Listen to “Liberty Street”, unreleased Bob Dylan song performed by Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith

Pictured: Elvis Costello, Jim James,T Bone Burnett, Jay Bellerose, Rhiannon Giddens, Marcus Mumford, Taylor Goldsmith. Photo Credit: Sam Jones/Showtime © 2014 Showtime Networks Inc

Pictured: Elvis Costello, Jim James,T Bone Burnett, Jay Bellerose, Rhiannon Giddens, Marcus Mumford, Taylor Goldsmith.
Photo Credit: Sam Jones/Showtime
© 2014 Showtime Networks Inc

 

As previously reported, an all-star contingency of folk rockers recently convened to create music for two dozen newly discovered lyrics written by Bob Dylan. Entitled Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes, the 15-track collection is the culmination of two-plus weeks of studio time by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, Mumford and Sons’ Marcus Mumford, Elvis Costello, Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith, Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Rhiannon Giddens, and super producer T-Bone Burnett. The lyrics in question date back to 1967, taken from the same period that spurred the recording of Dylan’s iconic Basement Tapes.

In anticipation of the album’s release, the collective has already shared several album tracks: the Jim James-fronted “Nothing To It”, the Elvis Costello-led “Married To My Hack”, the Marcus Mumford-helmed “When I get My Hands On You”, and “Spanish Mary”. Today, Goldsmiths takes over as frontman on “Liberty Street”.

Despite the sheer star power of the project, this song is perhaps the most quaint and minimalist of the entire project, with Goldsmith crooning over some gentle piano and the faint whispers of a back-up chorus. Still, that light touch perfectly fits the song’s overall scope, with undertones of religious exploration and a message of personal growth/freedom. Watch its accompanying lyric video below, a slightly abstract animated piece.

 

The New Basement Tapes – Liberty Street (Lyric Video

 

 

Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes will arrive November 11th via Electromagnetic Recordings / Harvest Records. The album is being accompanied by a Showtime documentary set to debut on November 21st.  According to a press release, director Sam Jones’ Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued presents an “exclusive and intimate look at the making of Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes set against the important and historical cultural backdrop of Bob Dylan’s original Basement Tapes.”

Meanwhile, Dylan himself will release the entire collection of The Basement Tapes on November 4th. The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 spans a whopping 138 songs, including 30 never known to have existed. Stream it in full here.

Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes Tracklist:
01. Down On The Bottom
02. Married To My Hack
03. Kansas City
04. Spanish Mary
05. Liberty Street
06. Nothing To It
07. Golden Tom – Silver Judas *
08. When I Get My Hands On You
09. Duncan and Jimmy
10. Florida Key
11. Hidee Hidee Ho #11
12. Lost On The River #12
13. Stranger
14. Card Shark
15. Quick Like A Flash *
16. Hidee Hidee Ho #16 *
17. Diamond Ring *
18. The Whistle Is Blowing *
19. Six Months In Kansas City (Liberty Street)
20. Lost On The River #20

* = Deluxe edition only

Song Premiere: Robert Plant’s Bold New Band

Robert Plant and his new band.

Robert Plant and his new band.

 

Of all the artists making music in the ’60s and ’70s and still making music today, continues to keep his music vital and interesting. His music with in 2007 was steeped in the bluesy rock the singer does best, but it wasn’t nostalgic, it was fresh. In 2010 it was Band Of Joy with and , again surprising and lovable. Now the sixty-five year old former singer has a new band and project, Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters. Judging from the one song we’re premiering here today I’m eager to get my hands on the new album.

Robert Plant - Born in England; made in the U.S.

Robert Plant – Born in England; made in the U.S.

 

It’s urgent. It’s acrobatic. It’s pulsing with raw sexuality. It is the unmistakable voice of Robert Plant.

Plant was just 19 when he joined in 1968. He was already known as “The Wild Man of Blues From the Black Country” in the area around Birmingham, England. His new album, Band of Joy, is named after one of his earliest bands, and you can hear a lot of the same influences now as then.

 

This song, called “Rainbow,” is a haunting, percussive mix of rock and soul. It’s from a new record, lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar (the l is lower case intentionally), which comes out on Sept. 9 on a new label for Robert Plant, Nonesuch. In a press release, he calls it “a celebratory record, powerful, gritty, African, Trance meets Zep.” His band includes Justin Adams on various percussion including bendir and djembe and also guitar; John Baggott on keyboards, loops, moog bass and piano; Juldeh Camara on ritti (a single stringed fiddle); Billy Fuller on bass, drum programming and omnichord; Dave Smith on drums and Liam “Skin” Tyson on banjo and guitar. Tchad Blake mixed all but a few of the album’s tracks and he really is a master at making even the ordinary sound extraordinary. You may know his work with Elvis Costello, Sam Phillips, Peter Gabriel, Tom Waits and so many more. Plant will tour with the new album in the fall — all we know now is that there are shows planned at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Sept. 27 and 28.

