What's that funny noise?: Bob's cuffs and the dog that sang with Rod; Giles Smith on the sounds you were never meant to hear

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
WE'RE all familiar with the suggestion that rock records are encoded with incitements to devil-worship and mass murder. Worse still is this less familiar truth: that some of the most famous records are encrusted with poorly disguised cock-ups and thinly veiled studio mishaps. That noise in the background during Elvis Presley's version of 'Blue Moon' is not, after all, a prayer said backwards; it is someone getting a soda out of the studio vending machine.

We can thank Compact Discs for this illumination. CDs have cleaned off the hiss and let us hear what's really going on. For instance, only in the process of re- mastering the original tape for release on CD did it become all too clear that Ringo's bass-drum pedal squeaks throughout 'Please Please Me'. There is a wealth of revelation awaiting anyone prepared to fiddle with the balance controls on their hi-fi and listen carefully.

Here are 10 examples of records on which glitches made it through to the final version. In most of the cases, they did so because the means didn't exist to remove them. In all the cases, the glitch lends the recording a charm you would be loath to lose. Recording now involves a technology which is fundamentally anti-glitch - which enables one to lift out mistakes, drop in corrections, edit to within milliseconds. That technology brings with it innumerable advantages, but one major disadvantage: they don't screw them up like they used to.

The Harptones: Sunday Kind of Love

The Harptones, a doo-wop group from Harlem, recorded the blissful 'Sunday Kind of Love' in 1953. The track opens promisingly in a lush wash of organ, but even before the singers can step up to the microphone, the atmosphere is all but wrecked by a background roaring noise. On closer inspection, this is the sound of one of the band clearing an evidently sizeable quantity of mucus from his throat. And with the price of acetate in those days, there was no going back.

Little Stevie Wonder: Fingertips Part II

Released in 1963, this was Stevie Wonder's first American No 1, a piece of highly charged harmonica-playing, recorded live. It is often said that Motown in the Sixties turned out its artists rigorously groomed and rehearsed. Not in this case. As the song launches, just behind the blare of the band and the screams of the audience, the child prodigy can be heard shouting 'What key? What key?'

The Rolling Stones: Satisfaction

'Satisfaction' called for two distinct guitar sounds - a clean one for the verses and that thick, fuzzy noise which plays the now legendary riff. These days you would record the parts separately and merge them; in 1965, you had to play the song right through and switch the effect in and out at the right points - a feat of concentration difficult when sober, nearly impossible when smashed. Those who have listened scrupulously to Stones recordings claim that, just before a chorus half way through, they can hear the sound of Richards attempting to stamp on a foot-operated effects box and missing. After a kerfuffle, the guitar eventually blunders in, by now the best part of a bar too late.

The Beatles: Hey Jude

Does 'Hey Jude' contain the f-word? Beatle boffins think so. Late in the song, down the microphone used to record the acoustic guitar, comes the voice of John Lennon saying, in utterly unconsolable Liverpudlian, 'fokkin' 'ell'. As a document attesting to the Beatles inter-personal decline, this is pretty well unbeatable. It's also nice to reflect that this small piece of subversion has sat at the heart of a record which has been a staple of radio programming for nearly a quarter of a century. But is it true? Beatle archivist Mark Lewisohn: 'There's something there, yes. It's possibly the words you mention. I've been back to the original tapes and it's extremely hard to isolate, you can't be certain.'

Led Zeppelin: Whole Lotta Love

Remember that bit in the middle, where the song slows up and Robert Plant screams 'Way down insi-yide' and his voice echoes back at him? This has long been thought a deliberate effect, but some avid listeners now contest that the ghostly trace-voice is in fact the remnants of a guide vocal accidentally recorded with the drums and therefore indelible.

Rod Stewart: Sweet Little Rock'n'Roller

Early on in this track from the Smiler album, Stewart is joined in an unplanned harmony vocal by the studio dog. A banal intrusion of the outside world only matched by that moment when the phone rings during David Bowie's Hunky Dory.

Humble Pie: I Don't Need No Doctor

On the Live: Rockin' the Filmore concert album, a teary-eyed Steve Marriot tells the audience: 'We go home Monday, but I wanna tell you, it ain't half been a gas being here, it's been a gas.' Turn up the volume at this point and, in the tiny pause before the opening chord of 'I Don't Need No Doctor', you will detect a small, disenchanted voice in the audience calling out: 'Fuck off'. Today, you could clip it out; back then, you had to live with it.

The Who: Happy Jack

It was The Who's practice, during recording, to lock Keith Moon in the drum booth where he couldn't be a distraction. But he still managed well enough, bounding up to the partition-glass and pulling faces. Hence Pete Townshend's slightly tired sounding 'I saw you', partly buried in this Who track.

Bob Dylan: Wedding Song

Recording this number for the Planet Waves album, Bob Dylan rather unwisely elected to wear a jacket with big cuff buttons, which, with the motion of his arms, tapped on the body of his guitar. The top Dylanologist, John Bauldie, says that cuff buttons can also be heard making a decorative percussive contribution to many of the demos for Blood on the Tracks.

The Police: Roxanne

'Roxanne' (1978) dates from before the Police could afford spacious recording studios. When Sting took his breath for the opening line, he lost his balance, toppled backwards slightly and sat down on the keys of an upright piano, positioned uncomfortably close behind him. Hence the smudged piano notes at the start of the track and the cackle of laughter which follows them. They probably could have got rid of it, but it was just the piece of decoration the introduction needed.

Readers are invited to send examples of glitches and incidental nonsense on record to Oops], Arts Desk, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB, for publication at a later date.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments