24 April 2009

Rock with Strings: A Non Sequitur, Except ....

Strings on rock records are almost always a failure -- they actually water down, rather than increase, the power of songs that will rock your socks off.

The most high profile example of this problem are the strings that way-past-his-prime
Phil Spector used to bury the studio work of the Paul, John, George and Ringo on the Beatles song Across the Universe, released on Let it Be (1970). Luckily, Sir Paul McCartney has acquired the publishing rights to the album and stripped the strings off, allowing one to hear what was actually recorded in the studio by the lads (see Let it Be... Naked (2003)).

There are, however, exceptions. The most important is the revolutionary wall of sound developed by Phil Spector's when was out the height of his production powers in the early 1960s. The Wikipedia contributors describe the "wall of sound" as
.... a dense, layered, and reverberant sound that reproduced well on AM radio and jukeboxes popular in the era. He created this sound by having a number of electric and acoustic guitarists perform the same parts in unison, adding musical arrangements for large groups and/or orchestral musicians, and then recording the sound using an echo chamber. .... (Wall of Sound, Wikipedia Contributors)
A great "wall of sound" record to check out is "Paradise" by The Ronettes (available on the Phil Spector box set Back to Mono).

Another great use of strings in rock came about eight years later. On the
Stones' Moonlight Mile (from the album Sticky Fingers), Paul Buckmaster's powerful string arrangement sends Mick Taylor's crescendo power chords into overdrive, turning a good album closing cut into a great one.

And now, the payoff for reading all that -- a contemporary example of making strings work in a rock song. Here, for your listening pleasure, are the best rock strings in a generation: "Linger" by The Cranberries :

Yeah, let's let that linger -- play it again Delores, rock away my broken heart.

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