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Monday, February 14, 2011

"Right Down The LIne" - Gerry Rafferty Song Analysis

Jim Weishorn requested that for an analysis of an enduring hit and staple of FM radio, Gerry Rafferty's 1971 hit "Right Down The Line", the 2nd hit from his huge #1 City To City album from 1978.

As with all analysis, we'll break the song down into four parts - the song itself, the arrangement, the sound and performance.

The Song -  "Right Down The Line" uses a fairly simple form consisting of an intro, verse, 2nd verse, chorus (some might call it a bridge), verse, guitar solo, chorus, verse and outro chorus. That seems like a lot of parts, but there are only two that keep repeating, so it looks like this:

A, A, A, B, A, A, B, A, B

The Arrangement - This is a rather sparse arrangement with lots of space and not many overdubbed layers or doubles. The chorus gets bigger thanks to the introduction of a grand piano and three part harmony vocals.

  * The Foundation is the bass and drums, both which basically play the same simple repeating patterns, as well as a staccato guitar figure played mostly on beat two.

  * The Pad is provided by a nice Hammond organ with the Leslie on the chorale setting. This is enhanced during the chorus with a grand piano.

  * The Rhythm is an interesting stereo wood block that jumps from speaker to speaker and provides motion to the song.

  * The Lead is a doubled lead vocal and lead guitar playing in the intro and solos.

  * The Fills are provided by two different sounding guitars, one that's fairly clean with a bit of high end, and the other during the verse with the high-end rolled off. The piano also plays flourishes that act as fills during the chorus.

The Sound - This song was recorded during what many consider to be the "golden age" of audio, so the basic sound is great. There's not a huge amount of compression, so the track breathes nicely.  There are two reverb layers; a short one on the the guitar playing the fills, and a longer one on most of the other instruments. The piano stands out as being particularly well recorded.

The Performance - This is one of those songs that a particular performance doesn't jump right out at you until the chorus, where the three part harmony shines. The guitar parts fit the song well, but again, don't jump out as anything particularly virtuoso. That being said, the song has endured for 34 years, which is a tribute in itself to the song and the performance. In the end, it doesn't get any better than that.

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CD said...

So I've been actually working on a cover of this song myself -- just for my own amusement.

The interesting part for me is how much the song sounds like a reggae tune through the verses -- especially without the pedal intro and pedal steel solo.

The other thing that I've noticed is that trying to recreate that piano sound is a challenge. It's so pretty compared to everything else.

Bobby Owsinski said...

Your right. The bass part plays a counterpoint part that is very reggae.

Fred Decker said...

Dear Bobby,

I like the song analysis idea on your blog. I read about the concept in your book, but hearing more and more examples will give me a better idea of what you mean--and hopefully I'll be able to put your ideas to better use myself! I hope you will continue them.

Also, what was the "golden age of audio?"


Fred Decker

Bobby Owsinski said...


I consider the "golden age of audio" to be right around the 70's, give or take a few years. It was the age right after tubes yet before integrated circuits, where the sound was generally bigger and fatter than before or since. My opinion only.

Brad said...

Off Topic, but:
R.I.P. Gerry! I love the whole album this song was on. Baker Street was also on this album, as was High and Dry. Gerry recorded the demo's of all the songs on the album by himself in his mother and father in laws basement on a 4 track reel to reel. Every Instrument including the sax solo on Baker Street.

One of my favorites of all time.


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