I’m sitting here (not) studying for an exam later this week. Blagged a day off work and all. On my iPhone at the moment are tracks by John Lennon, George Harrison, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles (very Classic Rock, I know).
In a desperate effort not to actually learn anything pertinent, my brain has expanded upon a Hepworthian theory that it has previously toyed with: The classic/cliched sound of many artists is not the sound associated wih their most successful or lauded period. Some examples for consideration:
> The ‘classic’ Hendrix guitar sound, the one that has people instantly thinking ‘Jimi’ is a mildly overdriven strat sound, with or without fuzz, fed through a univibe pedal to give that swirling, underwater vibe. Think ‘Band of Gypsies’ In fact, think of nothing but Band of Gypsies, as that was the only place he used this sound, barring posthumous releases, and it’s hardly considered his defining work. It’s the sound that Robin Trower built a career on and numerous guitar effects pedals try to recreate, and Hendrix only used it for a few messy months before he died.
>The classic George Harrison guitar sound is the sound from his solo recordings, not the Beatles. It’s a sweet, melodic slide sound, often harmonised. Think “My Sweet Lord”. It’s so evocative of Harrison that it was doused liberally over “Free as a Bird” as a sort of pheremone mark that this was the Beatles. Thing is, it’s entirely absent from his Beatles recordings. (I accept that a 12-string Rickenbacker through a Vox amp is pretty iconic, but it was quickly nicked by the Byrds and many others)
>Jeff Beck is a guitar freak. He conjures incredible micro-bends and other general stunts into his playing in an instantly recognisable way: the ‘Beck’ guitar sound. The ‘Beck’ guitar sound that was entirely absent throughout the 60s and 70s and appeared out of nowhere in the 80s, well after his commercial peak. Page still sounds like Page, Clapton still souds like Clapton (unfortunately) but Beck mutated into something else entirely. You could always hear elements of something different going on, but he was still very much in the ‘blues guitar player’ box that he climbed out of sometime in the 80s and impaled on his whammy bar.
>And just to show it’s not all about guitars (although it actually is). The ‘John Lennon’ vocal sound is a dry, heavily slap-backed sneer that was hinted at on “Walrus” and “Ballad of John and Yoko”, appeared on “Come Together” and stayed for the remainder of his solo career. I know he always liked slap-back but it seems that once he was free of the Beatles there was no-one telling him to turn it down a notch. Listen to the Rutles “Cheese and Onions”. Piano ballad with slap-back vocals for some reason means ‘John Lennon in the Beatles’, even though neither of these featured heavily at the time.
>And one for the drummers. The cliched Stones sound is Charlie’s tight up-tempo drumming with a few sparse and lazy Keith open G riffs over the top. Whenever the Stones produce a new album, the lead single is always a mild variation on this pattern. Think “She’s so cold” or “Start me Up”. However the actual classic Stones sound is far looser, slower and less structured. Even straight up rock songs like “Brown Sugar” are less metronomic and swing more. The cliched Stones sound seemed to have joined the Stones with Ron Wood, as it’s in the mid 70s that Charlie’s playing mutated and it’s been stuck that way since.
I fully accept that this theory is considered proven beyond a doubt and my examples watertight, but I’m still interested in hearing what you peasants think.