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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Chicago "25 Or 6 To 4" Isolated Vocals

Here's the last isolated vocal entry for the week, and this time it's "25 Or 6 To 4" by Chicago from the bands second album, also entitled Chicago. Chicago is always overlooked as one of the great American bands, and they're still going strong and sounding better than ever after 40 years. This track shows just how good they were even back then in 1970, because it's the little things that they do well that their contemporaries didn't at the time.

The track below consists of the piano, horns, sometimes a rhythm guitar and all the vocals. Be sure to listen for:

1. Bassist Peter Cetera's lead vocal is terrific. There's not a single bad note to be found.

2. The background vocals are equally good. Listen to how tight they are, especially the releases.

3. The vocals feature a long delayed and bright plate reverb that actually sounds much better on the horns than on the vocals. Of course, they usually only had one reverb to work with that had to work on everything back then, which wasn't actually as limiting as you might think.

4. The lead vocal is ever so slightly sibilant thanks to the compression, but you can't really hear the compressor working other than that.

5. The piano is playing a very disciplined simple patter. Robert Lamm is capable of playing more notes, but he stays in the pocket and does what's best for the song.

6. Terry Kath's rhythm guitar playing is outstanding. It's solid as a rock and used almost as percussion instrument, pushing the solo along to a peak. What a fabulous guitar player. He died far too young.



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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Deep Purple "Smoke On The Water" Isolated Vocals

In keeping with our isolated vocal theme for the week, here's another golden oldie. It's Deep Purple's seminal "Smoke On The Water" from their breakthrough album Machine Head. The song recounts the fire at the Montreux Casino in Montreux Switzerland during a Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention concert. Purple was due to begin recording there the next day using The Rolling Stones mobile studio, but instead used the city's Grand Hotel, all mentioned in the song. I was lucky enough to stay in the same hotel during a stay there in the 80's, where I watched NATO fighter pilots race across the wavetops of Lake Geneva then pull into a 90 degree accent as they reach the French Alps. Very loud and very exciting.

In this clip you'll hear not only Ian Gillan's vocal, but Jon Lord's Hammond organ and a little bit of Ritchie Blackmore's rhythm guitar as well. The vocal begins at :35.

While listening, take notice to:

1. the mid-range reverb on Gillan's voice. It's not a particularly good sounding reverb, but you don't notice it in the track.

2. the way he's flat at end of phrases. Gillan has great tone and normally great pitch, and the only time he gets pitchy is at the end of phrases if the notes descend, which is not that uncommon with vocalists.

3. the rhythm guitar pattern during the guitar solo in the middle of the song. It's very disciplined, almost unusually so for a song during this era.

4. the sound of the organ. It's very distorted, mostly because Lord was running it through a Marshall amp instead of the normal Leslie speaker. This had the effect of sounding very much like another guitar frequency-wise. Also note his left hand, which he uses to punch up the low end during the chorus "Smoke on the water" spots.



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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Yes "Roundabout" Isolated Vocals

Keeping on with our isolated vocal week, here's the isolated vocal track from Yes' breakthrough hit "Roundabout" from their Fragile album. One of the nice asides on the track is hearing bits and pieces of Rick Wakeman's keyboards isolated as well.

Skip to 1:03 to where the vocal starts, but while listening, keep an ear out for:

1. The double on the lead vocal. It's both a little pitchy and not that tight, as the releases are usually off against the original vocal.

2. At around 2:19, the vocals and the organ clash as one is on a major while the other is on a minor chord.

3. The loose harmony vocals on the choruses. The background vocals seem like they want to sing in stacked thirds all the way through, but they often drift to unison and octaves.

4. At 7:15 on the last verse, new voices join in the harmony (it's been Jon Anderson by himself up until this point).

5. The short reverb on the vocals at the outro at 8:00.

Also listen for keyboard mistakes at 3:03, 5:35, 7:53, which I guarantee no one has ever heard when the record played. Listen also to the B3 solo at 6:05. Even by itself it smokes.


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Monday, March 25, 2013

Queen "Somebody To Love" Isolated Vocals

Here's an interesting piece of history. It's the isolated vocal tracks from Queen's "Somebody To Love" off of their A Day At The Races album. You'll hear bits and pieces of the stacked background vocals as well as the complete lead vocal track of Freddie Mercury.

Take note of a few things while you're listening:

1. The distortion on the vocals. It's fairly distorted all the way through, although that personally never changed the enjoyment of the song for me and millions of others.

2. The compression. While the track is pretty compressed, especially on the louder sections, it's expertly done (I think by engineer/producer Mack). You hardly hear any compression artifacts, it's just one level throughout.

3. The reverb at the end. The lead vocal is dry until 2:41, when a nice long delayed plate is added.

4. Freddie's pitch. Unlike many hit songs of the period where vocal pitch problems were allowed to slide, this one is spot on for almost the entire vocal (he's just a hair flat at 3:50, which was after the fade on the record).

You also get to hear some ad libs at the end not heard on the original record.



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Sunday, March 24, 2013

New Music Gear Monday: Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Series

Today's post is probably only for a limited number of guitar aficionados who are Eric Clapton fans and have deep pockets. In conjunction with Guitar Center, Fender, Gibson and Martin, Clapton has authorized a limited number of "Crossroads Series" guitars modeled after some of his most famous instruments.

One that may have particular interest is a replica of "Brownie," EC's sunburst Fender Strat with the worn maple neck made famous during his Derek and the Dominos and Layla days. There's also a model of "Lucy," the refinished Les Paul Gold Top that he gave to George Harrison that was used on The White Album and Abbey Road, as well as a number of Martin 000's that he used as well.

These don't come cheap, with Brownie and Lucy coming in at $15k each and the Martins at $5k, but they are limited editions, so they'll probably hold their values. Each guitar comes with a certificate of authenticity signed by Eric, a DVD of Eric discussing the guitar, and a CD box set of the songs it was used on. Here's a great video of Clapton trying out the new Brownie and doing some reminiscing.



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You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

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