I’m kicking off this series with a song everyone has (or should have) in their library. Download now on iTunes so you can listen along!
This song has one extremely great and recognizable melody. How do four guys with only 4 tracks get this thing to our ears so sweetly?
The song kicks off with a lead acoustic guitar panned hard right hitting the strings so hard they are almost going out of tune. In the left channel you hear only the reverb (from the room) of this guitar. So get this- most likely in this recording situation you have George with a mic in front of his guitar getting a nice full sound, for sale while on the other side of the studio there is another mic in front of another musician that is playing nothing. You only hear the lead guitar’s echo (or more accurately reverb). This melody plays only ONE time this way. To use a literary term here I feel like the way the guitar is played where the last notes are played so hard they go out out of tune is foreshadowing the Indian sitar which comes in next.
Now here’s where the aural massage kicks in: second time the melody plays a sitar in the LEFT channel. The original guitar is still playing the same melody and their timing is LOCKED. This makes it sound like just one instrument, but it’s not. Put your headphones in and take one ear off then listen to the same part with the other ear off. They are two different instruments played by two different people at the same time. Near the end of the melody you hear a rhythm guitar nicely strum the top of the chord. The bass interestingly is playing the chord in a very complementary rhythm to the rhythm guitar. They are like puzzle pieces which fit together perfectly.
Okay, third times the charm. Here comes the vocal: right channel ONLY! Now this violates so many laws of modern recording I can’t even begin to tell you. First off- it’s pretty low volume. Second- it’s dry- all the other instruments have a nice room reverb but then the singer is talking softly, directly in your ear. In modern recordings the vocal is almost always centered in both ears, at a totally uniform volume, with plenty of sparkly effects. This has none of that, kind of like “hey, I wrote this story on a napkin and I thought I’d tell you about it while this band is playing.”
Then when the second melody/bridge whatever you want to call it comes in, the rest of the band is just filling out different pieces of the chord, no melody at all. In fact each part alone is kind of lonely and boring, but when you add all the pieces together they fire off at different times, walking around the chords like a perfect little bell choir, waiting their turn for their part in puzzle. What I love about this is that the tone of each instrument complements the others so perfectly. The only two tones that are at all similar are the two guitars, but they are playing different parts of the instrument (high vs. low) so even they are different.
Also of note here in this bridge, halfway through on the right channel on the off beats at the end of the phrase- what’s that stomping? “Oh hey Ringo, glad you finally could join us, we’re just recording an epic song over here, I’m glad you could join the band without even your drums, thanks bro. No don’t bother to play the rest of the song. Okay fine, next bridge you can play a tambourine for a few notes and if you’re good you can play one note every other measure. BUT ONLY ONE NOTE!!”
But seriously, I think it’s amazing when you compare this to any band or any modern track which has percussion loops and hits throughout even the simplest ballads, here you have a whole guy who barely plays a thing the whole song. It accents, perfectly.
So there you have it! Listen several times. Take one ear out and listen to the whole song. There is no copy and paste, just people who had the creativity and restraint to play as little as they did. I hope to foster this relaxed recording environment where musicians can just chill and make beautiful music. A master plan, flawlessly executed. What “mistakes” would have been edited to death today that were left in this recording I think make it great.
Thanks for listening!