Lather Scream Moment Cover ‘Pretty Vacant’ by The Sex Pistols

It’s always fun to buy a new guitar. The excitement of having a new instrument and the possibilities it gives you for creating new sounds. How are the sonics? How is the playability? The crew from Lather Scream Moment called and said they have a new guitar and wondered if they could check out the sound on our studio amps. We don’t have a huge collection, but we do have a good variety of old, new, solid state and tube to choose from. So they stopped by and plugged in. I, of course, decided we should see how it sounds for recording. If you’re going to test it out, let’s really test it. And if you’re going to test recording quality, you might as well do a song. So we decided on recording ‘Pretty Vacant’ by The Sex Pistols. We recorded everything in one evening and it was mixed and mastered the next day. The original song had a great thick guitar sound. That’s a result of them doing numerous guitar track overdubs. We followed the same pattern. It was a quick ‘let’s have fun and not over think it’ type of session. And if you’re going to record it, you might as well share it. Hope you have as much fun listening as we had recording.

The Vocal Instrument

Music is made with a wide variety of instruments. People constantly think of new ways to create unique sounds and tones. When you think about percussion instruments, you can create one out of almost anything. When you talk about the elements that make up music, you can find several different answers. The main elements you usually hear about in the definition of music are rhythm, melody, harmony, timbre, dynamics, texture and form. Some definitions will compress this to five unique elements or expand them to twelve. You can apply these elements to most instruments used in a song. For example you can you can find melody and harmony in percussion instruments if you use them that way. Drums in a standard kit can be tuned to specific musical tones if you want. Other percussive instruments can be tied to specific tones, although percussion is not used that way in most forms of popular music we usually discuss in our blog posts.

The one instrument that differs from the rest in most songs is vocals. Vocals add an ‘element’ to musical composition that other instruments don’t – lyrics. Although lyrics may not be considered a ‘musical element’ they can be the most important part of a musical composition. Today’s post is going to look at the vocal instrument using songs for examples. For our purposes we’re going to look at three general parts of a song vocal: melody, rhythm and lyrics. By viewing these three parts we’re really grouping some elements together. For instance harmony will incorporated in to melody, dynamics are incorporated in to rhythm, etc. The vocal examples we’re looking at have all the elements in them. What we’re looking at in this post is what single element the vocal adds to the examples that make them great songs. These songs are vocally amazing on all fronts, but for me a certain aspect really stands out. As always, since what makes something ‘great’ is subjective, the examples are really just my opinion of songs that I see fitting best for the categories.

We’ll start our song reviews by looking at songs that have great melody lines. There are songs that I’m drawn to due to the melody line. The melody alone brings out all sorts of emotions. Although these songs also have great lyrics, I feel that you could probably change out the lyrics and the melody line would still carry the vocals.

The first song we’re looking at is ‘Wichita Lineman’. It was written by Jimmy Webb in 1968. The version we have is the original recording made by Glen Campbell in 1968. To be honest I wasn’t the biggest fan of what became known as ‘the Nashville sound’ in country music. The lush orchestration just didn’t hit me as hard as the more stripped down and raw versions of country and bluegrass. For ‘Wichita Lineman’ none of that mattered. The song always felt so emotional to me every time I heard it, and it still hits me that way no matter how many times I hear it. For me, that melody line melts away everything else in the song and it would still sound amazing if it was sung acapella. As an aside the song also has some of the best lyric lines: “And I need you more than want you/ and I want you for all time”. What an amazing two line description of love!

Our next example for amazing vocal melody is ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’ by Blind Faith. It was released on their 1969 self titled album. We did cover this song before in a Grapevine post. But I think it is a great example of a melody line that really carries the song (which is why it was in a Grapevine post). The instrument tracks are pretty mellow and laid back. If you listen to the guitar parts before the vocal begins, you’ll hear some of the vocal melody mirrored in the lines the guitar is playing. Everything that is recorded in this song funnels you right to the vocal melody. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have someone with the vocal chops of Steve Winwood singing. While searching for the songs I felt have great melodies I did notice something that were common to the choices I was looking at. The melodies weren’t what could be called upbeat or happy. The melodies that stick with me the most seem to bring up more ‘moist eyes’ emotion. I think of all the aspects that we look at with vocals, melody is the one that most ties in to emotion.

