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Mikem
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2nd December 2006
Old 2nd December 2006
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Characteristics of a Modern Mix?

My second post, my first thread.

I'm a hobbyist, but I have had some paying recording/mixing gigs where I contributed as a guitarist, as well. I'm 36, so I'm basically a product of the 70's and 80's when it comes to influences, and a lot of 90's stuff still sounds "modern" to me. But my own mixes often seem to get called retro or even 80's. Usually they're not dripping with reverb or anything. I realize that the arrangements and style have a lot to do with it. If you'd like to hear examples, you can visit my garageband.com page, and decide for yourself, or maybe cite examples of what I'm doing wrong (or, at least, "retro").

What are the main building blocks of a modern mix, if you can describe such things? I guess I have a hard time putting my finger on it, and I've never really trusted my ears all that much (let's just get that out there right now--I do this out of love, not necessarily out of talent).

Is reverb dead?

What makes a guitar sound "modern" vs. retro, when some of the same equipment is still in vogue (AC30's and whatnot).

If your client's band is trying to sound relevant and fresh, what techniques or gear do you find yourself reaching for every time? Or is it all in the songwriting and arranging, and the mixing just stays out of the way?

I'm about to buy my first decent pre (I've got a FF800 and an RNP so far), probably a GR ME-1NV--is that going to compound my retro issue? If so, what pre's sound more "modern", if such a thing is possible?

I apologize if this ground has been covered ad naseum, but I didn't see any threads that jumped out at me when searching for "modern mix". Also, please be gentle--I'm approaching this board in all humility, so I don't need anyone reinforcing the idea that I suck or that I'm an idiot. I'm fully aware of my limitations--painfully so!

Please feel free to address any or all of the above issues/questions.

Thanks!

-Mike
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2nd December 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mikem View Post
My second post, my first thread.

I'm a hobbyist, but I have had some paying recording/mixing gigs where I contributed as a guitarist, as well. I'm 36, so I'm basically a product of the 70's and 80's when it comes to influences, and a lot of 90's stuff still sounds "modern" to me. But my own mixes often seem to get called retro or even 80's. Usually they're not dripping with reverb or anything. I realize that the arrangements and style have a lot to do with it. If you'd like to hear examples, you can visit my garageband.com page, and decide for yourself, or maybe cite examples of what I'm doing wrong (or, at least, "retro").

What are the main building blocks of a modern mix, if you can describe such things? I guess I have a hard time putting my finger on it, and I've never really trusted my ears all that much (let's just get that out there right now--I do this out of love, not necessarily out of talent).

Is reverb dead?

What makes a guitar sound "modern" vs. retro, when some of the same equipment is still in vogue (AC30's and whatnot).

If your client's band is trying to sound relevant and fresh, what techniques or gear do you find yourself reaching for every time? Or is it all in the songwriting and arranging, and the mixing just stays out of the way?

I'm about to buy my first decent pre (I've got a FF800 and an RNP so far), probably a GR ME-1NV--is that going to compound my retro issue? If so, what pre's sound more "modern", if such a thing is possible?

I apologize if this ground has been covered ad naseum, but I didn't see any threads that jumped out at me when searching for "modern mix". Also, please be gentle--I'm approaching this board in all humility, so I don't need anyone reinforcing the idea that I suck or that I'm an idiot. I'm fully aware of my limitations--painfully so!

Please feel free to address any or all of the above issues/questions.

Thanks!

-Mike
hi, its not my style of music but i think its the arrangements of the tracks and the melody's of the vocals (reminded me of the bee gees abba kind of thing IMO)
the mixes sounded oke to me (monitoring on DT-770)
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2nd December 2006
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The biggest differences are

1. Editing. Almost every modern, major commercial recording has been bar-beat edited, so every riff and every drum hit sits perfectly on the midi-map.

2. Real stereo. In the good-old, bad-old days, we had 24 tracks to play with. 48-track meant sync'ing up two macvhines and was a tedious business, so one avoided it if possible. With just 24 tracks, the luxury of tracking every guitar in stereo was just not possible without some hassle. Today, just about every commercial studio has 48-tracks of AD-DA and the larger ones much more. Virtual track counts are more or less unlimited, so just chucking down multiple tracks for everything is no big deal.

Real stereo makes everything sound louder and far 'bigger.'

3. Budgets. Although the small jobs are getting even smaller, the budgets for major commercial releases are getting larger. In part this is driven by the costs for major US-wide releases spiraling out of control (payola costs - aka radio agency costs - for example run into millions). So throwing top talent at a project is now the norm. In the past, some band would spend a few weeks in the studio and that would be that. It was mixed and sent to the lab for white lables.

Now, a drum-doctor comes with a truck-load of stuff and spends two days, or even more, just getting 'that' sound. Then, after the recording has been done, a platoon of session musicians are brought in to fill in all the parts where that the band members are not 110%.

The project is then sent to a top editor and then to a top mix engineer. Several versions are produced and focus groups are brought in to comment on the various songs. Jut the focus group process can take several months.

