I’m a sucker for those TV shows that take a classic song or album and disassemble its tracks and layers to show their inner workings.
Nothing like a bit of George Martin or Tony Visconti shifting the fader yokes up and down at the mixing desk as they deconstruct a bit of Beatles or Bowie. Or session musicians such as the great Herbie Flowers explaining how he’d get a few extra bob at the overtime rate if he added extra instruments, hence he did both string bass and electric bass on Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” and the rest is rock history.
Or take Jean-Luc Godard’s 1968 film originally called One Plus One, or at least the sequences in which the Rolling Stones work and rework “Sympathy for the Devil” over and over in the studio. On a sadder note, as the song evolves from an initial acoustic jam between Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and Keith Richards, you can see Jones become increasingly sidelined until he’s hardly there, literally.
There are also loads of great clips out there from John Lennon’s “Imagine” sessions, particularly in the documentary Gimme Some Truth, with contributions by Klaus Voormann, George Harrison and Nicky Hopkins, and Yoko Ono takes charge at several decisive moments.
More recently in the “Classic Albums” series that keeps popping up everywhere from the BBC and ITV to Sky Arts, there’s the making of Amy Winehouse’s “Back To Black” album, or the Carly Simon “No Secrets” album. In a sublime moment they isolate Mick Jagger’s backing vocal on the master tapes of “You’re So Vain”, and Klaus Voormann (he’s everywhere) explains how he came up with the song’s shimmering bass intro.
Or how about this amazing little gem as the Hollies piece together “On a Carousel”? Bear with me, it’s well worth watching from start to finish…
It’s a reminder of what a really tight band they were at their height, the close harmonies, Tony Hicks’s brilliant guitar patterns that Johnny Marr would be proud of, and the drums and bass aren’t bad either.
But one thing was bugging me while watching the clip. Where’s the headphones? As they say in Agatha Christie books and Toyah Willcox songs, it’s a mystery.
‘On a Carousel’ was one of the Hollies’ best songs. It’s a pop song with an infectious chorus, but flirts with gorgeous shifts in rhythmic texture [that keep] the melody from becoming predictable. And the lyric captures the essence of young love without the usual moon-and-June cliches. We knew it was a hit from the get-go.”
– Graham Nash