 

“The complexion of this adventure — it’s definitely made in America,” Plant says. “As a kid — and most of us British musicians — we felt the resonance of American music. It’s all the stuff that affected me and made me quite emotional when I was a kid. All that great stuff — mix it and twirl it around if you like with the more glossy American doo-wop/pop, which you can hear on Band of Joy. If you listen to the Kelly Brothers song ‘Falling in Love Again,’ you hear that sweet side of the sound.”

With 40 years of music behind him, Plant has been exposed to much music. In an interview, All Things Considered host Melissa Block asks how Plant finds new paths to songs.

“I hear so many songs that many years ago I would have thought unassailable,” Plant says. “When you’re 20 years old and you’re making points with volume and dynamism, it’s a fantastic thing to do. But just to enjoy an adventure in restraint, it’s like, what don’t you do to make it work.”

On Band of Joy, Plant’s cover of “Silver Rider” by the indie-rock band is about as restrained as you can get.

For Plant, there was no training his voice — just singing.

“I used to deliver newspapers, and I got enough money to send off to King Records in Cincinnati from Worcestershire in England, as a 13-year-old,” Plant says. “I got the original pressings of ‘s Live at the Apollo — a voice that’s absolutely unbelievable. And then, whoop, some crackling radio underneath my pillow gives me singing ‘Way Over There’ — ‘What’s this? This is what it is. This is people letting every single breath that they’ve got out.’ It’s just too much. I had to try and get there.

“So many white kids, English kids — we had no culture,” Plant says. “We had no points of reference, really, apart from these hazy radio signals fading in and out depending on the weather over your mom and dad’s house. We just ate it up and just tried to get it like that. We all failed miserably, to be honest.”

The voice of “Whole Lotta Love” failed miserably? According to Plant, he was too invested in academia and doing what his parents asked of him. He hadn’t hit those “subterranean grooves yet.” But he says that when he listens back to those Led Zeppelin records now, he hears a “precocious” kid, “looking into the crowd and wiggling his legs about and wondering what’s for supper” — metaphorically, of course.

Glorious Failures And Magnificent Moments

There are so many instances when Plant’s voice entwines with Jimmy Page’s guitar. Block wonders if that guitar influenced his voice.

“The kind of vocal exaggeration that I developed was based on what key songs were in,” Plant says. “Lots of songs would be in E or A, which you got to get up there if you’re going to sing in E. Some nights it was great and some nights, live, you had to run for cover. I’d like to pretend that the PA had broken sometimes, because I set myself huge challenges to try and be consistent. And some of those vocal performances were, you know, real tough. And some of them we cheated, you know, used vari-speed and got up there. Here and there you can hear, [they] slowed down the tape and then [I’d] sing over it and speed it back up again, you know … Mama, mama, mama, mama! ‘Cause it fitted. Back in those early days, I was flying by the seat of my pants quite a lot, and there were glorious failures, and there were magnificent moments.”

At some point, Plant’s voice became an instrument, but he doesn’t quite liken it to Page’s guitar.

“It’s a weird thing to do, because the voice doesn’t have that kind of flexibility,” Plant says. “I wanted my voice to be a tenor sax, really. I wanted to be . I wanted to be . I just think that certain instruments have so much more chance of following the electric charges in your mind. When you’re listening to people play the post-bebop stuff, you can hear this great instrumentation. But for a singer, you’ve got to work with syllables; you’ve got to work with themes and lyric. I’ve got to learn to play something soon.”

Considering his range and wail, it’s amazing that Plant has a voice left at all.

“I never stop and think anything, and that’s why talking to you is quite a revelation,” Plant says. “I never even think about these things. When you’re in a recording studio and you’ve got a microphone, and the tape’s rolling, and everybody’s playing, you just do it. You go into this place that makes sense for the moment. I can’t think about it in a straight line and say, ‘This is how I did this or that or the other,’ because even within a [Led] Zeppelin album, there was so much variance, and that’s what makes a career, a passage of time, a great gift. But my voice — how did I ever know I could do it? Listen to it now — I sound like Hoagy Carmichael. I feel good about what I’m doing, so I guess if I shut up for a couple of days, I can sing good again.”

joy_wide-4c2ffd1925aa75d39e1bbd24d00ed7ef5f3aec5a-s4-c85

This was a show full of surprises. First off, Band of Joy wasn’t just backing . It’s a band that happens to have Plant as a member. Sometimes multi-instrumentalist sung lead while Plant played harmonica. At other times, singer-songwriter or country artist took center stage. Sure, Plant was the main reason fans turned out at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City. But this was a remarkable band giving a stunning performance.

Another surprise was Plant’s demeanor. He never cut loose. Even on a song like the track “Gallows’ Pole,” there was no crazy wailing. In fact, all of the Zeppelin tunes were beautifully restrained.

That led to another surprise: I never missed Plant’s Zeppelin histrionics. His restraint was exactly what this setting called for. The show was still a memorable treat: Amazing players applying their craft to great American blues and old timey tunes, along with some good old rock ‘n’ roll.

