“Amazing,” I said. “A Top 10 smash with only two chords.”
My wife and I were driving with The Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around” on the juke, and as always, I was listening with producer ears.
“Only two chords in the whole damn song,” I said. “E major to a D# minor with an F# root note. That’s it! Two chords that never resolve to a definitive tonal point. And there’s no bridge or pre-chorus, and the middle eight is the same two chords with a string section on top. Talk about minimalism!”
After eleven years, she is used to my frequent soliloquies on song writing and production, baseball history, jazz and punk history, world history, Simpsons references, ‘80s and ‘90s Saturday Night Live references and all the general detritus that floats out of the garbage dump that is my brain. She’s mastered the art of the smile and nod: smile at my genuine heartfelt enthusiasm and nod along in general interest, knowing that I’m just going to keep going. We get along great like that.
“And,” I said, “here’s…wait for it…the Organ From Nowhere! That Hammond B3 in the verse. ‘You made your choice’ dah-da-daaah da dah-da-daaah. Where else in the song is there organ? NOwhere else, that’s where! But it works!”
We continued on our way, driving toward lunch at the Homestead with my parents.
“I like the strings,” she said.
“Yep, that’s the Philly sound,” I said. “The songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff launched that sound at Philadelphia International Records: doo-wop harmonies and lush string arrangements. Think of The Delfonics, Billy Paul, The Stylistics, Teddy Pendergrass…”
I am, of course, just thinking out loud as I hear all these elements connecting and presenting themselves. My brain is a sieve. And my ears are constantly in the studio.
“It’s a great sounding record,” I said. “Hollow body, probably a Gibson, for the da-dat-da-dah octave guitar part, then a nice clean Fender Strat through a Fender Twin amp for the chords. Classic combo there. It’s a good mix…except for the drums.”
“What’s wrong with the drums?” She said.
“Gah!” I said. “The 1970s was what I call the ‘Dead Drum Era.’ The idea, for some bewildering reason, was to make the drums sound as flat as possible. I can hear the producer saying, ‘That kick drum sounds real punchy. Better throw a few more pillows in it, and maybe a phone book! And that snare drum is HUGE! Better put a tampon on it!’”
“A tampon?!?” she said.
“A tampon,” I said. “That’s an old producer’s trick to dampen a really hot snare drum, like in a room with a lot of echo. Or in the case of the Dead Drum Era, as an unfortunate aesthetic choice. They still do it, but fortunately not as much.”
The song was over. We arrived for lunch, and another typical drive with me was over.