The legendary songwriter Burt Bacharach has died aged 94. One of the greatest of a generation, he was responsible for so many fantastic and memorable songs. ‘What’s it all about, Alfie?’ was written for the movie starring Michael Cane and sung by the equally talented Cilla Black. The session was at Abbey Road and recorded live with full orchestra and Cilla banging out take after take in full voice and perfect tuning. After over twenty takes where Burt was seeking ‘the one with more magic’, George Martin, who was producing, said that they had the magic on take four! This was the one they finally used.
I love the fact that still we can enjoy many phenomenal songs recorded in Mono, performed in one take, featuring exceptional artists and singers. Songs simply recorded on two tracks, stereo in old money, live and straight to tape.
The Beetles first album, “Please Please Me”, was recorded and mixed in ten hours.
Iconic tunes recorded on four tracks and mixed simply with no ceremony or fuss. Eight tracks, sixteen tracks and then twenty-four tracks becoming standard practice offering more choice and certainly more time to decide on the finished product.
Computer multitrack software is now common place providing a relative infinite amount of tracks options and choices that so often make the final decision all the more confusing.
We have Spatial audio mixing and Dolby Atmos, both of which personally confuse me. I have enough trouble with basic stereo. With surround sound of hundreds of speakers around the room each throwing out something different a complete mind fudge and certainly something that only screws up a movie than enhancing it.
I genuinely admire the simplicity of the days when it took talented performers, musicians and great songwriters to write what they wanted and make quick decisions about the finished product.
Maybe it’s time to consider these practices again.
I love travelling to various places where I can take my own very portable studio to get ideas. It’s light and very small. It was even better when I would travel with an acoustic guitar but with all the nonsense about personal ownerships and carnets that has kicked off again since Brexit the last thing I’m prepared to risk is a loathsome customs official deciding to make off with any of my mistresses because of meaningless paperwork and endangered materials. Sorry, I’m ranting yet again!!
So, I pack a mini keyboard that is virtually unplayable yet useful. An old laptop and a nice fast drive containing some bits and pieces that offer a few choices. I probably get more ideas this way than I do in the studio where I genuinely can’t remember exactly what I have and what I haven’t.
Simple, easy and quick.
The rewards are immeasurable when you hit “The Magic” especially if it arrives without you knowing.
Rest in Peace Burt. Your skills will be remembered as will your beautiful songs. I only hope that even now I could ‘touch the hem of your garment’ and write something as memorable, as easy sounding, as perfect, but as often happens: “I say a little prayer”.