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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Yes "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" Song Analysis

Reader Marcello Kato requested a song analysis of a big hit by Yes from 1983 - "Owner Of A Lonely Heart." The song is still the biggest selling single ever by Yes and was off their extremely successful comeback album 90125. This was the first album with guitarist/singer/writer Trevor Rabin in the band and continued an amazing string of hits by producer Trevor Horn. As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound, and the production.

The Song
"Owner Of A Lonely Heart"is a rather simple song that's made interesting more by the arrangement and performances than anything else. The interludes, verses and choruses all revolve around the same rhythm section pattern with only the bridges using different chord changes. The form looks like this:

Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Interlude, Solo, Interlude, Chorus, Chorus, Bridge, Fade

The Arrangement
The coolest thing about this song is the way it's arranged. Every time a section repeats, there's something a little different that happens, usually because of the fills between the vocal phrases. The interludes are comprised of song parts that are featured just a little differently from when they were used in the verse or chorus.

  * The Foundation: The bass and drums. The bass is doubled with a normal or baritone guitar. The snare is doubled with a tambourine in the bridge.

  * The Rhythm: Mostly comes from the high-hat as there are no dedicated rhythm instrument parts.

  * The Pad: Synths and strings in the choruses and bridges

  * The Lead: The vocal and guitar solo

  * The Fills: Electric and acoustic guitars, bass, synths, samples, background vocals. If there's a spot open, there's a fill.

As most hits do, "Lonely Heart" develops as it goes along. The second verse gets bigger with a distorted guitar doubling the bass line, and a series of stereo fills between the vocal phrases. The 3rd guitar solo verse goes back to sparse then builds to a bigger out-chorus and bridge. It's all tension and release, and development.

The Sound
Trevor Horn-produced records are always state of the art sound-wise, more because of the sonic layering of the mix than anything else. In "Lonely Heart," the layers really show. The drums are rather small and mixed in mono (!) with a very light gated reverb on the snare. The vocals have a very long time-delayed reverb that give it that sense of space. The guitars are pretty much up front and in your face with only a very short room reverb.

The guitar solo is interesting in that it sounds like a guitar synth but is just a regular electric guitar compresses very heavily, according to Trevor Rabin. Interesting sound nonetheless.

The Production
Like all of Trevor Horn's records, the production is outstanding. The big things count, but it's the little things that really make it. Listen to the second verse and note the fills between the vocal phrases. They're all in stereo in some way so there's always some movement from right to left. The way parts are layered, like the fill line in the chorus with a guitar and keyboard, is also very cool.

Perhaps my favorite part from the first time I ever heard this song is one of the smallest. The bass part never changes in the verse or chorus of the song except for one time. That's in between the first and second outro chorus where the second half of the phrase is changed only slightly, and is then answered with a distant bell-like synth. Then in the outro, a note is intentionally left out of the bass and kick drum part leaving a very obvious, but musical, hole. Very cool!

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Anonymous said...

You mentioned some nice points about this song. I hadn't listened to it in a long time. I think Trevor Horn is a great producer, with a very distinctive sound. Thanks

steve harvey said...

There's a lot of Fairlight work on there. Props to Trevor's CMI engineer (and member of Art of Noise), JJ Jeczalik. The "Produced by Trevor Horn" 2-CD set is a must-have. Great production work.

Gil said...

What's interesting is that Trevor Rabin wrote this song before he ever joined Yes, and after he left his band Rabbit he presented the song to several record labels all of whom turned him down, saying no one would ever want to hear it.

Going number 1 shocked him as much as any Yes fan.

Joel Powell said...

Just ended up visit this as, sadly, Chris Squire died today. It sent me off learning more about Yes' music and, as a result, I ended up here. Nice analysis - I appreciate what you do.


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