Ok, urticaria I think this one will be quick. I’m going again to a record that came out before I was born, meningitis but they really don’t make them like they used to! Paul Simon, pills let’s hear about “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard.”
Left channel, acoustic guitar gives us the chord progression happily strumming it. In the right ear we can hear a super natural awesome reverb. What’s cool is you don’t hear it much until the notes are hit harder, then it fades to a wash- really only getting those accented strums. In modern reverb boxes you don’t usually get that sort of a dynamic- usually it’s kind of washy across the whole dynamic range of the source.
Anyway, I digress. Right channel after two times through the chord changes we get an EXTREMELY hi-pass filtered guitar. It sounds so thin that you almost only hear the sound of the guitar pick with a little bit of sustained note. This part is almost an answer back rhythm-wise of the first guitar. There are a couple of benefits from having this guitar eq’d this way: it leaves mainly the attack transients in the mix which gives a nice rhythm, and doesn’t muddy up the mix with the notes of the chords so much. We already have those notes from the first guitar. Also (and this I think is some hit production genius) certain rhythms people UNDERSTAND, they are basic. Once you step too far outside of a familiar rhythm it loses appeal to some folks. Giving a firm toe-tapable instrument more emphasis loudness-wise gets the song across. Having the instrument playing the more intricate rhythm being less weighty in the mix gives us it’s flavor without dominating. Also, having those low frequencies filtered out so completely gives us room for what comes next to be heard on the right: latin percussion. We get a nice single drum hit down the center and then off in the right its a bonanza of wild froggy sounding drums.
Finally the lead vocal comes in, right down the center. Now it’s totally mono, but key to its sound: this vocal is doubled. He sang the part twice with really good articulation. It gives it a real cool effect to the voice. In general, I love doubled unison vocals. For some reason it always sounds like home to me.
Simultaneous to the vocal, we get the bass down the middle as well. What I love about this bass part, it pretty much stays out of the middle of the measure. It really is the only sound in this frequency range, we don’t have a bass drum or anything else in this area, so when he plays it’s like “this is the sound,” and then when he’s not playing it’s a solid “there isn’t any sound here.” This is super rare in modern music, because we often have multiple instruments doing something at every part of the sonic spectrum- but dang if you can exercise a little restraint the benefit is huge. Gives the listener room to think (and to dance). If you’re interested in a more modern use of this technique in a different genre, you should Drop It Like It’s Hot.
Throughout the song we get some nice hard left and hard right percussion action. Good flavor.
The middle of the song uses another great hit technique. We have what “should” be a solo, or bridge or something, but instead we get the vocal melody again- this time it’s whistled. It’s a sound we haven’t heard even one time in the song so it feels like it’s a totally new section, but really it is just reiterating the melody. Kind of like the guitar solo in Smells Like Teen Spirit. I think this is great- I love music and involved melodies and new themes and sections and all of that, but it’s pretty easy to shoot over your listener’s head. Sometimes you just want to entertain folks and there really isn’t a need to prove that you can play a lot of different notes on your instrument.
Lastly right near the end we get a cool break down where guitars go down to just strumming the pick across the strings with them muted- giving just a clicky little rhythm. Funny thing, the only guitar that is playing out is the one I talked about at the beginning in the right channel- his notes ring out but you can barely hear them because of how filtered the guitar is. This breakdown gives some dynamic power to the instruments when they come back in and then the song fades.
There you have it! A short and simple song, simple production techniques, sparse instrumentation, and it has etched its way into the sonic pedigree of our lives because it is really good at getting its point across!
(P.S. – and look ma! no drum kit! anywhere in this song!)