A stark example of how trying make music perfect can actually destroy it

When The Clash convened in the studio in the summer of 1979 to start recording what would become the London Calling album with producer Guy Stevens. Given that Stevens had a reputation of something of a madman, the band didn’t know what to expect.

The first thing Stevens had The Clash do was run through a version of “Brand New Cadillac,” a 1959 song by Vince Taylor. As the group counted in the song, Stevens secretly pressed record in the control room. When they wrapped up about two minutes and 10 seconds later, Stevens yelled “CUT! Next song!”

The Clash was horrified. They thought they were just warming up. “We can’t use that take!” someone said. “The tempo is all wrong! Listen to how we speed up!”

Stevens replied “All rock’n’roll speeds up. Next song!” And that’s the take that made London Calling.

Have a listen for yourself.

These sort of happy accidents almost never happen anymore because so many artists and producers and obsessed with making everything absolutely perfect. Everything is in key, in tune, and on time. Everything is tweaked to the point where all the mistakes, miscues, and imperfections are fixed in the mix.

Along with fixing vocals with Auto-Tune, one of my big bugaboos is the act of quantizing a recording. This is when recording software such as Pro Tools is used to make sure everything in the song is exactly on the beat. No dragging, no rushing. Things are locked to cesium clock precision: 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4. But in doing so, the groove, the feel, is squeezed out of the music. Quantizing is all over today’s music. Not good.

Yes, some music requires a strict robotic beat because that’s the point the composer is trying to make. But when it comes to rock’n’roll, you want things to be at least a little raw.

Take Van Halen’s “Runnin’ with the Devil.” Here’s how we all know it to sound.

Now listen to the song after YouTuber Bobby Huff quantized it. This is…wow.

(Via Metal Sucks)

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “A stark example of how trying make music perfect can actually destroy it

  • March 26, 2021 at 11:49 pm
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    Interesting that the version of the song he worked on, was not the version that was actually released. Wonder how he got a hold of that? Still, he makes a good point. It’s a little more boring and a tad lifeless. Fits right in to today’s music! Ha! Who said that?

    Reply

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