Let’s look at songs where the vocal functions as a rhythm to pull you in to the tune.

First we’ll look at ‘Housequake’ from Prince’s 1987 album ‘Sign o’ The Times’. The song is really mostly made up of percussion. There are long stretches in the song where all we hear is drum percussion and vocals. The vocal line is heavily syncopated. In this song the syncopation of the vocal is more important than the melody line or the lyrics. You’ll see this a lot in dance songs. The timing of the instruments makes the song danceable. But what pulls you to the dance floor is the timing of the vocal line. Again, as with melody, I think you could change out the lyrics without the song losing any of it’s fun. The rhythm of the vocals also effects the dynamics of the song. For dance music you need a little variety so the beat doesn’t get boring. In ‘Housequake’ this is accomplished by bringing the vocals in and out of the song.

We can find a lot of examples where the vocals are a rhythmic center if we stick to dance music or funk music. If you’re looking more at rock music I think a band that often used the vocals as a rhythm instrument were the Psychedelic Furs. They fell in to the era of ‘post-punk’, but that term covers a lot of ground. Richard Butler’s vocals were often very narrow when it came to their melody lines. The vocals did, however, really add to the rhythm of the song. The guitars in the songs were usually pretty heavy on effects, almost having the feel of what later became ‘shoegaze’ music. On top of this wash of sound, the vocals locked in with the drum beats to propel the songs forward. I think this was especially true on their first albums. For our example I picked the song ‘Pulse’ from their self titled debut album. In this tune the vocals are up front in the mix, with the drums, especially the snare, being crisp and at almost the same level as the vocals. The guitars bass and sax maintain a wall of sound to place the lyrical beat on top of.

Finally, we’ll look at songs that are all about the lyrical content. The music is the background for the social, political or poetic content of the lyrics to take center stage.

First let’s take a look at Bob Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. It was released in 1965 from the album ‘Highway 61 Revisited’. This song is a pretty obvious choice when talking about the top end of lyrical content. You could just read the lyrics as poetry and still really get the feeling Dylan was trying to put across. I know some people aren’t Dylan fans – they often find his vocal delivery difficult to understand. This obviously takes something away if the lyrics are the main driving point of the song. The music in ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ are a great backdrop for the lyrics. It does put across the feel that the words are expressing. Most songs are lyrically pretty straight forward. Dylan’s lyrics and phrases are not always straight forward. I think that’s what makes them so good. In this song you have to pay some attention to the lyrics. And boy, is there some bite in them. A lot of songs at that time were love songs. This song is really a shot at someone who thought ‘they were all that’ and lost that standing, now having to try to fend for themselves. I’ve always liked the truth of the line, “when you ain’t got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose”. How true. I’d love to have written one phrase like that in a song. I’ve used a lyric video for this song to make it easier hear and catch all the lyrics.

For our second song about the lyrical end of vocals we’re going to look at ‘Clampdown’ by The Clash. It came out on their 1979 album ‘London Calling’. The Clash as part of the first generation of ‘punk’ bands used their lyrics to highlight the flaws in the government and business systems that were in place (and still are). I’ve always felt this song had some of their most pointed and true lyrics. I think most of us relate to the lyrical messages in songs best in our late teens and early twenties. That’s when you’re just trying to figure out the world and feel the most rebellious about fighting the system (if you’re so inclined). The song’s lyrics work on two planes. Joe Strummer was discussing how you can get sucked in to the identity destroying capitalist/corporate world where you become just a cog in the machine. It also describes falling in to the fascist world of power – “so you got someone to boss around, it makes you feel big now”. In songs you’re working with both lyrics and music. To make the lyrics hit home you need music with a good kick to it. ‘Clampdown’ achieves this with it’s fist in the air musical attack. Again, to get your lyrical point across the musical canvas has to attract attention. As an aside, if you’re wondering what the spoken word intro says before the actual lyrics start up, here you go:

The kingdom is ransacked, the jewels all taken back. And the chopper descends. They’re hidden in the back, with a message on a half-baked tape. With the spool going round, saying I’m back here in this place. And I could cry. And there’s smoke you could click on. What are we going to do now?

From The Vault 5 – ERP Covers The Gun Club’s ‘Ghost On The Highway’

If you’ve been following our blog for any length of time you’re probably aware of my love of The Gun Club. Their combination of punk, blues, rockabilly and old time traditional country music just hit a perfect spot for me. I don’t know that I really have one ‘favorite album of all time’, but The Gun Club’s first album, ‘Fire Of Love’ is among the handful I would pick. I loved the energy and attitude of early punk music and enjoyed the musical experimentation of what became known as ‘post punk’. But to this day I still roll back in to The Gun Club’s albums when I’m looking for inspiration. Their work moved my musical interest in to finding out more about bluegrass and bands that straddle several musical styles like Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. I feel lucky to have seen the band live several times, especially since you could see them up close and personal in small clubs where you could be right up against the stage. The shows were always an intense free for all.

I found a live version we did of ‘Ghost On The Highway’ from their first album as I was searching through our old musical vaults. I’m pretty sure we put up a different version of the song on this blog many years ago. If you look back we also did a Messin’ With The Music version of their song ‘Death Party’. If I had the opportunity I’d probably like to cover the entire ‘Fire Of Love’ album. If you get a chance I’d highly recommend a voyage in to The Gun Club’s catalogue. For now I hope you enjoy our buzz bomb reverb drenched version of ‘Ghost On The Highway’.

March 2022 Grapevine

Here we are in the month of March. There was the old weather saying “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” (or vice versa). I don’t usually see that around here. My pessimism says ‘in like a dark cloud, out like a dark cloud” or “in like a weasel, out like a crow”. Whatever. The weather really is no longer consistent or predictable. So our answer, as always, is let’s talk about music. I’ve probably said before how we ‘review’ songs. We talk about structure and why the recording and other decisions make the song great. One thing we’ll look at are things like ‘arrangement’ and ‘orchestration’. Arrangement may create differences in transitions or modify the work by adding a bridge. Orchestration is more about what instruments are playing at what time throughout the song. Dynamics. These two concepts are not usually discussed when talking about rock (of any persuasion). You might hear it more in jazz (obviously in classical). But I will try to point it out on the songs we look at if it applies. I remember when I first starting playing in rock bands in high school and college the discussion tended to be ‘who is playing too loud’. “Can’t hear my vocals because of your guitar”…..”could you please back off on smashing your drums as hard as possible?” “Mine goes to 11”. Etc, etc. Then half your time is spent arguing. Hopefully at some point you all start discussing the structure of the song. The songs we look at here have had some great decisions made in their construction. So let’s look at this month’s tunes.

First Up: The Harrisonics – ‘That’s The Thing’

We’re going to start off with a song that’s pretty straight forward. ‘That’s The Thing’ is a great example of how good simplicity can be. You know I like to start with guitar sounds. A single guitar playing nice crisp chords. Just the right tinge of ‘dirt’ on it, but it really occupies and creates the top end EQ of the mix. To balance this the bass guitar is more active. Great little runs working around the key note for the guitar chord. This adds some feeling of change to the straight forward guitar beat. When necessary it locks in to the guitar beat. This makes the change from groove to head bang. To make this happen they make the bass higher in the mix and make sure it has top end. The drums are recorded at a good equal level in the mix, good top end, snappy snare. If you listen to the verses there is some nice little drum hitches, rather than a simple straight snare beat. Because of these small pieces of rhythmic variety when the instruments do lock in, it feels more powerful. Vocals work well in this mix. Rhythmic like the rest of the instruments, but you can clearly hear the lyrics. If you listen in headphones, most of the instruments are mixed right down the middle, not a highly separated stereo mix. Also a relatively ‘dry’ mix – less reverb. I also like the little ‘after the song’ clip at the end. Here’s the important part of knowing your song – for this tune those are perfect choices.

