Rediscovering Old Bits
What I really like, is when you’re in a boring or stretched-out situation, and you’re listening to the radio and come across an older track that was a minor hit in the 70s or 80s — it’s on those perennial lists of safe, easy-listening favourites or oldies that live out their lives as filler between commercials, and everyone knows the song because it’s long been absorbed into the culture — and something catches your ear which has never struck you before. I had such a moment with two songs recently, first with Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians’
1989 hit What I Am
. Now, I remember watching this one on Video Hits on Saturday mornings with my wholemeal toast and socks. This was the time when a soft-rock slash folk artists could make it onto the radio. The song still sounds a bit light and undergraduate, which is fine. But of course I didn’t notice the really clever and long guitar solo because I wasn’t into guitars as much then. It sounds like the solo’s been processed through an envelope filter and a wah pedal. It’s very funky and canny without being too noodly. Very cool. Secondly, and this inspired a delving into his works again, is Bowie’s Young Americans
. It’s a very committed vocal, and the song’s produced to the gills. It sounds like some pricey session men putting in a hard day’s work for a white soul-wannabe. But it’s the vocal that really kicks — slick and frenetic all at once, packed with a slap echo. It’s singing in the old sense of really putting in a performance on the mike. The production and performance are totally commensurate. From here I got back into Bowie’s hits again (regrettably, only the hits), but I’ve been boning up on the production of Heroes
which is a story in itself. Hansa Ton studios, Eno effects on Fripp’s loud triple-tracked (and slightly out-of-tune) guitars, ace musos, a totally committed and large vocal recorded in the room using three gated microphones, that amazing sense of Berlin being just outside… and the song coming together with the vocal last. Inspired.