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Friday, October 22, 2010

218. "Motion Pictures" by Neil Young

Requested by Miles Goosens.

I'd have thought that if I were to cover a tune from Neil Young's mighty but still somewhat obscure On the Beach LP at this time of year, it'd be "Vampire Blues", but you really can't go wrong with this record... there's not a bad song on it. In fact, there's not a single "just okay" song on it. Some days it's my favorite Neil record, and that ain't easy.

My library actually already contains two exemplary covers of this song: one by Mercury Rev, which emphasizes the atmospherics, and one by The V-Roys, who add a bit of rock drama to it. I love both of those recordings and thought I had to go in a radically different direction with mine, so I did. What's really surprising about this is how easy it was. A few of the things that I just thought might work in my head actually did work in real life, and you can't always count on that, and then in a few instances I just got lucky and got things right the first time. Rather pleased with it, I think.

Personnel: Rex


  1. Interesting, that comment about "things that [you] just thought might work in [your] head" - one thing I can say about my own work is that I'm actually fairly good at that: whether that's from "good" anticipation or "good" followthrough, I'm not sure. When it doesn't happen, it's mostly due to poor execution...but usually I'm thinking more of textural or harmonic or structural things, arrangement ideas and their effects, etc.: they tend to sound pretty much like I imagine they would have. Certainly the last two recordings I did came pretty close (although there was definitely some evolution in concept along the way).

  2. I'm hit and miss, I guess... by definition I'm talking almost totally about arrangement and recording stuff here, but since I record these things every day I frequently get to the point of actually trying to throw myself curveballs. I find that sometimes I can map out an arrangement rather mathematically in my head, in terms of, say, which instrument comes in when, but sometimes in practice that just doesn't flow or build correctly or to my taste. In the case of this one, though, it pretty much did, and the bit where I dropped most of the instruments for the last verse (to go along with the lyric idea "I'm deep inside myself") worked from the get-go. The other risk I was taking, I thought, was running what was basically a one-chord bassline for about half of the song when the melody was following a five chord sequence... would the vocal line be enough to suggest what was really going on? And I think it does, particularly if you know the song, but certainly by the time the song is over, if you run it back to the start, it should definitely make sense, and there are a lot of songs I really love that kind of work like that.

  3. I love that kinda thing - there are lots of songs whose parts I think of almost sculpturally, in that there's one part that's deployed up against another part - often, with one part proceeding as if in disregard of another one. Joy Division does that fairly often - the clearest illustration is "She's Lost Control" (which has always felt to me a case of illustrating the title concept by instrumentally *over*controlling: at different moments the bass, and the guitar, just keep repeating even when chords and other parts change.)

  4. And, in the Universe of Duh, I just now realized you described nearly the same thing re the guitar part that runs through "Ask for Jill"...

  5. The "Ask for Jill" part actually, amazingly, fits with all of the chords in the song (with possibly a few brief exceptions); they pull that off by not putting a rhythm part with full chords in the song, but I did put such a part in and it still worked. (There are only three notes in that guitar part, arranged into two intervals; it's really clever). But you're totally right about "She's Lost Control" and that's something I've always liked about that song and a bunch of other JD songs as well. It was kind of a peculiarly postpunk thing rarely heard anywhere else: the driving bass was sometimes given carte blanch to play stridently against the chord structure, through the apparent virtue of how virile or just plain cool it seemed to be. I can think of examples in songs by Pylon, Gang of Four, Bauhaus, the Bunnymen, and naturally New Order among others, mostly from the UK (this is distinct from the idea of flat-out dissonance, being generally limited to a bass-vs.-everything else thing and usually confined to one section or even one measure of the song).