God Only Knows - melancholic piano cover

Hi everyone,

I recently realised that I never really paid attention to this song and that it was a fundamental gap in my music culture. When I started really listening I realised how elaborate the harmonies and chord progression was, for a pop song. It made me want to play it and I quickly recorded and mixed that in a slow, acoustic arrangement. I took a few liberties with the harmonies and structure, and lowered the pitch by a full step because it was a bit too high for my vocal range.

It had been a long time since I mixed a song without drums so I am a little unsure about the production and mix, please let me know what you think.

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Love your voice. It works very well with this oldie. I question the chord at I think 45 seconds. picky I know. The only other thing is the overall timing. It seemed not to flow in some place? I don’t even have headphones, so this is thru the puter. Did you use a click track? Just curious. I lived thru those years:)

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Thanks for listening! The chord at 0:45 is a basic jazz voicing of a dominant 7th chord coming from a tritone substitution in a ii-V-I progression. Using it at this particular moment in a pop song is certainly questionable, however the voicing and the progression are basic jazz tricks that you can find in thousands of other songs. I use the same tritone substitution in another key at 1:55 and again at 2:25, did it bug you as well?

As for the timing, yes I used a click track but there is an evolving tempo map. I wanted to offset the very slow tempo and make the song somewhat lively. Would you have prefered a faster but more consistent tempo?

Very nicely done - superb singing in the harmony sections too.

The vocal is a bit muddy when you’re singing in the low range, but it clears up nicely when you sing higher. I’m thinking maybe a dip in the low mids would clear things up in the first section of the song.

I picked up the same thing as @feaker Paul on the first listen through.

Interesting… on comparing the two sections, I don’t think it is the chord that is the problem, but rather the specific combination of the chord voicing and the lead note you sing over it.

It sounds to me like you are singing different notes in those sections, and the chord voicings/inversions are different too, so that may be a clue as to what is going on…

On further investigation, the first one @45 secs and the last one @ 2:25 have a “G” note as the lead.

The 45 sec version sounds the most uncomfortable because the underlying chord voicing is focused right in the middle register, where the vocal is - so any dissonance is emphasised more.

@2:25 the chord voicing is focused more in the low mids, so it works better with the vocal note - still some “tang” but no bitter aftertaste:slightly_smiling_face:

The 1:55 version is the sweetest sounding. However there, the vocal note is actually a “C”.

Nice work!

performance is brilliant!!! but the mix is a little all over the place… good thing I’m here to pull it all together for ya… :wink:

or maybe you like the thick vintage tone version 2 -

Thank you sir!

I did have a clearer vocal when I first mixed it, but after referencing against other similar pop ballads I re-introduced some lows because my vocal sounded a bit thin in comparison. Maybe too much, then.

About the tritone sub, you have a good ear: I have indeed used a different voicing for the first one, a more disruptive one. Here it is in detail.

The chord progression on “God only knows what I’d be” is G∆ D/F♯ F7 E-7. Of course the F7 has to be voiced with tensions here, a basic stacked 1-3-5-7 voicing wouldn’t sound good at all.

  • 0:45 - F7 voicing
    LH plays the root
    RH plays A-D-E♭-G (typical, basic voicing for a dominant 7th chord)
    The vocal sings a G on “be” and an F♯ on “with-” so the lead note is both diatonic and in the chord voicing, however the short F♯ on “with-” is indeed dissonant, but it is really furtive, just a passing note.
    The leading tone (G) in the voicing sticks out since it breaks the repetition of F♯ in all other chords, but it also happens to be the exact same note that the vocal is singing.

  • 1:55 and 2:25 - C7 and F7 voicings (identical, just transposed)
    LH plays the root
    RH plays E♭-G-A-D (an alternate, typical dominant 7th voicing)
    This time the leading tone isn’t emphasized so the chord progression is less disruptive since the pinkie keeps playing the same highest note on all chords (D).

I happened to be with a jazz master this morning so I asked him about that “situation” and he confirmed that the tritone substitution works, at least on a purely academic/theoretical level. I do understand that it might not be pleasing though, not everyone wants to hear that much tension outside of a jazz context. Probably not the best choice on my end because there’s nothing that prepares the listener for this until this point in the song.


