn’t sound like a guitar band at all.

The track ends with an acoustic guitar on the left and an arpeggiated synth on the right. The way these instruments just appear suddenly suggests that these elements were there all the time in the mix and have now been revealed by everything else dropping out. (The synth and acoustic do actually come through the mix in the instrumental middle section).

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.

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