The final surprise was that I liked the covers as much as the Led Zeppelin songs. It’s safe to say that everyone smiled a little more when Band of Joy launched into “Misty Mountain Hop,” “Houses of the Holy,” “Gallows Pole” and “Rock and Roll.” But truth be told, traditional songs and cover tunes such as the cut “Angel Dance,” a gospel medley that included “12 Gates to the City” and “House of Cards,” are what ultimately made this night a perfect delight.

The show was recorded at the Bowery Ballroom by Edward Haber, Irene Trudel, George Wellington and Mike Poole. It was mixed at Jerome L. Greene Performance Space by Mike Poole and Edward Haber.

 

 

 

An All-Star Grammy Tribute To Joe Strummer

Joe-Strummer-bw

Joe Strummer

“Joe was into the individual: You’ve got to do what’s right for you,” said Slattery. “You’ve got to follow what’s in your heart and not what’s in someone else’s heart. Tuning in to your own spirit: that’s what people should take from Joe.”

Who doesn’t love a supergroup? That’s a rhetorical question — we all do. For instance, if you had the option of watching a band made up of Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, Elvis Costello, and Steven Van Zandt take the stage, how could you say no?

You don’t. You can’t.

But wait, it gets so much better. What if this fab foursome came together to honor the late Joe Strummer? At the 2003 Grammy Awards, just months after Strummer’s untimely death in December 2002, they did just that, bound together in solidarity to honor a fellow iconoclastic rock giant with one of the most iconic songs in rock and roll. “London Calling” always had a certain grandiosity to it, but that night it took on a whole new kind of awesome righteousness. There they were, the Four Horsemen of Rock if there ever was one, standing side by side, trading off verses one by one in memory of Strummer and The Clash. It was enough to bring a tear to the eye of every self-respecting punk.

Tributes are nothing new, especially on a stage as big as the Grammys. Still, when they’re done right and with true grit and spirit, it makes for an indelible memory that stays with you even a decade later. For all of the bombast and over-indulgence that can often saddle big award shows, all it takes is a moment like this to make it all worthwhile.

Artists

Watch Arctic Monkeys cover Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’

Sheffield band pay tribute to late Velvet Underground frontman
at Liverpool’s Echo Arena

Arctic Monkeys  played (October 28) a cover of ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ in tribute to Lou Reed, who died on Sunday (October 27).

The song appeared in the encore of the Sheffield band’s show. ‘Walk On The Wild Side’, from 1972, is arguably Reed’s most famous song, and is reportedly seeing a sales spike on iTunes due to the iconic performer’s passing.

Local boy Bill Ryder-Jones, formerly of The Coral, joined the band for a number of tracks, including ‘Fireside’, ‘Pretty Visitors’ and ‘Snap Out Of It’.

Arctic Monkeys aren’t the only band who have covered Reed’s music since his death was announced on Sunday. At Baltimore’s First Mariner Arena, Pearl Jam played ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’, Twin Shadow posted his version of ‘Perfect Day’ on YouTube and My Morning Jacket, accompanied by Neil Young, Elvis Costello, Jenny Lewis and more, covered ‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin” at Young’s Bridge School Benefit on Sunday.

Arctic Monkeys played:

‘Do I Wanna Know?’
‘Brianstorm’
‘Dancing Shoes’
‘Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’
‘Teddy Picker’
‘Crying Lightning’
‘One For The Road’
‘Fireside’ (with Bill Ryder-Jones)
‘Reckless Serenade’
‘Old Yellow Bricks’
‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’
‘Arabella’
‘Pretty Visitors’ (with Bill Ryder Jones)
‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’
‘Cornerstone’
‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ (with Bill Ryder-Jones)
‘Mardy Bum’
‘Fluorescent Adolescent’
‘I Wanna Be Yours’ (with Bill Ryder-Jones)
‘Walk On The Wild Side’ (with Bill Ryder-Jones)
‘Snap Out Of It’ (with Bill Ryder-Jones)
‘R U Mine?’

Arctic Monkeys are currently on tour. The remaining dates are as follows:
Cardiff Motorpoint Arena (29)
Birmingham LG Arena (31)
Glasgow Hydro Arena (November 1)
Sheffield Motorpoint Arena (2)

The Art of Music Production: Let’s Start with Music Arrangement

booksThe Art of Music Production is the first book to comprehensively analyze and describe the role of the music producer in creating successful music recordings. Now in its fourth edition, it is the definitive guide to the art and business of music production. Author and producer Richard James Burgess distills this complex field by defining the distinct roles of a music producer.The first part of the book outlines the underlying theory of the art of music production. The second focuses on the job’s practical aspects, including training, getting into the business, and–most importantly–the musical, financial, and interpersonal relationships producers have with artists and their labels. The book is packed with insights from successful music producers, ranging from the beginnings of recorded sound to today’s chart-toppers and across genre lines. It features many revealing anecdotes, encompassing both the daily and overarching career-related challenges that a producer faces. Burgess addresses the changes in the nature of music production brought about by technology and, in particular, the millennial shift that has occurred with digital recording and distribution. His lifelong experience in the recording industry as a studio musician, artist, composer, producer, manager, and marketer, combined with his extensive academic research in the field, brings a unique breadth and depth of understanding to the topic.