Next Up: Black Nite Crash – ‘Wrong’

So I thought for our second track I’d put in a song that in recording and orchestration is relatively opposite from the first song. Black Nite Crash make a wonderful psychedelia soup in their song ‘Wrong’. First we have multiple guitars involved. With plenty of reverb and pedals you have a flowing canvas to place the rest of the instruments on. The guitars all have a little different color to them. Although all are heavily reverbed, they do have differences that can be picked out, with one guitar concentrating on single note riffs. They also move around in the stereo field which gives you the effect of a wonderfully dizzy motion. I like the wah pedal effect at about :50 seconds. Nice bottom end bass that is mixed at a level to be heard. Like the first song, it does not sit solely on chord roots so it adds some concrete timing to the flowing guitars. The drums are farther back in the mix. I think this is a good choice for this song as you’re looking for a dreamy flow and you don’t want the drum sound too crisp. The vocals are handled in a similar way. Mass clouds of reverb pull it in to the overall field. While they’re not clearly out front, you can pick out most of the lyrics. This is sometimes difficult to do in this type of mix and it is handled well here. In this style of song vocal melody is often more important than lyrics. Nice little drop out break at 2:50. This dynamic change allows everything to rebuild for a strong ending for this tune.

Finally: Melt Citizen – ‘Drunk On The Blood’

The first thing that caught my ear in this song was the decision made in the intro of the song. It’s starts with a lone guitar riff. The feel of this riff led me to believe I was going to hear a song leaning to the ‘metal’ end of the spectrum. It’s a sonically interesting riff as the guitar sound is muted rather than being real crisp top end. It’s also mixed straight down the center. Then we get a bit of feedback in the left channel and the main guitars kick in. These guitars widen the stereo field by being placed harder to the left and right. If you listen in the verse you can also hear some nice note stretching whammy work. After the first verse the single guitar returns but this time drums are added to bring in the second verse. It’s a good way to keep building the song structure. The guitars and vocal really carry the tune. The drums are kept in the background and the bass adds some deep end without having a real distinct presence. The second verse is followed by the chorus before the single guitar riff reoccurs. This time the riff is accompanied by guitar feedback. It’s these types of seemingly simple choices that keep a song interesting. In a compact arrangement like this that bit of variety makes a big difference. They add another verse and chorus before closing out on the riff – with another different sound in the background. Great job keeping the song short and sharp. Also like the ‘video on a budget’ look. We’ve been putting together little clips of somewhat random video for future songs (we just did some strobe flash stuff too!) Shows that we all can put our videos out on our own and just have some fun.

Retro: Monster Magnet – ‘Crop Circle’

Sometimes the joy in loud, hard rock music is in the simplicity of the riff. A great example of this is the band Monster Magnet. The song ‘Crop Circle’ was released on their album ‘Powertrip’ in 1998. It starts with a wonderful slow build. You have a background tune that builds in volume. You don’t really hear the first chords of the proper song until you’re a minute in. The chords start out clean with a nice snare drum build. Then you kick in the distortion. It’s a really simple, straight forward three chord riff. You’re on these chords until the 2:00 minute mark where you get to the chorus. Next you have the guitar moving slowly up the neck with a drum roll then – bam! in to the guitar solo. You could view this progression as ‘cliche’. But sometimes things become ‘cliche’ because they work! You have three build ups with a great payoff in one song. Sonically for this style of song the recording sound is perfect. Nice separation, crisp sound all the way around. Enough top end and bottom end. Awesome guitar distortion. After the guitar solo they rebuild the sound with another three chord riff and ride it out until the end. Every once in a while I love being pounded over the head with a sonic hammer. And as a guitar player, it’s so much fun to jam along with. Since the chording is simple you can go all over the place with your own playing. This is where you crank the volume up and bang your head.

New Music And Video from Steaming Mulch – ‘Winter Incubate Mr. Under Ache’

We had our friends Steaming Mulch back in the studio to record a new single. This is always fun as I never quite know what they’re going to do before they get here. Sometimes the songs are created on the fly. Sometimes there’s live drum track clips, sound bites from movies and general anarchy. Other times they come in with a relatively finished idea and expand on it which is how this song was put together. No matter what we’re working on, a good time is had by all. And as always I have no idea where the song title comes from. I’m betting on random word scramble, but for the band it’s a well kept secret. They also asked us to put a video together. Since you’ll never see the band in a video (as per their request they like to remain anonymous) we get to use clips from our travel adventures and other sources and adjust them as we wish. Hope you all enjoy the new track. You can find this as well as many of our other songs on the ChurchHouse Productions YouTube channel. You’ll find the link on the site’s home page.

Steaming Mulch plays ‘Winter Incubate Mr. Under Ache’: