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665842 Posts in 26701 Topics by 3824 Members - Latest Member: DingDangIsTheGreatestSong January 23, 2021, 12:55:52 AM
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Author Topic: Christmas Songs! Christmas Covers!  (Read 847 times)
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« on: December 24, 2018, 07:46:33 PM »

Backstory...When my friend and I were running the studio and production business a decade ago, we'd take time every Christmas to record some Christmas covers for our friends and families. It gave us a chance to try some crazy ideas and techniques, and just have fun rearranging and playing Christmas tunes we liked, with no restrictions or deadlines and all that. We never mastered any of them, and just did the mixing to where we could share them with our circles of friends (and fans? I think we had a few...haha)

Anyway, a few days ago I heard a cover of McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" on an Amazon exclusive, and I immediately contacted my friend and partner-in-musical-crime to say I think this group heard our tracks!  LOL  We had the same reaction hearing the Foo Fighters on SNL a previous year. Anyway, that led to raiding the archives for the tracks we did that final year we had the studio up and running, 2007, and the tracks we did that year but never really sent around.

So here they are, followed by some geeking-out on the gear and some techniques and influences brought to these tracks which some of you may spot. Click on this link to the playlist, and the first three are the 2007 recordings, followed by ones I've posted here and on previous forums in past years:

"Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas". First, I always wanted to do this song as if Karen Carpenter were singing it with a heavier and less "polished" sounding arrangement. Just a pure voice, very close-mic'ed and up in the mix, with louder basic tracks behind her. Our singer came in that day with a bad cold, which we actually loved because the vocals sounded very delicate and emotional in places, due to the way it had to be sung that day. Some of the lines near the end slayed us when we heard them - Part of the joy of recording music, if it makes us react that way, all is good.

I had recently picked up a Fender Electric 12, the Venus actually, at a local pawn shop for a steal. I wanted to use it on everything, which is why it's so prominent. We literally compressed and then over-compressed that 12-string track, to give it that 1965 McGuinn sound when he ran through like 3 or 4 LA-2A limiters to get that sound. So the 12-string is all over the track, along with the Telecaster and a Jazz Bass, the bass going direct through the usual compression.

I was listening a lot to the track "Impossible Germany" by Wilco which had come out that year, and featured Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline at the end going into a dual-guitar jam out session, and I loved the effect it created. At the same time, I was getting deep into Neil Young and Danny Whitten's guitar duos with Crazy Horse, how they'd have two leads basically intertwining with each other for the extended jams. So I did that with two 12-string solos, panned hard L and R, one take and done on both to see what would come out.

The drums - The first intro fill was a nod to Ringo on "Free As A Bird", we loved how that track started with just Ringo. And we pictured again a Karen Carpenter type of vocal singing with Ringo on drums doing that signature beat.

Next, "Wonderful Christmastime". I wanted to deconstruct this track and just try some crazy stuff on it, as well as see if I could replicate all those wacky Macca analog synth parts using only basic old-school analog guitar pedals and trying to match the chord voicings. So the foundation for the rhythm was the Telecaster played through an old 80's Arion analog delay pedal with three knobs, one I picked up in '92 for 20 bucks. Once I got the tempo dialed in, we did a scratch rhythm track on top of that delay, and that was what we followed for time. Add to that delay/echo guitar a Vox wah guitar to give it some filter and sweep sounds, and standard guitar underneath. The leads were done with a 70's Fuzz sound, like a Big Muff or Fuzz Face but not set so high to where the notes wouldn't come through.

The bass was Fender Jazz, direct with compression, and I did that part as an overt nod to McCartney's bass lines on "Dear Prudence".

The vocal part "the choir of children sing...", we should have done more overdubs to make more of a "choir", but we tried to sing it a little off-key to make it sound like...a children's choir that needs practice!  Grin

What came next was the fun stuff. We usually had beers on hand for these fun sessions. So I wanted to do the thing where you drink so much from, say, a series of bottles to where you make a scale out of them depending on the volume of liquid in the bottles, and blow over each one to make the notes. But it wasn't working right.

So my friend had an idea, which triggered an idea direct from the playbook of Stephen Desper (we love 'ya Stephen, you're a major influence...hope you come back soon). So we drank a few bottles down to one being bass notes, one middle range, one high...which each were then recorded as one note and put into a keyboard controller, so the pitches could be played on a keyboard and kept consistent. It was the Desper "Cool Cool Water" technique on a smaller scale, but we used the beer-bottle sounds through the keyboard to get the vocal parts from Macca's original during that break.

And also, in the process, we added the sound of one of the bottles being poured into a glass, the obvious nod to Brian and Vegetables from Smiley Smile. Anyone who thinks Smiley was an easy album to track...just try to match that sound of the pouring jug from Vegetables. I think we tried several mics, and it definitely took several "takes" to get the right sound of the pour.

So that was that.

"Step Into Christmas" - The Elton John track, of course. Pretty straightforward, the drums, all the vocals, and scratch tracks had already been laid down, and I came in and put all the guitars and the bass track on top. The Telecaster, the 12-string, and the Jazz Bass again, with some crankin' distortion on the Tele tracks. It was fun to play that bass line too, and stretch out with a lot of improv on those fills, which I took cues from the original but moreso imagining how Duck Dunn, McCartney, and Joe Osborn (RIP) would have hit those fills. Fun track.

So I hope you give them a listen, enjoy them, and take these in the spirit we recorded them, which was to have fun and do something for our friends, and not get so damned picky in favor of just letting the tracks rip. No editing, looping, or pitch-correcting at all, in fact many were done in a few takes straight through depending on the part.

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!


"All of us have the privilege of making music that helps and heals - to make music that makes people happier, stronger, and kinder. Don't forget: Music is God's voice." - Brian Wilson
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