Thursday, September 1, 2011

Motley Crue "Dr. Feelgood" Song Analysis

My hommie Fran Doyle requested a breakdown of a track produced by the great Bob Rock, and what better way to illustrate his technique than with Motley Crue's big hit "Dr. Feelgood." Released on September 1, 1989, the album of the same title was recorded at Little Mountain Studios in Vancouver, and eventually went on to sell 6 million records. The song "Dr. Feelgood" is the Crue's one and only gold single, and was named the 15th greatest rock song by VH1. As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"Dr. Feelgood" starts off with a rather common form, but since the sections are short, repeats them in an interesting way. The form looks like this:

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

What's interesting is that the bridge is repeated 4 times, once being used as a solo. In that respect, you can almost think of it as a second chorus.

The Arrangement
Like with most guitar trios, the arrangement is fairly sparse, with a doubled rhythm guitar and lots of lead guitar overdubs. Same with the vocals; the lead is doubled with the occasional harmony vocal for support, and a lot of vocal answers.

  * The Foundation: Bass and drums

  * The Rhythm: Rhythm guitar, hi-hat

  * The Pad: None

  * The Lead: Lead vocal and lead guitar

  * The Fills: Lead guitar and unison gang vocals

The Sound
Once again, with a guitar trio, everything has to be bigger than usual to fill up the frequency spectrum. In this case, the drums are huge sounding not only frequency wise, but ambiance-wise as well. In fact, the drum sound came to be known as the "Tommy Lee sound" among drummers and engineers. This is basically a bigger than usual kick drum sound and a snare with a very short, but very loud room ambiance that's timed to the track. The hi-hat is also very loud in the mix, since sometimes it's the only instrument pushing the rhythm.

The rhythm guitars are doubled and spread left and right except for the solos, where the lead is panned a bit to the right and the right double is lowered in the mix. This makes for a nice sonic panorama.

The vocals are doubled as well, along with a big gang vocal sound that provides the "Dr. Feelgood" answers. As with most songs from this period, there's a lot of ambiance on everything, which amounts to a timed delay and long timed reverb. Everything is also very compressed, although not so much that it alters the sound and makes it fatiguing to listen to, as happened towards the end of the century.

The Production
Bob Rock is one of the great rock producers and this song shows why. Just go down to your local bar and listen to a hard rock copy band play it. Doesn't sound the same, does it? That's because Bob managed to take some very ordinary hard rock/metal licks and make them sound exciting. Just listen to the intro as an example.

The second thing is the arrangement. This could have been a 2 minute song with another producer, but Bob manages to not only lengthen the song, but make it exciting each time a section is repeated. This occurs by changing it a little (listen to the last Chorus/Intro where it plays without the bass, as compared to the song Intro), adding harmonies, guitar fills, and additional gang vocals.

Lastly is the guitar solos and fills, especially the fills. Sometimes Mick Mars is only playing sustained harmonics, yet they manage to be exciting because they're placed in exactly the right place to keep you from losing interest. Listen to the wah dive-bombs right at the end of the intro; it just lifts the song up, then takes you into the next section. No wonder this song has become a hard-rock classic.


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1 comment:

Fran D said...

Thanks Bobby. I have been listening to that song and album for 22 years but today i hear it in a whole different way.

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