But before we start discussing music production, over the next couple of months we’ll be looking into the most scant-regarded and often-ignored element of music: arrangement. It’s a massive subject which has umpteen rules, all of which can be bent, broken and rewritten. For the purpose of this series of articles we will not be looking into how a guitar/bass/drum group get their live set together (for a detailed look at those aspects of arrangement and general musical preparation. So just how do you go about arranging a tune? The answer to that question has as many connotations as the age-old conundrum: how long is a piece of string? On the assumption that the string is two metres in length and seven strands thick, I intend to look at the long and short of arrangement for any sound that calls itself modern popular music.

* This is the first article in a three-part series. We hope you enjoy, and if you want to participate with ideas and/or opinions do not hesitate to contact us.

WHAT IT’S NOT

Let’s start by looking at what arrangement isn’t:

• It’s not finding a chord sequence for a song (although it often is changing the pattern of a chord sequence to make a more sympathetic harmonic bed).

• It’s not writing the lyrics to a song (although it can be working out exactly what the backing singers will be doing with themselves).

• It’s not deciding what the rhythm to a track is (although, in truth, it sometimes is).

Actually, the line between composing or producing a tune and arranging it is a very thin one. If you’re either the producer or the composer, arrangement goes with the territory, whereas if you’re being brought in by a composer or producer specifically as an arranger, it’s usually to arrange the strings or the horns or the backing vocals (we’ll examine those particular aspects and what the job pays later in the series). For now, we’ll look at the basics of how to get the best out of a song you’ve written.

The first thing you must do is make sure that there’s a reason for every part to be there — that goes for any piece of music you write. The amount of times people include four bars of nothing between sections (because it’s always been there) is equal to the amount of songs that never have a hope of getting anywhere. If you’re writing a piece of art that you hope will turn on millions of people, make sure that every part has a reason and nothing is missing. That’s the art of writing, arranging and producing hits. Everyone knows what ingredients can be used — it’s all down to the stirring, I guess. Aprons on: let’s cook!

THE INGREDIENTS

THE VERSE: We all know that a verse is the part of the song which tells the story. Most songs have no more than four verses, which would include repeating the first verse at the end. Bob Dylan has written songs with dozens of verses, but none of those ever became hits. Of course, you can get away with only one verse repeated over and over again, if you want. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, with ‘Roller Coaster of Love’, and Nirvana, with ‘Something in the Way’, are two that did.

THE CHORUS: The chorus is the part of the song which you want people to be singing along with by the end of the song — the first time they hear it. One easy, effective and sure-fire killer way of making a chorus lift to maximum hit-ability is to find the highest root note string sound you can and have it simply playing all the way through. It sounds corny, but just try it. It could be one of the elements that makes your track a worldwide smash hit. Ask the Pet Shop Boys what they think of this idea.

THE BRIDGE OR TAG: This is a section that links the verse and the chorus together. That music shop favourite ‘Wonderwall’, by the mighty Oasis, has a perfect example of a bridge, if a little long and unadventurously used (“And all the roads we have to walk are winding…”). The song also has the ‘two verses at the beginning’ trick (see next section).

THE MIDDLE EIGHT (or, as James Brown would shout, “Take it to the bridge”) is a third melodic part, usually placed after the second chorus to break up the song pattern. It’s called a middle eight because it’s usually eight bars long, but there’s no law saying it has to be that length or even there in the first place — whatever feels good and fits the bill. No-one has ever done a study on this but I would hazard a guess that 50% of records have a middle eight, and of those, 50% are eight bars long. Michael Jackson used this device for effect in ‘Billie Jean’ (“People always told me, be careful what you do…” — which, by the way, is eight bars long).

A KEY CHANGE: Why? Because it can lift a song at that difficult ‘two-thirds of the way through’ stage, where the listener’s interest is beginning to waver. The usual key change is to move up a tone (from A to B, for example). It’s advised, for maximum effect, to build into this with a huge drum break or a dramatic pause. Key changes down are seldom, if ever, used, because they give the opposite effect of uplift. And note that more than one key change per song can be more annoying than exciting. There’s a classic example of a key change in the Whitney Houston hit ‘I Will Always Love You’.

THE CODA is a cool way of ending a track. It’s either the chorus hook repeated continuously, or a new section used to tail off a track. One of the most exciting codas used in popular music is the end of Elvis Costello’s ‘Accidents Will Happen’ — the bit that repeats the words “I Know”, ad infinitum.

Of course, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ doesn’t fit the patterns explained here, but all but a handful of the tens of thousands of top ten hit records before and since have.

PIECING IT TOGETHER

Let’s assume that your song has the following conventional structure:

Verse 1

Chorus

Verse 2

Chorus

Verse 3

Chorus

Verse 4

Double chorus

End

How do you make it more interesting?

• The first thing to add is an intro. It could simply be a vamp of the opening couple of bars of the verse or the final four or eight bars of the chorus. Then again, four bars of drums at the beginning of a song never goes down badly either.

