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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sheryl Crow "Soak Up The Sun" Song Analysis

C'mon, C'mon Sheryl Crow album cover image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
Here's a song analysis request from my buddy JW. “Soak Up The Sun” was the lead single from Sheryl Crow’s 2002 album C’mon, C’mon, an album that was nominated for a Best Rock Album Grammy in 2003 and went on to sell more than 2.5 million units. “The song was also nominated for Best Pop Female Vocal Performance, and also features singer Liz Phair on background vocals. Like with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
“Soak Up The Sun” is one of those songs that appears to be simple on the surface, but there’s more going on than meets the ear. The song form looks like this:

intro A ➞ intro B ➞ verse ➞ verse ➞ chorus ➞ intro B ➞ verse ➞ 
B-section (4 bars) ➞ chorus ➞ intro B ➞ verse ➞ 
B-section (5 bars) ➞ chorus ➞ chorus ➞ chorus 

The form is unusual in that it has two intros, one that’s based on loops that only heard once in the song, and a second one with the songs main instruments that’s heard multiple times. Although it doesn’t have a bridge, “Soak Up The Sun” does have a B-section that unexpectedly enters at the end of the third and fourth verses instead of another verse, with the second B-section having an extra bar. That form change, along with the arrangement, keeps the interest high throughout the song.

The Arrangement
Just like the song form, “Soak Up The Sun” has a much more complex arrangement than you might think on first listen. There are many more arrangement layers that glue the song together than most pop songs.

The intro is made up of various loops over what sounds to be a old record playing that goes into the second intro made up of the drums, an electric guitar through a Leslie speaker in the center playing a riff answered by doubled acoustic guitars on each side. The glue that holds the mix arrangement and mix together is an organ pedaling a single note way in back of the mix. While it’s not heard clearly, it’s integral to the song as it would sound empty without it.

When the doubled vocal enters in the first verse, the Leslie guitar exits but the other instruments remain. The Leslie guitar then returns in between verses. For the chorus, the vocals are joined by the bass, doubled harmony vocals and multiple electric guitars panned left and right, and the doubled acoustics now strum to add motion. On the second half of the chorus, a slide guitar enters to add additional motion.

On the second chorus the instrumentation is the same as the first except that the slide guitar enters right away instead of waiting until the second half. Then on the next intro a different electric guitar line plays instead of the Leslie guitar. The fourth verse is different though, as the bass and electric guitars exit and the section is carried by the drums, acoustic guitars and organ pad behind the doubled vocals. The next B-section is the same instrumentation as previous, except for the addition of the extra bar at the end. 

The three outchoruses are interesting in that the instrumentation stays the same for the first two, except the melody vocals change slightly on chorus three and harmony background and answer vocals enter on chorus four. On the final chorus everything breaks down to acoustic and electric guitars, bass and organ pad and vocal.

Once again, like most hit songs the dynamics vary throughout, which keeps it interesting.

The arrangement elements look like this:
  • The Foundation:  bass and drums
  • The Rhythm: acoustic and electric strumming guitars
  • The Pad: organ and distorted electric guitar
  • The Lead: vocal
  • The Fills: slide guitar in chorus, harmony vocals on fifth chorus (second outro chorus)\
The Sound
Except for the vocals, “Soak Up The Sun” isn’t what you’d call a distinct mix. There are a lot of guitars, but they all pretty much blend into one another, and the organ pad is buried, but that’s actually a good thing as it helps glue everything together.

There doesn’t seem to be any effects in the song at all, with all the instruments and vocals being dry. As a result, any layering is done exclusively through level and tone. There is a fair amount of panning, with all of the guitars except for the Leslie guitar and slide panned to one side or another to stay out of the way of the vocals.

The Production
As with most hits, “Soak Up The Sun” breathes dynamically with instruments entering and exiting throughout the song, and new parts subtly being added in throughout to keep the interest high. There might not be much of a change from section to section, but it doesn’t have to be a lot to hold your attention. Listen to the slight melody change on the third chorus and then the new high background vocal part that enters on the fourth verse as good examples of that.


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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interesting analysis. It definitely had me listening with fresh ears to a song that I have always dismissed as inane. ("I don't have digital, I don't have diddly squat" is a hit song lyric? Gimme a break!) While I still continue to cringe at the writing, the production is much more interesting than I ever thought before reading this analysis. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I wasn't going to mention it, but now that it is out...those lyrics are awful. Maybe I'm just out of time, but I have noticed a number of newer songs (mostly in the Country genre) that have that kind of "spoken word" quality, with lines that avoid rhymes. I don't care for it. Is there a name for this kind of vocal/lyrical approach?

Vincent said...

Could we say that the song required all this arrangement because it is a fairly flat / uneventful song?

The bridge makes it a bit more interested (as you said) but the rest...

Is this a result of the way music is now (over)produced? Or was this production designed to be so complex from the start? I mean, why not Sheryl Crow with her guitar and, you know, that's it - that's what the video implies, after all.

Anonymous said...

This really seems to be one of those songs that was pushed due to previous success of the artist, and fans yearning more from this artist even if average material. I'm not sure this one is case study worthy. More of an artist tailwind. The doubled vocal throughout the song doesn't get me there production wise, but i can see why it works - because the lyrics are lacking. Even with all that though, i think plenty of females like to listen to this with the car top down, so maybe the moral of the story is be an successful artist your fans love, have one strong line in a chorus with a decent melody. But my gut tells me that if this was an independent artist with their first single, you never would have heard of her.

Confounder said...

The song is delivering a simple message simply. In that regard, the lyrics are fit for purpose -- nothing more needed. It's an example of why some pop songs just work and would, in my view, have been a successful first single.


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