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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"What Hurts The Most" - Rascal Flatts Song Analysis

Firefly sent me an email asking why I didn't analyze any country music. For the life of me, I thought I remembered analyzing "What Hurts The Most" by Rascal Flatts, but couldn't find it after a search of the blog. Then it hit me - I had done an analysis of the song in one of my books - How To Make Your Band Sound Great. So here it is, only a little more fleshed out that what's in the book.

"What Hurts The Most" is a song written by Jeffrey Steele and Steve Robson that was cut three times before the Rascal Flatts version made it to #1 on the Billboard country charts and #6 on their Hot 100 chart. The song came from the band's 2006 Me And My Gang album, and was nominated for two Grammys. Let's take a look at it.

The Song - "What Hurts The Most" follows the traditional hit single form almost perfectly. It looks something like this:

Intro, Verse, Chorus, Interlude, Verse, Chorus, Solo/Bridge, Chorus, Outro.

The song has a great melody and a very catchy chorus that's well delivered performance-wise.

The Arrangement - The song is a glowing example of the "new" country music in that it closely resembles layered pop music except with the addition of traditional country instruments like fiddle, steel  guitar and banjo. As you would expect from a big budget act, this song has absolutely state-of-the-art arranging, which is needed for a song with a simple form.

What's especially cool is all the sections of the song that repeat but are slightly different the second or third time through. A good example is the line in the last bar of the first half of the intro, which is first played on acoustic guitar, then doubled with the fiddle the second time through. On the third pass there's a steel fill.

Another great example is the last chorus where the song stops and the melody changes, then the background vocals enter right afterwards.

Also listen to how the 2nd verse develops with the entrance of fiddle and electric guitar. Then in the 2nd chorus the steel and banjo enter.

Let's look at the elements:

   * The Foundation - Bass and drums

   * The Pad - Steel and big electric guitar chords during the chorus

   * The Rhythm - The acoustic guitar in the verses and the banjo and shaker in the choruses

   * The Lead - Fiddle in the intro and interlude, lead vocal in the verses and choruses, and lead guitar in the solo

   *  Fills - There's a steel guitar answer in the interlude and background vocal answers in the last chorus.

The Sound - The sound of this record is great. It's very clean and not over-compressed. There's very little ambience that sticks out anywhere so everything is very in your face. The one thing that is a bit unusual is that the bass is mixed very loud and takes up a lot of space in the mix.

The Performance - Everything on this recording is so well executed, but I love Gary LeVox's lead vocal, especially on the last chorus where the melody changes over the stop time. Gives me chills! The other thing that stood out is the drum groove, especially the snare, which is very behind the beat. It's played almost like a blues record.

As always, send me your requests for songs to analyze.


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