Friday, February 7, 2014

The Baker's Dozen Best Recorded Mistakes In Rock History

Now that practically everyone can piece together a digital workstation that enables musician to have unlimited tracks and unlimited editing capabilities, you'd think that recorded music would be completely devoid of any noticeable mistakes, either performance wise or from the actual recording itself.

But what about the idea that there's nothing wrong with a warts-and-all document? Have we completely moved to a point in our recorded history where everything must be perfect? Do we auto-tune those vocals that are a tad sharp in one spot? Do we punch in a better drum pattern when the drummer speeds up during the second chorus? Do we wipe away the scratchy guitar cable in the middle of a solo and replace it with a better take?

While there is still a group of musicians who relish the idea of documenting a performance rather than record one, the notion that we can "fix it in the mix" has become more of the norm than simply leaving well enough alone. There are lots of recorded examples of bands, producers and engineers who just decided "Fuck it" and left their noticeable mistakes on the final mix for us to hear, catch and wonder "Why didn't they fix that?"

The short answer has got to be "money," as a lot of these selections were probably recorded under tight deadlines and financial restrictions that prevented the band or artist to stop and give it another shot.

Another plausable reason is that some of the engineers might have thought that 99% of the listeners wouldn't even catch the mistakes, creating a climate where it wasn't even worth addressing since only the obsessive would catch it. To prove this point, consider how many of the following titles you've hear multiple times from the list below only to be surprised that there's a mistake at all.

And then there's my favorite reason of all: the artist just doesn't care. They wear the mistake like a badge of integrity, reminding us that rock and roll is a product of passion more than technical prowess. By its very definition, rock music should not get so bloated that a proficient performer gets top billing over a novice who's bottled magic within their three chords and naughty rhythms.

Rock music does a pretty good job of reminding us about this about every decade or so, but here are 13 of the best examples of when mistakes were left on the final takes and inspirations on letting the tape roll on and allowing listeners to hear that rock and roll isn't supposed to be perfect all the time.

1.) The Kingsmen – “Louie Louie”

“Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen is arguably the greatest rock and roll song in the history of the genre because it represents the art form to perfection. The story begins when a group of teenagers from Portland, Oregon notice their peers getting up to dance to Rockin’ Robin Roberts’ version of the song every time the song plays on the jukebox. They decide that they need to cover the tune, with the hopes that they can elicit a similar reaction from their audience. They rehearse the song for a whopping hour-and-a-half, entirely by ear, rushing the tempo without even realizing it. The next day, the five members pool together $36 for an hour-long session at a local recording studio. The studio only had three microphones, with the third one serving as merely an open mic, rigged from the ceiling. Jack Ely, vocalist for The Kingsmen, had to yell above the din just to be heard. On the first take, Ely came in on the third verse a bit too early. “No problem,” he thought, “this is just a run-through. We’ll do another take.” But no another take was ever committed to tape, and to The Kingsmen’s chagrin, the first and only take of “Louie Louie,” a song they had just learned how to play, was used as their debut record. Because of the primitive recording technique, and because Ely had a mouth full of braces, the lyrics were widely interpreted to be offensive. “I smell the rose in her hair” suddenly became “I shot my load in her hair” among other ridiculous examples of mondegreen. Ultimately, The Kingsmen’s version of “Louie Louie” – warts and all-shot up to #2 on the charts, surpassing any other version of the song. Ely’s mushmouth delivery and pre-mature third verse, made no difference, and may have even added to the song’s raw glory, further spurring the dreams of garage bands across the country that anything is possible, even on the first take.

2.) Syd Barrett – “She Took A Long Cold Look” > “Feel” > “If It’s In You”

Recorded on the last day of a marathon session (for Syd) in a make-or-break effort to fill out an album’s worth of material for Barrett’s debut solo album after being kicked out of Pink Floyd. This trios of songs were placed towards the end of the record in an almost audio-verite document of the artists declining mental health. The songs feature Syd with only an acoustic guitar, the songs barely rehearsed and obviously still in progress. It’s high drama some forty years after they were recorded, and it must have been even more shocking when it was first released. You can hear Barrett fumble with a notebook as he reads the lyrics for “Long Cold Look,” one hand still strumming the guitar while the other turns the page. At the end, he knows that it won’t be enough for his two hard-nosed producers, David Gilmore and Roger Waters, hired with the sole intention of getting something, anything, out of this crumbling genius to widen The Madcap Laughs running time. “’Bout short” he sighs, knowing that he still needs to provide more material. He struggles through one take of “Feel,” trying to find the chords and, perhaps finding meaning in the words “Away/Far too empty/Oh so alone/I want to go home/Oh find me inside a nocturne.” By the time he tackles “If It’s In You,” he’s had it. He struggles with the high note before telling the control room “I’ll start it again…I’ll start it again.” There are moments of banter between Syd and the control room before he pleads for them to just let him get through the song. It’s a challenge. He rushes it, hitting a verse too early before giving up entirely, reducing the words to gibberish (“Yummy yam yum yum”). As the song reaches its tense ending, you can hear Barrett mutter something, perhaps his plans for escape and a life of seclusion.

