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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lenny Kravitz "It Ain't Over Till It's Over" Song Analysis

A Muse asked for a song analysis of Lenny Kravitz' "It Ain't Over Till It's Over" and I'm happy to oblige. Kravitz' most successful single, the song reached #2 on the Billboard charts in 1991. As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"It Ain't Over Till It's Over" is a mid-tempo ballad that reminds you of the Philly Soul days. It's form is pretty simple and looks like this:

Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge/Solo, Chorus, Chorus, Chorus, Chorus

There's nothing tricky about the form, and it's definitely the melody hook of the chorus that gets you, as with most pop hits.

The Arrangement
The arrangement is also fairly simple with basically rhythm guitar, bass, drums, and electric piano carrying the song. Most of the sweetening is around the vocals and most of that occurs in the repeated chorus outro. Listen to how each one changes a bit from the previous one, either by changing the melody or the background vocals to keep things interesting.

  * The Foundation: The drums and bass, although the bass plays very freely, which gives the song that 60's/70's feel.

  * The Rhythm: They rhythm guitar.

  * The Pad: The electric piano

  * The Lead: The lead vocal.

  * The Fills: The background vocals and sitar at the outro choruses.

The Sound
The sound of "Over Till It's Over" is very unlike the 90s in that it's pretty dry. The strings in the intro are especially bare, but this actually works very well. Interestingly enough, it sounds like they have a bit of reverb on them later in the song.

The rhythm section of piano, bass, drums and rhythm guitar are also dry, but the guitar solo and sitar in the outro/chorus have a bit of a timed delay on them that put them in a different ambient space. The electric piano sounds like it's a Fender Rhodes with nice stereo tremolo that glues the track together.

The lead vocal has a very short reverb on it that gives it just a little bit of space, but it's really sibilant. It's surprising that it was left in. Take note of the second line of the second verse where it sounds completely different from the rest of the record. I don't know what happened there, but it's probably a vocal overdub fix that sounded different, so they just tried to emphasize the difference to keep it interesting.

Also note the drum sound, which is very dead and dampened, almost like sound Ringo got on later Beatles records.

The Production
I didn't care much for this song when it was out originally, but listening to it under a microscope changed my mind about it (which is the opposite of what usually happens). It's well thought-out, and well put together, and a great example of how you don't need to double things to make them sound bigger or better.

A quick note on the electric piano part, which goes up an octave for the intro and choruses. This makes it blend in with the strings and makes the choruses sound different from the verses.

What I really liked was something that could easily get by if you're not listening hard. At about 2:05 it sounds like the electric piano makes a mistake and briefly hits a wrong chord. It takes courage to leave that in, but it does nothing to diminish the value of the song. Good call!

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1 comment:

Factory Yoyo said...

Appreciate you taking this one on. I remember hearing this on MTV at the time and going, "Man, that is just so dry." Just so out of step with what was going on in music at that time. Still sounds great, especially that bass.


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