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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Rod Stewart "Maggie Mae" Song Analysis

I haven't done a song analysis for a while, so here's one from my Deconstructed Hits: Classic Rock book - Rod Stewart's big hit "Maggie Mae." As with all song analysis, it's broken down into the song, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

"The breakout song from Rod Stewart's first solo album Every Picture Tells A Story was "Maggie May," which eventually topped the charts in both the US and the UK and launched his solo career. The song was originally released as a B-side of another song from the album, “Reason To Believe,” but after DJ’s began playing “Maggie May” instead, the song was re-categorized as the A-side. 

The mandolin part featured on the intro of the song was played by Ray Jackson of Lindisfarne, who sued Stewart for back royalties in 2003 even though he was paid as a session player. Supposedly drummer Micky Waller broke his bass drum pedal and had to play it with a stick, which is the reason why it doesn’t have much punch. Ironically, the song was almost left off the album because the record label didn’t feel it had a strong enough melody, but had to be included in the end as Rod ran out of time to replace it.

“Maggie May” only has three sections, verse, chorus and solos, but the distinction between the verse and chorus isn’t very strong. The song form looks like this:

intro ➞ verse ➞ chorus ➞ verse ➞ chorus ➞ verse ➞ chorus ➞ solo ➞ verse ➞ chorus ➞ solo ➞ interlude ➞ outro

Rod’s record label didn’t feel that the melody was strong enough, and while that might not be true, the fact that there’s not much of a difference between the verse and chorus melody and there’s really not a hook let’s you understand their trepidation.

The lyrics tell a supposedly true story of a jilted young lover, and while the story line is strong, Rod makes not effort to rhyme, especially in the chorus. That’s never bothered record buyers though, as millions of women everywhere suddenly felt they had some Maggie May in them. Interestingly enough, although Stewart sings “Maggie” in a number of places, he never actually sings “Maggie May” in the entire song.

Much of the playing in “Maggie May” is very loose, and you get the feeling that they didn’t do many takes to figure out each player’s part. That said, there is a specific arrangement that works well. Here's what the arrangement elements look like:

Arrangement Elements
  • The Foundation: drums, bass
  • The Rhythm: 12 string acoustic guitar, electric piano
  • The Pad: organ
  • The Lead: lead vocal, mandolin, guitar solo
  • The Fills: electric piano in fourth verse
The song begins with an intro of a mandolin and an acoustic 12 string along with the bass playing a counter line. When the verse begins, the lead vocal enters as does the drums. While the drums, organ and the 12 string play fairly straight, the bass never plays the same thing twice and is generally ad libbed throughout except for the intro and interlude. During the chorus (“You led me away from home…..”), the chord pattern changes but all the instruments as they were during the verse.

The next two verses and choruses have exactly the same instrumentation, but the chord pattern does change slightly during the guitar solo. During the fourth verse and chorus, an electric piano is added playing random arpeggiated chords.

The next solo is the same as the first one, except that it’s six bars long and plays bars seven and eight over the first two measures of the interlude. The interlude is the most different thing in the song as the 12 string drops out and is replaced by two mandolins that play similar (but not identical) melody lines, which is probably the signature line of the song. The bass also plays a more or less written line, imitating what he did on the intro. There’s also a high organ pedal note that’s doubled with an electric piano playing eighth notes. This continues for 20 measures (which is an odd number), and then the drums return as everything plays as they did in the section prior to the outro.

The sound of “Maggie Mae” is fairly thin, especially the bass and kick drum, which have virtually no bottom end to them. Although not all of Rod’s band The Faces played on the album, this was generally the sound of the band throughout its life.

The panning is odd, with the drums panned hard to the left and the bass hard to the right. The intro and interlude has two mandolins that are spread slightly left and right, while everything else is panned to the center.

The song is bone dry, proving that hit records can be made without any effects whatsoever. Rod Stewart's vocal is clear and not overly compressed.

Listen Up:
  • To the drums panned hard to the left and the bass panned hard to the right.
  • To the doubled mandolins playing slightly different lines in the interlude.
  • To the mistake in the bass at :38 as it fails to follow the chord change.


Rod was the producer of the album, but as was many the case back then, that probably meant more selecting the take and setting the song’s feel rather than directing the the band like it is today. Plus, you can’t really say that he had a vision, since both he, his co-writer, and the record label didn’t think of “Maggie May” in the first place. That said, history has proven so many times that what artists, producers and record companies may not be in love with is just the thing that the public wants."

You can read additional excerpts from Deconstructed Hits: Classic Rock Vol.1 and my other books on the excerpts section of

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Pete Thorn Guitar Tips

Pete Thorn is a great guitar player who's not only toured with the likes of Don Henley, Melissa Etheridge and Chris Cornell, but on albums for Alicia Keys, Courtney Love, and many others.

