Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Wall-of-Sound Explained: Part 9

Last time, I promised that we would examine some post-1960s records. Well, I lied. This chapter will be dedicated to a wall-of-sound producer we have not yet introduced: Andrew Loog Oldham.

Oldham is best known for being the Rolling Stones' producer in the mid-1960s. It was he that insisted on the Stones taking a bad-boy image, as a counterpoint to the clean-cut Beatles. And it was Oldham who produced most of the early Rolling Stones' songs with the wall-of-sound.

Why has this essay ignored his important work until now? I don't know, and I think I need to correct this in the next revision.

Anyway, Oldham was a big fan of Phil Spector. So much, in fact, that he once took out an ad in the British music paper Melody Maker that read:
This advert is not for commercial gain, it is taken as something that must be said about the great new PHIL SPECTOR record, THE RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS singing 'YOU'VE LOST THAT LOVIN' FEELIN''. Already in the American top ten, this is Spector's greatest production, the last word in tomorrow's sound, today, exposing the overall mediocrity of the music industry.
From 1964 to 1966, most, if not all, of the Rolling Stones records featured all the necessary elements of the wall-of-sound. Everything in mono. Guitars and drums mixed with a bit of reverb. Mick Jagger mixed up front. Harmonies further back. And tambourine, handclaps and other percussion.

These songs include "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "The Last Time," "As Tears Go By," "Time Is On My Side," "19th Nervous Breakdown," and "Get Off My Cloud." The compilation album, Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass), is a good place to find many of these songs.

People don't usually consider these songs to be wall-of-sound, because there's no layering of instruments. But they have that depth that is so reminiscent of the Ronettes and the Beach Boys, and is lacking in the productions of the Beatles. It's all in the mixing.

Incidentally, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" was #2 in a Rolling Stone magazine's top 500 greatest songs list. It should be noted that two other wall-of-sound productions ("Imagine" and "Good Vibrations") also made the top 6.

Is the wall-of-sound a reason why the Rolling Stones had such an enormous effect in America, on par with the Beatles, despite having little sex appeal?