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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Billy Idol "Eyes Without A Face" Song Analysis

Here's a blast from the past and it comes courtesy of Marcus Correa, who's a reader from Brazil. It's the song analysis of Billy Idol's big 1984 hit "Eye's Without A Face" from his Rebel Yell album. The song and the album was recorded at the famous Electric Lady Studio with Keith Forsey producing, my buddy Michael Frondelli engineering the tracks, and Dave Wittman mixing. As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
The song has an interesting form in that it sort of follows pop convention, but with a few twists. The form looks like this:

Intro, Verse, Chorus, Interlude, Verse, Chorus, interlude, B Section/Bridge, Verse, Chorus, Intro/Outro

The song is well constructed in that it never gets boring because each section has enough of a unique twist each time around so it's different. Listen to the end of the 2nd verse and chorus and how the chord changes are different. The Bridge isn't so much of a traditional bridge as a complete other section as the feel changes completely, and the Intro is repeated at the end of the song, but again it's a little different. Very well crafted.

The Arrangement
There's a lot going on in this song but it's well layered. Even though the drums are programmed via a Linn Drum (the original drum machine), they're very human feeling thanks to producer Forsey, who's also a drummer. The arrangement elements look like this:

  * The Foundation: The Linn Drum drum machine

  * The Pad: There's a subtle Roland JP8 synth pad throughout except for the B Section/Bridge

  * The Rhythm: This isn't traditional but it works. It's a combination of the bass, which pushes the song along nicely, and the drum machine handclaps. In the 2nd and 3rd verses and choruses there's also some clean rhythm guitar with a double-time feel, along with the guitar part during the B Section.

  * The Lead: Billy's vocal

  * The Fills: Again not traditional, but there are some nice lines synth guitar lines that are counterpoint to the vocal in the 2nd verse.

The Sound
This song was made in the middle of the golden era of audio. Magnetic tape was still being used (in fact, this track was recorded at 15ips using Dolby A), and there was very little digital gear anywhere in the studio, so everything sounds great. As was the style of the times, there's a lot of reverb (listen especially on the snare drum sample) and delay on everything, but that helps define the layers as well.

Mike Frondelli told me that most of the guitar sounds were courtesy of a Tom Sholz Rockman (which was really the first amplifier emulation box), except for the bridge, which was a Les Paul Custom into a 50 watt Marshall. It's cool how it's hi-pass filtered so there's not much low end so it fits perfectly in the track.

The Production
This is an awesome production. The song is well-crafted so that each repeated section does something slightly different, the arrangement builds with every section, and the sound is big and fat. It's hard to lose interest once you start to listen.

I especially liked Steve Webster's bass playing in that it really pushes the track along. He takes a written part and changes it up enough so it's really interesting while making it his own.

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