• Try getting rid of the first chorus by sticking verse 1 and verse 2 together.

• Then, after verse three, double up the chorus, drop the last verse down a gear and make it a middle eight. Halving the rhythm track or changing the fourth chord to a minor second chord is a good way of going about this.

• A middle eight section is a great way to set up the final chorus onslaught (see ‘The Nashville Number System’ box).
TEMPO

Beats per minute (BPM) first became a science in the mid ’70s, when various producers using early sequencers to make dance music worked out that 137bpm was the optimum speed to excite the human heart rate whilst dancing (137 — the disco heaven). Since then sequencers have become an awful lot more sophisticated, as has the BPM awareness of the music makers. These days there are more pigeonholes in which to place music than ever before: house and garage tracks tend to fall betwen 130-145bpm, jungle in the 165-170bpm bracket, and happy hardcore between 170 and 175bpm, but all bpms are subject to change on the whim of a single track, which could be yours. There are some styles of modern dance music which have very eclectic tempo constraints: techno can go from an industrially moody 80bpm to a brain-smashingly bizarre 500bpm. If you’re thinking about trying something in a new style for you, do some homework first. Dance music is an exact business, and close scrutiny of the current market leaders is essential to understanding the form and arrangement. A visit to your friendly local specialist record shop with £20 in your pocket will give you the best overview of what is the current norm. And in dance music, being current is everything.

Even if you’re not a dance music expert and have no intention of dipping your toe in that particular beat pool, tempo is still an issue. A couple of tricks that are seldom used these days, but were common practice up until the Linn drum came onto the scene, involved speeding up the track, both gradually and as a whole.

Tracks would speed up naturally during the recording of the backing track, which is something that doesn’t happen these days. If you use a sequencer but don’t use loops, try notching up the BPM of your track every verse and chorus. Starting at 120bpm and ending the track at 125bpm can give a sense of urgency without the listener having the faintest clue what’s going on.

The other way of speeding up a track which used to be used on a very regular basis was to slow down the mastering tape machine by a factor of 8.5% at the final mix stage. When played back at normal speed, the finished master would be slightly over a semitone higher in pitch. The reason for this was that it made the playing sound a bit tighter, particularly the drums, and gave the overall sound a bit of a toppy edge. On the downside, it made working out songs from the record difficult, because they were often slightly out of tune.
CODA

It may seem that some of the aspects we’ve covered have strayed into production or composing, but as I mentioned at the beginning, the line is a fine one. Next month we’ll look at instrumental arranging, including adding horn and string parts, both sampled and real, basslines, rhythm structures, and fancy arrangement tips.

ANATOMY OF A HIT: THE BEACH BOYS’ ‘GOOD VIBRATIONS’

Each month, I’ll take a look at the arrangement of a well-known record to see what makes it tick. To start with, let’s consider ‘Good Vibrations’, recently voted the greatest single of all time by the readers of Mojo magazine.

This record is more than a mere classic, it’s the Holy Grail of pop. Recording commenced mid-February 1966 at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood, towards the tail-end of sessions for The Beach Boys’ most influential album Pet Sounds (although ultimately, it was not included on that album). After a shaky and uncertain start, it took six weeks of recording time, spaced out over several months, to complete the track. Moving the session between five different studios, bouncing from a 4-track machine to a stereo mix on one of the early 8-track machines, and slicing multitrack tape as he went, Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys’ founder, producer and principal composer, gave ‘Good Vibrations’ a godlike sound.

On the finished record, ‘Good Vibrations’ is in the key of G flat major (six flats) and starts with the verse descending from the relative minor: E flat minor. It was probably played in the key of F (one flat) with the verse starting on the chord of D minor and sped up at the mixdown stage. Typical pop songs of that era (or indeed any era) usually have a basic groove running throughout the track which doesn’t change a great deal from start to finish. Not so ‘Good Vibrations’; this is, in Brian Wilson’s words, a ‘pocket symphony’. It lasts just over three and half minutes but has as many dramatic changes in mood as a piece of serious classical music lasting more than half an hour, moving from the delicate opening verse (bass, vocals, and organ only) to the soaring vocal harmony sections on the chorus and bridge, and then, in the middle of the track, dropping right down to the simplicity of a church organ pad accompanied solely by a tambourine. Of course, much of the atypical structure is due to the way the track was recorded in completely different-sounding sections, and then edited together later.

As well as the unconventional structure, the instrumentation used is, to say the least, dangerously exotic. This was a period when pop records were either guitar, bass and drum combos or traditional orchestrated arrangements for vocalists. For one thing, ‘Good Vibrations’ doesn’t use a guitar; instead it uses a solo cello and a theremin to build the rhythm section for one section, and in another section doubles a honky-tonk piano with a jaw’s harp. The instrumentation changes radically from section to section; the bass plays in some parts but not in others, drums and vocals drop in and out, and the voices sometimes accompany fully developed backing tracks (such as in the chorus) and are in parts almost a cappella.

