The Dangling Vocal

“It had to be a mistake,” I said. “But I can’t iMAgine it being a mistake.”

I glanced over at my wife and saw that “here we go” smile. We were driving again, with The Beatles Help! on the juke. Specifically, “Ticket to Ride.”

“The ‘aaahhhhh’s’ before the third and fourth choruses,” I said. “John obviously double-tracked the third chorus. But not the fourth. Why not?”

As we’ve established, my wife is used to my flights of non-linear ADD and historical crime-scene analysis. Once I get on a jag, its smile-and-nod time for her as I’m off to the races.

“Okay,” she said, “what’s this double-tracking?”

“Funny you should ask!” I said. “Double-tracking is when you sing or play something twice to thicken it up a little. With multi-track recording, you can have multiple tracks to layer on, like a cake or bricks. The Beatles were early practitioners.”

I scrolled the CD back to the first verse.

“One vocal track on the verses,” I said. “But you can hear the double-track on the chorus. Listen to ‘ride’ especially. ‘She’s got a ticket to rih – hih- hiiiide.’ Hear it? The vocals are thicker than the verses, and there’s just a slight bit of warble where the syllables don’t quite line up.”

She nodded. “Yeah, I hear it!”

“Okay,” I said. “Forward to the third chorus, right after the ‘don’t know why she’s ridin’ so high’ middle eight. Hear the ‘aaahhhhh’? It sounds huge! Just explodes out of the speakers.

“NOW…” I forwarded to the fourth chorus. “Listen to this ‘aaahhhhh.’ Not nearly has huge. Why? Because John didn’t double-track that ‘aaahhhhh.’ WHY NOT?!?”

“Um,” she said. “He forgot?”

“Exactly my problem,” I said. “That’s exactly what it sounds like. But John and Sir George Martin were meticulous about this stuff. So why would they forget? This was the beginning of The Beatles as an obsessive studio-only band, so it doesn’t make sense that they would overlook something like that, especially after hundreds of replays in the studio.”

We drove on for a few minutes, just listening for a change.

“Isn’t there some controversy about the title, too?” she said.

“Heh,” I chuckled. “Yeah, I don’t think that there’s anything deeper than the surface narrative? Guy loses girl, girl shuffles off on British Rail. But there are competing stories. I think Paul had a friend or relative that owned a pub in the town of Ryde. So Paul and John would have to get a ticket to Ryde to visit them.”

“I can see that,” she said.

“It’s possible,” I said. “But here’s the other version. Apparently the …ahem… working ladies of Hamburg had to be tested regularly. One night while The Beatles were playing, John supposedly found a friend for the evening with a clean-bill-of-health card from the medical authorities, and told someone that she’s got a ‘ticket to ride.’”

“Nice!” she said.

“Yeah, right?” I said. “John was quite the rake, so that’s plausible. But there probably isn’t anything to it other than the surface narrative. Probably…”

“So many mysteries for one song!” she said.

“Yep!” I said. “And I’ll never have answers, damnit! “

I drove us on, knowing that from dropped vocals and speculative narratives, I would only have more questions and would be perpetually unrequited.

  1. free penny press said:

    Very clever write.. I recall the controversy around Cary Simon’s “He’s so vain”.. I think bands should put inserts in their albums telling us the background on each song..

    • I kinda like the mystery, but of course I also demand answers.

  2. I agree with the above comment. It’s quite interesting to find out things behind the scenes. Like Bryan Adams “Summer of 69” isn’t about the year 1969. 😉

      • Surprisingly, I was never moved to find out the secrets behind Brian Adams songs…

  3. Ok, is this fiction, or a verbatim conversation? 😉
    And the mysteries of great songs are part of what makes them great! (Even though, yeah, it would be very cool to find out the truth…)

  4. Do people really listen to music like that? They need to go to an overanalyzer anonymous meeting.

      • It probably comes in handy at times. I overanalyze, but not usually music.

  5. First things first..your wife is obviously a saint. I am reading Steven Tyler’s latest book and I am facinated at the back stories of their songs..I would have never guessed the answers. He also overanalyzes the music..seems to work for him.

  6. Wow, I’ve never thought about music like that That’s pretty cool 🙂
    I tagged you in my post today

  7. YES. I’ve been thinking a LOT about studio recording lately, and the technology involved with the original track-recording system. (I know very, very, very little about how this process works.)

    I love it when you write about music and parse down a song to show us examples. Beautifully done, Brian!

    Question: Do you think the live recording methods of recent artists (bringing everybody into the studio at once for a live session) are a reaction to the meticulous heavy-handed studio-processing methods that have been popular for decades now?

    • !!!Bluebird Nod of Approval Blush!!!

      Yeah, I think eventually everything is antimatter, so the new wave of live room recording is, to an extent, a reaction to the mega-produced pop school. But ultimately it’s more about the genre. A band like Old Crow Medicine Show, or The Ditty Bops, there is no other way they could record and still be authentic bluegrass and Western swing, ya know? But yes, I
      think there is a new appreciation for the intrinsic humanity of great records circa late 50s – early 70s. Listen to a Stones record on a good pair of phones: Bill Wyman’s bass is out of tune and the hand claps are all over the map, but it’s friggin GREAT. It’s human! Not like Gaga and that ilk. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s much easier to relate to a
      double-tracked “aaahhhhh” (except on the fourth chorus!) where the syllables are juuust slightly off than a Gaga chorus featuring four or five absolutely flawless layers.

      • OHMAIGAH! So excited!

        Okay— full confession— I am FIXATED with live-track recordings right now. Here’s my thing— they feel so much more immediate to me, more raw.

        Of course, you point out the most obvious flaw, which is that certain genres of music lend themselves to this sound, while others would not work in this fashion. (Kraftwerk and any post-Kraftwerk electronica come to mind.)

        Could I bug you for a short list of recordings that best utilize the live studio style? Can be anything. I’m thinking maybe you might want to do a brief follow-up post with a list? Please?

        I see your blush and raise you a set of hyperactive waving-around Bluebird hands!

      • Oh HO! Game on, soon’s I get home out of this stinkin’ Cube!

      • I may have to revisit my original thoughts for this week. Maybe a Young People’s Concert series a’la Westbye?

  8. I laughed so hard at this one. Have had the same conversation about double tracking, etc with.. uh… pretty much every husband and boyfriend.
    Oh the life of an OCD genius 😉

    -oh, and your question live vs studio live? Piss on that. Although Fagen and Becker have been able to actually pull off Excellent live versions of their studio albums they did wait about 20 years before they toured. The duo also has the best of studio musicians playing live with them.

    Get a great engineer.
    Some ‘po musician in Reno

    • I sat in on a guest lecture once with a guy that was second engineer on one of the ‘Dan records. Said that one day Fagen was working on a part for hours, just over and over and over again, and of course everyone else heard flawless take, but not Fagen. One of the engineers then piped up, “Donald: not only did you just nail the part, but do you realize that this part come in TWO MINUTES AFTER THE FADEOUT?!?” No matter…

  9. Wow Brian you really know your Beatles! A ticket to ride is just too easy now that I think about it. HA! My husband has ADD but usually fills me in on science and engineering and the history of math.

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