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Les Inspirations

Your Ball and Chain

October 6, 2012 3:30 PM

This was a sort-of-answer to a question I asked myself: what would an Adele song for a guy sound like? I guess the answer is, Al Green, kinda. My favorite thing about it is the chord progression, especially the I7-vii7-III-ii7-v7 (Fmaj7-Em7-A7-Gm7-Bbm7) at the beginning. I tried backing vocals but couldn't really make them work.

Some tech blabla --

Guitar is my Hagstrom Viking through Scuffham S-Gear.
Drums are NI Abbey Road 70s, set to funk
Vocals went through a budget ART tube pre-amp
The Rhodes is the neo-soul suitcase, although it's mixed kinda low
The Hammond is the Native Instruments Vintage Organs B3

posted by unSane (10 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

The vox are too compressed because I tracked them through a compressor, which I shouldn't have done, but I'm still figuring out how the hell to sing this so it's not really a final version. The singing isn't great but I couldn't sing the chorus AT ALL until I took singing lessons to that's progress right there. It's a weird one to sing because it goes from a whisper to a full belt and back again so the levels are tricky.

I think the guitars are too compressed too. I'm not sure about the panned tremolo guitars but I was looking for something to lift the chorus and I couldn't get the BVs or a horn section to work. I also tried Al Green-style strings and that didn't work either.

The end is supposed to be creepy - does that come across?

Here are the lyrics, more or less...

Baby, don't say a word
'Cause I already know
You're ready to go
And I don't want to be
Your ball and chain
No harm, no shame
I know for you the thrill is gone.

CHORUS
So hold me one last time
Pretend that you're still mine
I know it's over, but I can't say goodbye
Didn't we have a ball?
Didn't we show them all?
I know it's over, but I don't know how to say goodbye

Baby I know
How hard you tried
How hard you cried
And some day soon
I'll walk into a room
And smell your perfume
And remember you don’t love me no more

God knows I don't want to be
Your ball and chain
No harm, no shame
So hold me one last time before we say goodbye.

Didn’t we have a ball?
Didn’t we show them all?
I know it’s over, but I can't say goodbye
Didn’t we have a time?
Wasn’t it kinda fine?
I know it’s over, but I don’t know how to say goodbye

I know it’s over
But I can't say goobye
I know it's over
But it's too late to say goodbye
I'll never say goodbye

posted by unSane at 6:27 PM on October 6, 2012


Solid song, man.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:56 PM on October 8, 2012


unS - I'd suggest that this needs to be a lot "airier" , lighter and laid back with a cool sheen. This mix is quite "tight" and I'm wondering whether you should lose all that compression for starters. It's also maybe a bit too rawk 'n' rowl for the sort of thing you're after perhaps. The drums sound good ( a lot better than the shite I regularly foist on the unwary) but are they just a bit too hot, particularly the snare? Is there a more "soul" kit preset you could use? The guitar too could maybe be something a bit more single coil?

I think too that you could try singing this more quietly - sort of reflective and a bit rueful "didn't we have a ball?". Sometimes doing the exact opposite of what you think is needed really can work. You mention Al Green - some of his stuff is whisper-thin and all the more powerful for it. I'd also counsel against some of the notes you're going for vocally. There are some pretty hairy intervals here and if you don't hit those notes right on the money....it's really hard to pull things back into shape without sliding all around the note.

Christ - that looks like a lot of criticism. It ain't - you have something with this one, it maybe just needs a bit of a rethink sonically....
posted by MajorDundee at 11:12 AM on October 9, 2012


The chord progression is so jazzed and airy that I felt like I was floating along on it.
Excellent work.

Backing off on the vocals might do more for it, but I'm not sure. They seemed out of scape with the backing at times.
posted by dacre at 11:55 AM on October 9, 2012


I have a kind of particular idea about how this is supposed to sound, I guess. We played it tonight in a bar and it has a very natural progression to it, live, that really climaxes as you come out of the guitar solo. I've been trying to work out how to make that work musically. At the moment, the vocal does all of the heavy lifting and the backing just sort of lollops along and doesn't support it. I wrote a little horn part for the last section which does seem to help but it probably needs some BVs too.

If you listen to some of that Memphis horns/muscle shoals Al Green stuff, it's amazing how compressed it is. They must have stuck that stuff down with the needles all the way in the red. I know for a fact they didn't have any outboard compression -- it was a total two-bit studio with a lot of the equipment self-built -- so it must all be from the tape. Anyway, it doesn't sound like you imagine it does at all. It's absolutely bone dry and the horns are distorted all the way to hell. I listened to it just before I mixed this and I had to take the 'phones off, it was so in-yer-face. Mine is quite laid-back by comparison!

I'm still struggling with pitching vocals when I record them. Live, it's much less of an issue (although still an issue). The problem is basically that I can't reliably judge pitch in headphones for whatever reason.

This is definitely a song which seems to be working well in the band and less so when I try to record it playing all the parts myself. We're still getting up to speed with it but it's going to be interesting to see how it sounds when it's not just me recording it. We have just a wonderful drummer and guitarist who can play me into next week. I'm looking forward to seeing how it will work out when they are tracking some stuff.
posted by unSane at 10:16 PM on October 9, 2012


The problem is basically that I can't reliably judge pitch in headphones for whatever reason.

I believe Freddie Mercury sometimes recorded vocals in the control room with an SM58. No cans. Give it a go?
posted by MajorDundee at 10:09 AM on October 10, 2012


Yeah, I've tried that -- it's a Bono thing too. There are all sorts of tricks like playing one monitor in phase and the other out, or recording a version with no singing that you can play out of phase. It didn't work that well for me though. I might try it again with a super-cardioid mic and the monitors in the null spot at +/- 120 degrees.

I did a little experiment this morning trying different configurations

-- cans both ears, half on one ear, totally off one ear
-- bass in / bass muted
-- piano playing the melody line for reference

Then I stuck the vocal into melodyne so I could see exactly what was happening with the pitch.

Cans on, and bass in, is a recipe for disaster.

Cans totally off one ear cleans up the sustained pitches almost completely, especially with the bass out.

The other part is hitting those high Fs and Es which is just a singing thing.

So mostly I need to just stop being lazy.
posted by unSane at 10:38 AM on October 10, 2012


Man, you sound a little like Elvis Costello. Nice job!
posted by hanoixan at 10:49 PM on October 10, 2012


Thank you. I love the feel of MY AIM IS TRUE and ALISON in particular... the fusion of EC's Britishness and the American soul/country backing band. Such a strange collision, but wonderful.
posted by unSane at 5:07 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Remixed in light of these comments here.
posted by unSane at 9:33 PM on October 12, 2012


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