The beat, although the standard four-in-the bar, has a triplet feel (1 2 3 / 2 2 3 / 3 2 3 / 4 2 3) — some people call it ‘threes over fours’, others ‘a shuffle beat’. This is the same feel as Tears For Fears’ ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ and Billy Ocean’s ‘When The Going Gets Tough’ and many other lesser number one records. For the casual listener, the most prominent triplet figure is the part played by the cello, which saws away on the root note of the chord during the chorus.

The very first thing you hear is the angelic voice of Carl Wilson, Brian’s brother, singing the word ‘I’ a triplet quaver before the downbeat. The first eight bars of the verse feature a heavily phased organ passed through a Leslie rotary speaker (for more on this, see the Hammond feature starting on page 40 this month). The organ plays the chords on the beat, accompanied solely by the tight bass guitar sound of Motown and Country music session giant Carole Kaye playing super-cool triplet figures. The second eight bars have a broken but rigid drum pattern played by session drummer extraordinaire Hal Blaine (alleged to have played on more hit records than any other musician ever) in tandem with a tambourine splash and a counterpoint descending French horn laid beautifully in the distance.

The 16-bar chorus was edited into the multitrack master tape at some point during the construction of the track. Like all the other edits that made up the finished record, this one is partially masked by vast reverb decays added at the mixing and sub-mixing stages. Rhythmically, the chorus is stable, but instrumentally it’s wild; the throbbing cello is stretched over a straight bass and drum framework accompanied by a back-beat tambourine, and the whole arrangement is topped off by a gentleman called Paul Tanner playing a theremin — most unusual for pop music of the time.

The chorus vocals are split into four 4-bar sections. The first section is the ‘I’m picking up Good Vibrations’ hook line, the second section adds an ‘oo bop bop’ figure (years before those Hanson boys were a twinkle in their parents eyes), the third section adds a gorgeous high harmony to the ‘oo bop bop’ part and the fourth section adds an even higher harmony. The structure of these vocal parts and their harmonic framework may not be the kind taught in the Royal Academy of Music, but the excitement they generate in the listener is equal to anything scratched on a piece of parchment by a long-dead composer.

A common way to develop a song arrangement is to add something to the second verse. Again, ‘Good Vibrations’ deviates from the norm; the second verse and chorus adhere to exactly the same patterns of instrumentation and harmony as the first time through, and the verse section is never repeated again in the song. Furthermore, the song then moves into a section that is completely out of left field; a honky-tonk piano plays with half-time feel accompanied by an on-beat bass drone, a different tambourine (shaken, not hit), a jaws harp, and more theremin low in the mix. After eight bars, there’s a four-bar vocal crescendo (‘aaaah’); the third and fourth bars vocally counterpointed with an angelic ‘Oo my my my’, which takes us into the middle eight.

Musically, the middle eight changes from the relative minor to an E flat major and instrumentally adds a sleigh bell. The vocal arrangement (‘I don’t know where but she sends me there…’) has four separate parts which interweave so divinely the Spice Girls or Boyzone couldn’t even dream them properly.

From a half-time middle eight, most people would go straight into a big splash hook-line section. Brian Wilson decided to slow the track even further, moving into a 23-bar section of church organ and tambourine by means of the most savage edit in the track. Most arrangers would steer clear of this kind of drop in pace, on the grounds that it would be chart suicide, but not Brian. This section is split into six sections of four bars (my maths is fine, just give me time to explain). The first section is vocal-less. The second section adds the line ‘gotta keep those loving Good Vibrations happening with her’ and at the end Carole Kaye’s fat, round bass strikes up, leading into the third section which has blissful vocal harmonies and a bass line. The fourth section adds a harmonica and over the course of these four bars all the vocals fade out (again, an unconventional move). The next section is vocal-less, with just the church organ, tambourine, bass root and harmonica, as is the first two bars of the sixth and last section. On the third bar there’s a crescendo vocal ‘aaaah’ which stops with everything else on the down beat of the last bar, decaying with delicious, distorted, ultra-analogue spring reverb to near-silence, before the next surprise: an eight-bar coda of ‘Good good good, good Vibrations’. This time, there’s no ‘Oo bop bop’ vocal accompaniment, just straight root-third and fifth block harmony, but once again, all these vocals fade out in time for the final two bars of the section, leaving the cello and bass prominent before the final piece of singing on the track: eight bars of rapturous barber shop-type vocal harmonies. There are no words, just ‘dos’, ‘bas’ and ‘oos’. As if this wasn’t unexpected enough, the final playout is then heralded by two bars of just cello and very prominent theremin before the drums and bass kick in for the final two-bar fade-out with full instrumentation. The exotic instruments, the complex vocal arrangements, and the many dynamic crescendos and decrescendos all combine to set this record apart from most pop music. In short, if there’s an instruction manual for writing and arranging pop songs, this one breaks every rule.

MANIPULATING YER DIGITS

I’m working on the assumption that you’re not a classically trained pianist or a gifted jazz ivory-tickler, and that you input your musical information through that new-fangled MIDI thing, by means of a keyboard. Here’s a handy chord-playing tip. In short, instead of having one chord shape that moves up and down the keyboard, never changing, try using different inversions. If the chords you play are (C) (F) (G), rather than playing the notes in the order C E G / F A C / G B D, where the fifth note of the chord stays in the same position, try playing C E G / C F A / B D G.