3.) The Beatles – “I’m Looking Through You” (US Version)

Capitol Records, the label most associated with The Beatles’ early U.S. releases, would notoriously cherry pick through the bands recordings, add a bunch of reverb to them and then repackage them to unsuspecting American fans. As stupid as this strategy sounds, these treated masters were what most of the band’s fans ever knew, until their catalog was corrected and unified in 1987, when all of the titles were released on compact disc. Then a strange thing happened. A lot of people (including myself, who grew up listening to and who practically learned how to talk to such titles as Meet The Beatles, Yesterday…And Today! and Beatles VI) missed those blasphemous mixes. Since Capitol Records is in the business of selling the same shit to you over and over again, they re-introduced some of the Beatles Capitol albums and mixes in two box sets (still waiting on Volume 3, fellas). Within minutes, Beatles fanatics knew that something was afoul with the mix for the American version of Rubber Soul. Not only did the record have a different track listing and sequence, it also featured a brief flub by George Harrison at the beginning of “I’m Looking Through You.” For some reason, the mistake only appeared on the American version of that album, and fans who spend their every waking moment noticing things like that suddenly wondered why the mistake was nowhere to be found on the mono mix of the song. You read right, the error was only noticed on the mono version of the song (The Capitol Albums, Volume 2 featured both stereo and mono mixes). It was discovered then that Capitol had inadvertently included a “fold-down” mono version of the record instead of the true mono mix. These created a shit storm among Beatlemaniacs who demanded an explanation as well as a new copy of the mono mix. Harrison’s flub is, literally, a few seconds, but to Beatle fans, it was the principle. Of course, Capitol Records offered a full swap if you sent the offending disc back to their pressing plant in Jacksonville, Illinois-something that I took advantage of. Between you and me: I wouldn’t have even noticed the difference until someone else had a conniption. The irony of all of this is that Capitol Records created another rarity with this error of an error, and I’ll bet you $100 there are plenty of Beatles fans out there with both copies in their collection, probably even sealed.

4.) The Rolling Stones – “Gimme Shelter”

If I’m going to put the Beatles on this list of mistakes, I’ve got to make room for their Satanic counterparts, The Rolling Stones. This one was easy, and is probably a song that everyone reading this has heard a million times without even noticing the mistake. And the reason why you don’t even notice the mistake is because the mistake is so fucking awesome. If you’ll recall, the Rolling Stones were just the second album into their unbelievable run of records. The year was 1969, and Let It Bleed perfectly mirrored the horrific events of the day. With the Vietnam War in full swing and America’s penchant for assassinating anyone that seemed to be trying to change the course of things, it was perfectly understandable that our world seemed destined for annihilation. Stones vocalist Mick Jagger penned the appropriately titled “Gimme Shelter” for the record and knew he needed to have a duet partner with extra-ordinary abilities to help him with the track. At first, the Stones wanted to have vocalist Bonnie Bramlett sing it, but she was ill and not able to perform. Legendary soul and gospel singer Merry Clayton was solicited next and she arrived at the studio with not only an impressive resume, but also with an unborn baby inside of her. The tape rolls and the two go at it, building with the song’s tension until Merry’s voice breaks during the second refrain of “It’s just a shot away.” Immediately after this line, she pushes further, until her voice completely gives out during the third and final refrain of “Rape! Murder!” The emotional delivery causes Mick to yell “Wooo!” which is audible in the final mix of Let It Bleed. The mistake and Jagger’s reaction to it was left on the track because it transformed “Gimme Shelter” into one of the greatest songs in rock history, but the cost of the performance had an awful price: Merry had a miscarriage of her unborn child after she returned home from the recording session. Here's an unbelievable isolated track of the the vocals:

5.) Motorhead – “We Are The Road Crew”

Part of what makes Motorhead so awesome is their fuck all attitude, and that attitude is in full display on “We Are The Road Crew,” the band’s three minute ode to their roadies. Like practically everything else the band did, the song is a breakneck juggernaut, more than likely fueled by copious amounts of speed and an unrelenting sense of economy. For example, the song features not one, but two blistering guitar solos by “Fast” Eddie Clarke, with the second one featuring him going apeshit on his wah-wah pedal. At about the 2:22 mark, Clarke loses his balance in the studio and falls to the floor, causing his guitar to feedback uncontrollably. The tape continues to roll, and Eddie takes about 10 seconds to get back on his feet, the guitar continuing to squeal the entire time. Fully stabilized and completely unfazed by the incident, he then continues to solo through the song’s remaining half-minute fade out. The fall remained on the final mix of the track for their classic Ace Of Spades release, and its attitude is what makes the record as vital today as it was when Eddie first took the plunge onto the studio floor.