Here's a great video where he describes the guitar and amp gear he uses in his studio, and the intelligent way it's all put together for fast access. He also goes on to show a different type of guitar cabinet isolation that's an alternative to the methods in previous posts here.

Read an excerpt from the interview I did with Pete for my How To Make Your Band Sound Great book. Also, make sure to check out his website at


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

2 Exercises To Find the Groove Of A Mix

Rhythm Section
Regardless of the genre of music, a mix will never be any good unless the song's groove is emphasized. Sometimes it's not easy to find and develop the groove, however, so here's a couple of exercises from the Audio Mixing Bootcamp to help you find it.

"The groove is the pulse of the song. While it usually comes from the drums and bass, it could really come from any instrument or even a vocal. And lest you think that the groove is predominantly a fixture of one type of music like funk or R&B, you’ll find that a strong groove exists in just about any type of good music, regardless of the genre or style. Don’t believe me? Listen to the US Marine Corps band play “Stars And Stripes Forever” and then listen to a typical high school band. The Marines have a groove that makes you want to jump up and march with them just as much as you want to shake your booty to a James Brown or Prince song.

The best way to develop the groove is to find the instrument or instruments in the song that supplies its pulse. As said before, it’s usually the bass and drums, but it could very well be a loop, a keyboard, a guitar, and rarely, a vocal. If a band is playing particularly well together, it may be several instruments at the same time.

Exercise 1Finding The Groove
A) Listen to the entire mix all the way through. Is there an instrument or instruments that establishes the pulse of the song?

B) If an instrument doesn’t stick out as being the pulse of the song, go through each track one by one and raise the level by about 3 dB. After you’ve listened, return it to its previous level position. Do you hear one or more tracks as establishing the pulse of the song now?

Understand that if you’re working on a song that wasn’t well performed, there may not be a track that establishes the groove. If that’s the case, it’s usually the producer’s call to recut the track, or you’ll just have to make due with the instrument that feels the best. Remember that mixing is always easier with well recorded tracks, great playing, and excellent arrangements.

Establishing The Groove
Once the instrument (or instruments) that establishes the groove is found, the next step is to emphasis it. This can be done by raising the level as little as one dB, or adding an extra bit of compression or EQ to make it stand out a bit more in the mix. Then make sure that the rest of the tracks support your groove instrument by tailoring the mix around it.

Take notice in the exercises below that we’re adding very small increments of level, compression or EQ. In theory, one dB is the minimum amount that the average person can hear according to most text books (it’s actually less than that), and sometimes that’s all you need to change the balance or feel in a mix. On just about anything in mixing, always begin with small increments first.

Exercise 2: After your groove tracks are found, try one or more of the following:
A) Raise the level of each of the groove tracks by one dB. Can you feel the groove better? If not, add another dB. Can you feel it now? If not, add another dB, but be cautious not to make the tracks too far out in front of the mix.

B) If your groove tracks are already being compressed, add another dB or two of compression. Keep the level the same by adjusting the Output control or raising the channel fader. Can you feel the groove better? If the groove tracks aren’t compressed, then refer back to Chapter 6 and add compression.

C) If your groove tracks are already equalized, add an additional dB at the EQ points. Can you feel the groove better? If not, add another dB. Can you feel it now? Be cautious that the tracks are not too far out in front of the mix or that they don’t clash with another instrument.

D) After the groove is established and drives the mix, do any final tweaks to the other tracks to make sure they’re not covered up or that they don’t clash with the groove tracks."


Monday, May 19, 2014

Building A Guitar Isolation Box

One of the most popular posts ever on this blog was one about building an isolation box for a guitar amp, so I thought I'd post something similar, but his time with a different take on how to do it. What's different about this one is that the speaker is permanently mounted in the cabinet in it's own box within a box, and it starts out using Rockwool as the basic absorption material instead of foam.

Rockwool is the same stuff that's used in many recording studios and is a lot cheaper and much more effective than acoustic foam, if you can find it.  The other difference is that in the video he's using Rockwool batts. Ideally you'd want to use the more ridged Rockboard (or Owens Corning 703 ridged fiberglass), which takes up less room. The 2 inch thick product should do it.

Remember to make sure that the seal on the box is absolutely tight for maximum isolation. Air is like water and if any can leak out, there goes your isolation. Screw and glue the box together, then seal it on the inside with a couple of beads of caulking. You can find out more on construction in The Studio Builder's Handbook.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

New Music Gear Monday: Booty Shakers Floor Tom Isolator

Sometimes just the simplest invention can make a big difference in sound and here's a perfect example. It's the TnR Booty Shakers, an isolation mount for floor toms and snare that decouple the drums from the floor, thereby providing more of the true sound of the drum. These things are cheap too, with the floor tom version at $29.95 and the snare drum version at $19.95.

Here's a great video with Daniel Glass that shows what a floor tom sounds like with and without the Booty Shakers.



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