To create a mere interesting bassline, use notes from within the chord other than the root. You’ll be playing like Liberace before you know it. (For chords with more than three notes, see ‘Posh Chords’ box).

THE NASHVILLE NUMBER SYSTEM

In the last decade of the 18th Century, the centre of the music world was Salzburg, Austria. Two hundred years later there is no more productive music city on the planet than Nashville, Tennessee. Whether you like country music or think it’s a pile of twanging nonsense, the fact remains that there are more studios, producers, arrangers, composers and musicians making music every day in a square mile there than anywhere else on earth.

Though this is more to do with songwriting than arranging, there’s a most remarkable thing about the way that music is made there, which can be of great benefit to musicians of all tastes: instead of musical notation and chord progressions, they use something known as the number system. Numbering the notes of the scale from one to eight (the latter being an octave higher) and applying those numbers to chords means that a song is seen as a numbered pattern of chord changes, regardless of what key the song is in. It may seem an odd way of looking at music, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it — whatever flavour of music you deal in. It makes learning new songs easier, changing the key to a song a doddle, and understanding what makes other great songs flow so well more straightforward. It would be completely out of order of me to suggest that looking at a number of great songs by other artists as a set of chord numbers, and picking the bits you want to use as a blueprint for your own song in your own comfortable key is a good way to start a new song. If only because this article is about arranging and not songwriting.

Anyway, every musical key is numbered in the table below. A number on its own signifies a major chord; in the key of C, a 1 is read as C major. Other “flavours” of chord are created by a simple shorthand; for example, if you want a Bb minor in the key of C, a minor chord based on the flattened seventh degree of the scale, if would be written as b7-. Nashville convention implies a particular kind of chord for each step of the scale, although this is always fully notated to avoid ambiguity:

1 = major

2 = minor 7th (2-7)

3 = minor 7th (3-7)

4 = major

5 = major

6 = minor (6-)

7 = 7th (7/7th)

So while the 6 chord would normally be minor (notated as 6-), you might want it to be a major or major 7th (6 or 6/7th). And remember, changing a chord from major to minor and vice-versa could make the difference between a massive hit and just another song.

Incidentally, the 6- chord is the relative minor of the key. (In the key of C it would be A minor.) Which means that the same notes are used in the relative minor key of A minor as are used in the major key of C. This may not seem that interesting, but if you use it in the correct way it can make you as rich as Eric Clapton. (Eric Clapton has based his entire guitar-playing style on exclusively using relative minor scales, and he’s not the only one, by a long shot.)

1 C C# D E F F# G G# A Bb B
2 D D# E F# G G# A A# B C C#
3 E F F# G# A A# B C C# D D#
4 F F# G A Bb B C C# D Eb E
5 G G# A B C C# D D# E F F#
6 A A# B C# D D# E F F# G G#
7 B C C# D# E F F# G G# A A#
8 C C# D E F F# G G# A Bb B

POSH CHORDS

Here’s a list of every chord used in music, ever. They’re only in the key of C. To find out what they are in other musical keys, either use your musical transposing skills, or the transpose button on your keyboard or sequencer. Try them out — you’ll sound like a musical genius.

– = MINOR

&Mac198; = MAJOR 7th

+ = AUGMENTED

o = DIMINISHED

C6 = C E G A

C6/9 = C E G D A

C+9 = C E G D

C&Mac198; = C E G B

C&Mac198;(13) = C E G B A

Cmj9 = C E G B D

Cmj13 = C E G B D A

C7 = C E G Bb

C9 = C E G Bb D

C13 = C E G Bb D A

C-6 = C Eb G A

C-6/9 = C Eb G A D

C-+9 = C Eb G D

C-7 = C Eb G Bb

C-7+11 = C Eb G Bb F

C-7+13 = C Eb G Bb A

C-9 = C Eb G Bb D

C-11 = C Eb G Bb D F

C-13 = C Eb G Bb D F A

C-&Mac198; = C Eb G B

C-9&Mac198; = C Eb G B D

C-7b5 = C Eb F# Bb

C-9b5 = C Eb F# Bb D

C-11b5 =C Eb F# Bb D F

Co = C Eb F#

Co7 = C Eb F# A

Co7+&Mac198; = C Eb F# A B

C+ = C E G#

Csus = C F G

C7sus = C F G Bb

C9sus = C F G Bb D

C13sus = C F G Bb D A

C&Mac198;b5 = C E F# B

C&Mac198;5 = C E G# B

C&Mac198;11 = C E G B F#

Cmj9#11 = C E G B D F#

Cmj13#11 = C E G B D F# A

C7b5 = C E F# Bb

C9b5 = C E F# Bb D

C7#5 = C E G# Bb

C9#5 = C E G# Bb D

C7b9 = C E G Bb C#

C7#9 = C E G Bb Eb

C7b5b9 = C E F# Bb C#

C7#5#9 = C E Ab Bb Eb

C7#5b9 = C E G# Bb C#

C7#11 = C E G Bb F#

C9#11 = C E G Bb D F#

C7b9#11 = C E G Bb C# F#

C7#9#11 = C E G Bb Eb F#

C13b5 = C E F# Bb D A

C13b9 = C E G Bb C# A

C13#11= C E G Bb D F# A

C7susb9 = C F G Bb C#

C13susb9 = C F G Bb C# A

Csusb5 = C F F# B

This is the first article in a three-part series.