6.) Steely Dan – “Aja”

Steely Dan constants Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are notorious perfectionists and, as far as albums are concerned, their 1977 release Aja is about as perfect of a recording as you’ll ever hear. Hell, for the song “Peg,” the two nitpickers made guitarist Jay Graydon perform take after take of solos until they found one to be satisfactory. All of this perfection came before the idea of Pro Tools was even created, so that meant that either 1.) you had to redo a live performance until you got the performance right or 2.) you had a swift producer who was able to “punch in” certain performances into a complete take, a strategy that really only works for easy issues with vocals or, occasionally, instruments. But what if you’re in the middle of a complex, eight-minute long title track with tons of Mingus-style chord progressions, and even a few complex tempo changes thrown in for good measure, when your drummer suddenly fucks up in the middle of a drum solo? If your drummer is legendary jazz percussionist Steve Gadd, and the offending mistake is a very audible click of his sticks, you play it off legit! For nearly twenty years, jazz scholars praised the offending “click” as an intentional and brilliant break, before Gadd admitted in an interview once that he fucked up. Fagen and Becker may be perfectionists, but they are far from stupid. Gadd simply crushes the rest of the song, and since the offending mating of his drum sticks is miraculously in time and in the middle of an incredible solo, let wisely left it on the final take.

7.) Dusty Springfield – “Son Of A Preacher Man”

Dusty Springfield was both a perfectionist and very insecure about her abilities. When she arrived in Memphis, Tennessee in November of 1968, she met with legendary producers Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin and Tom Down to record an album that was designed to match Dusty with the same creative team in which her own idol, Aretha Franklin, had found success with. They even presented her with “Son Of A Preacher Man,” a song that The Queen of Soul had originally rejected, but they felt it still had potential. Dusty fell in love with the track, but she struggled with her vocal takes, citing that she felt uneasy about not being able to match the same level of talent of the artists that graced the studio before her. Perhaps she should have listened a little more closely to Memphis Cats’ bassist Tommy Cogbill, who is far from perfect in his low end delivery. At around the 1:25 mark, Cogbill returns to an A note a bit early, but it’s so brief (and his performance is so smooth and sultry throughout the rest of the song) that the mistake stayed on, and “Son Of A Preacher Man” reached the top 10 in the States. As far as Dusty was concerned, she ended up scrapping all of her vocal takes in Memphis and recorded her parts in New York City. The irony of this story is that when Aretha heard Dusty’s version of the same song she passed on, she went and recorded it for her This Girl’s In Love With You album. When Dusty caught wind of Aretha’s version, she demurred to the Queen of Soul and began adopting her phrasing whenever she performed it live. And speaking of bassists and Dusty Springfield: while recording in New York City, Dusty stopped by Atlantic Records’ headquarters and told the top brass that they should sign her old bassist’s new band. That bassist’s name was John Paul Jones.

8.) Led Zeppelin – “Immigrant Song”

So how do you make skinny little, open-shirted Robert Plant sound like a conquering Viking? You put a bunch of echo behind his voice as he yells “Ahhhhahhhhhhhaaaaa!” The trouble is, studio equipment-like echo machines-were very primitive back in 1970, and if you’re Jimmy Pages, putting together tracks for your band’s latest record while touring, you tend to forget things like, oh, I dunno, like TURNING DOWN THE POT TO THE ECHO UNIT AS YOU BEGIN ROLLING TAPE! Hammer of the Gods, my ass! The echo unit starts to pick up the ambience of the tape hiss, it reproduces the hiss, making it grow louder and louder with each passing cycle until you’ve got a bunch of it inadvertently counting off the first track of your third record. But like the waves crashing against those massive Viking vessels, the mistake worked and was left on.

9.) David Bowie – “The Jean Genie”

While vocal mistakes are much more noticeable, have pity on the lowly bass player who not only seems to be a recurring offender in this Baker’s Dozen list, but probably gets a ton of grief for stuff that nobody notices, except maybe other band members. Trevor Bolder was the bassist for David Bowie’s band during the Hunky Dory/Ziggy Stardust years, so his place in rock music is secure. Bolder just passed away in May of this year (2013), but you might say that he first died forty years when his boss caught him fucking up a bass part and chastised him on record, leaving a permanent reminder of his error. “The Jean Genie” was Bowie attempting to channel New York City, while guitarist Mick Ronson was obviously trying to channel Bo Diddley. Meanwhile, poor Trevor was just trying to channel a basic 4/4 time structure, hitting the notes designated for the chorus a measure too early and causing his boss to exclaim “Get back on it!” Life after Bowie for Bolder consisted of following fellow bassist John Wetton, stepping into his role for both Uriah Heep and Wishbone Ash when Wetton departed. Of course, for me at least, fucking up “The Jean Genie” still ranks higher than any one of Bolder’s later projects.

10.) Mamas & the Papas – “I Saw Her Again”

Written by John Phillips the morning after a blackout night, one in which he woke up naked in bed next to daughter Mackenzie Phillips (too soon?), “I Saw Her Again” was another one of those harmonic, sunshine pop songs that the Mamas & the Papas were notorious for. The origin of the song is actually just as drama-filled as my lame attempt at humor: Papa Denny Doherty co-wrote the song with Phillips after having a brief affair with John’s wife, Michelle. The result of the affair led to Michelle getting temporarily fired from the band while giving the quartet another Top 5 hit in the summer of 1966. At the start of the third verse, you can hear Doherty come in a measure early with “I saw her…” before stopping and then picking up again at the proper point. You’d think that someone would have the sense to simply erase the offending mistake, but it actually was created during the mixing process. Bones Howe, the engineer of “I Saw Her Again” attempted to punch in the vocals for the final verse (so much for thinking everything recorded in the 60’s was live), but did so a tad early. He quickly rewound the tape and lined up the verse perfectly. Trouble was, he forgot to erase his mistake, so when producer Lou Adler heard the mix he also heard Howe’s error. Surprisingly, he thought it was cool and told Howe to leave it. From that point out, they acted like the mistake was intentional but even Paul McCartney wasn’t fooled. “That has to be a mistake.” he told the group. “Nobody’s that clever.”

11.) T-Rex – “Get It On”

Producer Tony Visconti is known as a man with impeccable precision and the pallet of a classical arranger. But put a couple of pretty boys in front of him and add a few joints to the control room and watch him let those rock and rollers walk all over his perfection. For Marc Bolan’s only U.S. Top 40 hit, “Get It On”, Visconti let Bolan add Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman to the final mix by adding only a piano glissando to the tune. Then, he let Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan from the Turtles-known to you and I as “Flo and Eddie”- join as background vocalist. At around 3:20, one of the two tried to add another “Get it on” before the guitar breakdown, realizing at the word “on” that they had overstepped the break. A quick laugh, and all is forgotten as Bolan probably told Visconti to leave the mistake in the final mix. Meanwhile, I’m still thinkin’ that Chuck Berry wouldn’t have allowed it.

12.) Rod Stewart – “Every Picture Tells A Story”

I swear to god, one of the first comments I saw on You Tube while listening to this song was this: “This dumbass son of a bitch sold his soul around 1976, but GODDAMN this tune is unreal.” The sins of Rod Stewart are enormous, but the vitriol like that commenter accurately points out is deserved when you hear how awesome Stewart was before he squandered his talents for commercial tripe. “Every Picture Tells A Story” is one of the best examples of how good Stewart could be, even when he screws up the timing. Not that it matters much as the song is a musical mess. It’s sloppy, drummer Micky Waller doesn’t always keep perfect time, and everything sounds like it was recorded on the first take. In other words, it’s perfect. But what makes “Every Picture Tells A Story” a work of art is Rod Stewart and Maggie Bell singing off each other. There’s no rhythmic meter in their delivery, but they seem to be singing in unison. Except for when Rod rushes the line “Look how wrong you can be.” You can hear him start the verse, but stop as soon as he realizes that Maggie isn’t alongside with him. If only Rod would have headed those words, he may have saved us from such later garbage like “Young Turks.”

13.) The Byrds – “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better”

One of Gene Clark’s standouts, “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” originally found its home as the flip to “All I Really Want To Do,” but because it’s so awesome, enough dj’s played Clark’s side to have it reach #103 on the charts. During the last verse, bassist Chris Hillman flubbed the bass line during the “I’m not gonna play your games anymore” part. This has caused me to wince every time I hear this beautiful song, because everything else in its 2:35 wake is perfect. This mistake has bugged me for so long that it became the entire reason for this list. And while other mistakes are far more noteworthy, Hillman’s flat note continues to be the one that bothers me the most.

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