Reverb dead? News to me! We may not go for the OTT Phil Spector reverb useage, but it gets used ever time, from what I can see.
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2nd December 2006
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Mike,
In addition to what Ravian and The Byre have said, a significant characteristic of mixes over the last decade or more is that they are purpose-mastered for the loudness wars, so there is frequently a rather heavy-handed use of compressors during tracking, and invariably a lot of reliance on bus compression during mastering.

Neither this nor any of the other things that have been mentioned are necessarily good things, but that is presently how it is. Being/sounding modern is not an end in itself, IMO.

Regardless of the above, you might find it interesting to send your mixes to a reputable mastering engineer. They will give them a treatment which may or may not be to your liking, but which you can expect to provide more 'modern' dynamics to the sound.
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2nd December 2006
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I think darkskye hit it. your vocals sound thin compared to current music, they are good dont get me wrong :P, they just arent recorded the same. they could use some tube warmth and compressed with the overall mix should make them feel thicker. maybe think about a good tube pre or a good tube compressor.

also in my opinion the reverb could be a little less if you did want a more modern sound. vocal timbre and recording reminds me a little of REO Speedwagon. So you are reminding me of a HUGE band :P so that cant be a bad thing.

S!
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stereo doesnt necessarily make tracks sound bigger or louder.Stereo makes things wider, but for example stereo drums ie kiks/snrs hit harder in mono.
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Some thoughts;

Reverb is not dead. 'Modern' reverb usage forms an interesting counterpoint to the loudness wars in that it is used in a far more subtle way than had once been the norm. Reverb in decades past was employed to ADD depth and space to a track. It is now popular to employ reverb to SUGGEST depth and space. Modern reverb is as often as not only appearant when it is muted. As The Byre said, track count is way up, but the relative size of the pallet remains the same. There is less need to fill up space because it is full already so reverb's usage evolved.


Modern guitar sounds often use drop D tuning or lower and typically comprise only three notes. The root the fifth and the octave. By leaving the third out of the guitar part, the composition as a whole has more room to breathe. The thirds can come from any of the other instruments and puts the guitar squarely back in the rhythm section. Bass and drums have always served as the foundation be it a country track or gangsta rap. Modern guitar adds to this but without the third in the chord, there is less musical muddiness. Moreover, modern guitar is much more percussive, again as it is working with the drums.

This leads to the next point, modern guitars use levels of distortion that would have had Tony Iommi, Malcolm Young and most of the 80's hair band types diving for the exits. The reason for this? No third. Try it and see. Tune to drop whatever and chug out some mutes with the gain on 9 and see how that sounds. Then retune and play the same rhythm at the same pitch with traditional chord voicing and listen to the result. The waterfall of six-string-diarrhea eminating from the speaker is a function of the fact that the harmonic content of the chord is too dense to retain clarity and definition upon distortion. In the drop whatever distorted chord voicing, the root is what you hear (no inversions). The fifth makes it fat and the octave makes it clear. Thus more distortion is possible. The modern guitar sound is at the same time clearer, better defined and much more distorted. This is how one can play a 20 year-old guitar through a 30 year old amp, mic'd with a 40 year-old mic.....and sound completely current.
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Mikem
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Quote:
Originally Posted by theremin View Post
I think darkskye hit it. your vocals sound thin compared to current music, they are good dont get me wrong :P, they just arent recorded the same. they could use some tube warmth and compressed with the overall mix should make them feel thicker. maybe think about a good tube pre or a good tube compressor.
Thanks for taking the time to listen and comment.

So, what about something like the Universal Audio SOLO/610? That would be hitting the edges of my budget (because I'd probably still get the GR). Any preferred tube pre's in the $800 or lower range?
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thecount_x View Post
Some thoughts;

Reverb is not dead. ...

Modern guitar sounds often use drop D tuning or lower and typically comprise only three notes. ...
Very helpful! Thanks!

More comments/ideas anyone?
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3rd December 2006
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What about a band like Coldplay or Keane that doesn't use distorted guitars. What, for example, helps them sound new? It is simply compressing the hell out of the vocals and mastering the dynamics out of it?
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3rd December 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mikem View Post
What about a band like Coldplay or Keane that doesn't use distorted guitars. What, for example, helps them sound new? It is simply compressing the hell out of the vocals and mastering the dynamics out of it?
That's part of it. Compressed (each instrument separately) during tracking, then multi-band compression across the bus.

Fantastic mics, pres and converters is also part of the contemporary sound - not necessarily modern pre designs, but used to achieve an open and clean soundstage.

From which point of view, to answer your earlier question, yes, the 610 would be a good complement for the ME-1NV in my opinion. The latter is more of a crisp and modern (updated neve-type) sound, whereas the 610 has more of a classic 'silky' vibe. Both have purity, depth and presence (the larger-than-life thing that is also part of a 'modern' sound).

HTH
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3rd December 2006
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Quote:
probably a GR ME-1NV--is that going to compound my retro issue?
Yes. Absolutely. Welcome to the 70s. Using on everything, for sure.