Care to elaborate about what you think is “all over the place” exactly? I’m not questioning your comment because I did the mixing, I am really not one to be offended and I am always ready to learn from the others. However I can’t hear a significant overall improvement in your propositions. I can hear that the muddiness in the vocal is gone, but there are also issues that weren’t present in my mix, like a really wobbly piano sound, a lot of treble in the vocals that brings out too much sibilance to my taste, a very audible hiss and too much compression. It sounds to me like you played it an a tape machine that needs its speed consistency adjusted. Your mixes are 1.5 dB LUFS louder than mine so I had to gain match them for a proper A/B check.

I am referencing against similar piano/vocal ballads like:
Ordinary People - John Legend
Pyramid Song - Radiohead
Remedy - Adele
Someone You Loved - Lewis Capaldi

I can definitely hear a little bit of muddiness in my mix as pointed out by CRS but it seems to me that some multiband compression on the vocals, or just basic EQ work would have been enough. It sound to me like you’ve overdone it by going too far in the opposite direction.

Love your version! Can’t testify to the mix as I’m listening on a pair of laptop speakers, but this one song manages to stop me in tracks no matter what I’m doing because I consider it one of the greatest songs every written.

Just to add to the versions of this song, the BBC did a version of this:

But I consider the Jamie Cullum cover of this song one of the most beautiful cover versions of any song ever!

Nice job, Lopho! LOVE your falsetto. Beautiful!

Love the harmonies too. Less reverb on the BGV though.

Also, something weird happened at 1:49. Sounds like you bumped the fader or something. It jumped several dB.

Beautiful song, too. Your voice really works on this. Love your voice on the last two words. So gentle. Really effective.

Thanks @madpsychot, wow this Jamie Cullum cover is very Eleanor Rigby-ish! Love the final chords on the strings.

That is correct, I had accidentally deleted one point on my volume automation envelope, causing what was supposed to be a slow rise to turn into a surge. I was thinking about you when uploading this cover, sounds like something you could have covered very well too. Thanks for your feedback!

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Well, it just sounded like you didn’t even out your vocal lines, the levels wander about. Compression helps, but isnt everything…it maybe was a smidge louder, I didn’t even check. Balance is everything. :+1:

I see, thanks for the clarification. I was going to do another mix anyway to clear the mud a little bit and correct the issue pointed out by @Tesgin , I’ll keep that in mind as well then. However, I won’t even out the vocals all the way, as I want to retain some dynamics and human feel to the performance.

V2 here:

  • added multiband compression on vocals to remove muddiness and even out levels
  • corrected volume bump on vocal harmonies at 0:49
  • slight boost in highs (dynamic EQ) to add clarity

…oh and I almost forgot: I also changed the first tritone sub voicing for less disruption, let me know if that works better for you @feaker and @ColdRoomStudio?

Hi again I always speak from the gut and it often offends :slight_smile: My take is that your vocal is really good. That said, and you won’t like this, it is just too much piano for me. sorry. I would sometime love to take your vocal and try some acoustic guitars on it. Maybe some strings from someone else etc. The piano is well played and sounds spot on , but thru these computer speakers it is very dominant. Just a thought. Don’t ever take me too serious please.

No worries at all. However when you say “too much piano”, do you mean that the piano is too loud, or that there are too many notes in the arrangement? Or simply that you don’t like the instrument choice and would prefer a guitar?

Don’t change a thing bud :slight_smile:

[quote=“madpsychot, post:8, topic:4860, full:true”]
Love your version! Can’t testify to the mix as I’m listening on a pair of laptop speakers, but this one song manages to stop me in tracks no matter what I’m doing because I consider it one of the greatest songs every written.

So I’m quoting this post about the bbc version (which is excellent and translates well worldwide) which is roughly where I was heading tonewise with the vintage version of your mix. But whatever, its your mix, you ask for opinions, yours maybe different to mine, no biggie…

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The revised version cleaned up the vocals perfectly on my desk top system. Great voice. Love the harmonies. I thought the piano was balanced for me.

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