“99 Revolutions” live video from Italy as part of ONE’s ‘iconic protest songs’

Jun. 12, 2013

Green Day have been included in a new collection of protest songs in Bono’s ONE campaign, in a new initiative called agit8. The list is being launched with some 50 songs including music from Elvis Costello, Mumford & Sons, Tom Waits, and The Beatles.

The goal of the list is to help influence politicians attending the G8 summit to help end poverty. Some of the artists involved are covering songs or releasing special versions. As for Green Day’s involvement, the band has now released this special live version of 99 Revolutions from Bologna, Italy.

Elvis Costello, “Veronica” – American Songwriter

uly 30th, 2012

Elvis Costello has had pretty good success with songs named after girls. “Alison,” off his debut album, is still one of his signature songs after all these years. And his biggest American chart success came with a song about another girl dear to his heart, albeit not in a romantic way.

“Veronica”, found on E.C’s 1989 solo album Spike, was inspired by his grandmother and her battle with Alzheimer’s disease. In the memorable video to the song, Costello gives a moving monologue about his experience with his grandmother as the disease began to rob her of her mental faculties: “Sometimes we’d just sit there, and she wouldn’t say anything, and I wouldn’t say anything, and you could try and work out what was going on in her head. But I think it’s something we don’t understand. Not yet anyway.”

A song about such a serious disease could have turned into an exercise in TV-movie sentimentality in less-skilled hands. While Costello refers to the disease’s debilitating nature at times in the song (“These days I’m afraid she’s not even sure/If her name is Veronica,”) he refuses to portray his main character as a victim.

It helps that the musical setting to the song is so fetching and energetic. Some credit goes to Elvis’ co-writer on the song, an unknown by the name of Paul McCartney. It’s Macca’s Hofner bass that propels the catchy melody, and Paul’s influence can also be found in the way that Costello’s words are more economical than one might normally expect from him.

As anyone who’s ever dealt with someone with Alzheimer’s can tell you, the second verse, in which the character’s mind seems to rocket back and forth in time, is especially trenchant. Remembering a long-ago romance, Veronica brings him right back with her into the present day: “She spoke his name out loud again.”

Notice how Costello dwells on the import of Veronica’s name. She forgets it, others get it wrong, but, in her youth, she wore that name like a badge of honor: “You can call me anything you like/But my name is Veronica.” By losing her mind, she is also slowly losing her identity, one of the disease’s most insidious side effects.

Yet Costello imagines her inner life as something rich and rewarding to which the rest of the world isn’t privy. In the refrain, he sings, “Do you suppose that, waiting hands on eyes, Veronica has gone to hide?/And all the time she laughs at those who shout her name and steal her clothes.”

One of the great perks of being a songwriter is the ability to rewrite reality and make it more palatable than it might otherwise be. Elvis Costello provides such a service on “Veronica,” a marvelous bit of wish fulfillment that grants dignity to someone suffering from a disease determined to rob it from her.

“Veronica”

Is it all in that pretty little head of yours?
What goes on in that place in the dark?
Well, I used to know a girl
And I could have sworn
That her name was Veronica
Well, she used to have
A carefree mind of her own
And a delicate look in her eye
These days, I’m afraid
She’s not even sure
If her name is Veronica

Do you suppose that waiting hands on eyes
Veronica has gone to hide?
And all the time she laughs at those
Who shout her name and steal her clothes
Veronica
Veronica
Veronica, Veronica

Did her days drag by, did the favors wane?
Did he roam down the town all the while?
Will you wake from your dream
With a wolf at the door
Reaching out for Veronica?
Well, it was all of 65 years ago
When the world was the street
Where she lived
And a young man sailed
On a ship in the sea
With a picture of Veronica

On the Empress of India
And as she closed her eyes upon the world
And picked upon the bones of last week’s news
She spoke his name out loud again

Do you suppose that waiting hands on eyes
Veronica has gone to hide?
And all the time she laughs at those
Who shout her name and steal her clothes
Veronica
Veronica
Veronica, Veronica

Veronica sits in the favorite chair
She sits very quiet and still
And they call her a name
That they never get right
And if they don’t, then nobody else will
But she used to have
A carefree mind of her own
With devilish look in her eye
Saying, “You can call me
Anything you like
But my name is Veronica”

Do you suppose that waiting hands on eyes
Veronica has gone to hide?
And all the time she laughs at those
Who shout her name and steal her clothes
Veronica
Veronica
Oh, oh
Veronica

By Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney

Elvis Costello – Veronica