Hey all, here’s something my lovely wife Cynthia and I have been working on for some weeks in which she’s in the spotlight on vocals. It’s a cover of Total Control, from the 1979 self-titled debut album by The Motels (great band from the resurgent late 70s LA club scene), fronted by the splendid Martha Davis. I’ve always loved this song, which came out the year after I graduated high school, not least because my young self had a massive crush on Ms. Davis
Here I’m hewing much more closely to the original than I usually do in my covers for the simple reason that the real strength of this tune is in its spare arrangement and straightforward rhythms, and coming at it from some other direction seems pointless. So it’s a couple of guitars, bass, midi drums, and some 70s synthy keys. The original had a sax solo (maybe my very fave sax solo ever), to which I’ve tried to pay homage on effects-y electric guitar. It’s right down Main Street for Cynthia vocally, and we had lots of fun doing it as we’ve been continuing to quarantine.
Thanks for listening!
V2 following suggestions from that Golden Eared Dude:
Hey Dave, great to hear some more of your work! I LOVE this song. As you’ve observed, the original is a masterpiece of minimalism and restraint, with the centrepiece being Matha Davis’ incredible vocal performance.
I think you’ve done a great job here. Cynthia has nailed the vocal performance! Really nice!
Musically, you have all the parts in place, and the mix sounds good. I don’t know how far you want to take this, but there are a few crucial nuances that make a big difference in this track. You may probably be happy to just leave it as is, as this is pretty picky stuff:
Tightness - they rhythm guitar is flamming with the snare drum. Part of the feel of the original is the super-tightness of the parts - they are all hitting together as tightly as is humanly possible.
The bass pattern. While the bass is muted, there is a subtle length to the bass notes when they hit with the kick drum that is shortened/cut off in your version. (If you watch a live performance of the band, the bassist actually plays those parts by hitting the body of the bass!) That tiny difference of a few milliseconds held on those bass notes makes a HUGE difference to the flow of the groove - it becomes more propulsive, and less “stop/start/stop”
Very nice rendering of the sax solo on the guitar. The original solo is so tasty - its to die for!
I have a few suggestions to improve the tone. Try rolling down the tone knob on your guitar itself to get more of a “woman tone” (nod to Mr Clapton)… more saxophone-like. The top end on treble on the guitar is a bit unpleasant and “buzzy”. With the delays, try a darker sounding delay, and make sure the delay is after the amp. If the delay is before the amp (as in a pedal delay), you get crossover distortion happening in the amp itself, and the amp distortion compresses the delay as well - it gets pretty messy.
As I said, the vocals sound excellent. Take a listen to the original. They have this very subtle plate/chamber(?) reverb on them that is very dark, and very pre-delayed… I’m guessing 80-150ms. If you don’t really listen for it, the vocal ostensibly sounds “dry”. But it is super-subtle, and it just makes the vocal sound gorgeous, and all the more intimate and confessional.
As I said, you should be very happy with what you and Cynthia have done here… but if you are compelled to “go the extra mile”, then there are a few points I would suggest looking at.
Andrew, thanks so much for your supportive comments and these great suggestions. I absolutely want to go that extra mile, and these will be invaluable.
Couple quick reax: I knew it could stand “tightening” overall and that there was some unwanted fizz in the electric (and delays are always last in any signal chain I use them in); and I do have a very subtle reverb on the vocals, but although it’s dark I’m certain it has nowhere near that kind of pre-delay setting, so I will check that out too. And I had not caught that subtlety on the bass-- something tells me that’s the piece I’ve been missing to get that flow maxed out.
I had never heard this song before so I’m happy to discover it with your cover here. I remember the Motels for their chart hits which feature stronger hooks and less minimalism. I was put off at first by this difference but after listening a couple of times I’m enjoying this tune and appreciating the precision of the original and your excellent recreation of it here.
First off I must say that Cynthia’s vocal is amazingly close to the original, I prefer it actually, very well done, I’m hoping we will get to hear more of her work! Your “sax” solo works fine for me, you have a great new wave/post punk feel I think.
I think your rhythm section works fine here, recreating the original would be difficult I would think. Andrew makes some good points; the main difference I notice is that you have singled some notes that they doubled which does make their version tighter against the light vocal above it. But your version works well and sounds good to me, I’m sure you had good reasons for your choices.
I don’t recall hearing this song before. I can hear the appeal though.
I listened to the original studio version and 2 different live performances of this song by The Motels. I was curious to see how your version compared to the original. I like your wife’s vocal more than the original.
Hey folks, I put v2 in the OP following up on the suggestions Andrew made. I think it’s fair to say that there’s a noticeable improvement. Thanks again my friend!
It was easy enough to micro-surgery the rhythm guitar tracks to hit smack on, given their very staccato nature – lots of space to nudge things around. And I re-tracked the bass to incorporate that feel of the longer second note, and I went back and listened much more closely to the bass lines in general and tried to incorporate the grooves as much as possible.
Switched up the amp sim for the lead guitar, which is much less objectionable now I reckon. And I tweaked the reverb on the vocal to have a long pre-delay.
Very sweet cover, @Chordwainer! I also was unfamiliar with this Motels song. I think I was only exposed to them on MTV. Their songs do have a lyrical cleverness that were the hook, this no exception. Cynthia’s voice is so in the zone, and the music is all tasty, especially the gnarly lead. I have yet to hear the original, but I like this version, dude!
Very nice Dave! I wasn’t familiar with this tune either. I really enjoyed the playing and your wife’s singing. If anything, I’d like to hear her just a little louder because I had to strain a little to hear the lyrics.