Quote:
stereo doesnt necessarily make tracks sound bigger or louder.Stereo makes things wider, but for example stereo drums ie kiks/snrs hit harder in mono.
Stereo is a HUGE mistake in going for "big and wide", IMO. Phase corrected doubling is the "wide" modern sound.

Technicalities aside, it's a music thing, IMO.

Now, I listened to the first tune "now that I know", so forgive me if it's not representative but:

"Sounds like: John Mayer, U2" is what your GB tag says. I can't think of who you sound LESS like than U2 or John Mayer. Where's the bluesy guitar? Echo laden moods? Danceable beats? Chest voice? Major key tonality? I'd have said Queensryche does an acoustic set. Neither Mayer nor Bono could hit those notes with stilts. Guys quit singing in head voice in, say 1991. For better or worse. Personally, I think it's pretty cool, but you wanted to know why you get retro comments. Bass should be THE domniant instrument in the rythm section. Sometime in the 90s people figured out everything sounds smoother (maybe because the ME will crush it) with the bass turned up. Not doing so will invite retro comparisons.

Chest voice.
Major key.
Turn the voice up.
...and smash it all like an old FM station. Multiband is the way to get that.

Honestly, the Great River and the 610 are both effectively vintage designs...fortunately, they (like the Ac30 you mention) are still in vogue. Hoever, no preamp is going to make that "modern" sounding, IMO. I can get the same "70's singer/songwriter" comparisons with my Millenia, Speck, Akai, and AT mics that someone would with an Sm7 and Great River.

Mostly, I find that people's evaluations of sonics have a lot to do with the music itself. Jackson Browne makes records now that sound far cleaner and open-- more "modern"....yet, play them for people, and they'll call it retro.
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3rd December 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by popmann View Post

Now, I listened to the first tune "now that I know", so forgive me if it's not representative but:

"Sounds like: John Mayer, U2" is what your GB tag says. I can't think of who you sound LESS like than U2 or John Mayer. Where's the bluesy guitar? Echo laden moods? Danceable beats? Chest voice? Major key tonality? I'd have said Queensryche does an acoustic set.
Thanks for the comments, popmann.

I actually have no idea what tags you're referring to. I never listen to John Mayer (not a huge fan), so I would never have labeled myself that way. That must be what other listeners have said. I can't even see that anywhere on that song's page. Anyway, I promise I'm not that deluded. I can do a decent "Bono", however, but it would probably be a lot better if I was a smoker--don't quite have his throaty sound, unless I'm recovering from a cold.

When you sign up for GB, they ask you to list artists you "sound like", and I listed: Beatles, Coldplay, Elliott Smith, Radiohead, Crowded House. OK, so I don't sound like the Beatles--wishful thinking. But some of my stuff is more in that direction, I think, at least in terms of harmonic content. The Coldplay and Radiohead--there's your falsetto!
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Modern guitars are all about layers. Same parts tracked with different tones, hence, BIG guitars! Other than that, "modern" can probably be best defined as "compressed!"
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Quote:
I actually have no idea what tags you're referring to.
Oh...I see that now...it's the tags that come up in the player window when you play the song. FWIW. That's what I saw. "Sounds like who?"

I also think, in terms of source material...there are more ClassA boutique type amps....and PRS guitars...Taylor acoustics, I guess...5 string basses...pedalboards galore...digital synths (and I mean even the "acoustic samples" in them)...lack of tape...lack of big room ambience...lack of the whole band playing together in a room...and yes--much less reverb. All kinds of things that come into play when talking "the sound of a modern mix/music".
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Quote:
The Coldplay and Radiohead--there's your falsetto!
Yeah...but, head and false isn't really the same. Coldplay's sing breaks very intentionally and lightly to false. He skips head all together. Now, you can (and I imagine have) trained your false to a solid nasal focus so you can blend from head to false and back in the course of a melody. I think that's cool. It however, has no been "cool" since Starship and Steelheart ruled the airwaves. Know what I mean?

Crowded House...I could see that...the tag I saw was what threw me.
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3rd December 2006
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Originally Posted by popmann View Post
I also think, in terms of source material...there are more ClassA boutique type amps....and PRS guitars...Taylor acoustics, I guess....
I have two Taylors, so I at least my acoustic should sound modern.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by popmann View Post
Yeah...but, head and false isn't really the same. Coldplay's sing breaks very intentionally and lightly to false. He skips head all together. Now, you can (and I imagine have) trained your false to a solid nasal focus so you can blend from head to false and back in the course of a melody. I think that's cool. It however, has no been "cool" since Starship and Steelheart ruled the airwaves. Know what I mean?

Crowded House...I could see that...the tag I saw was what threw me.
I had no idea you were using the term head voice as a technical term of art. I just assumed you meant falsetto, as many people confuse the two. My bad! Yeah, I guess I try to use different colors for dynamics' sake. If you listened to "Sun" or "Sarah" (no relation to Starship!), I don't think you'd hear any head voice.

Anyhow, all of these things are good to be aware of. To be honest, it kinda boils down to me making the music *I* like, since I have no illusions of becoming the next Anybody. So I guess my roots/influences are showing.

And I still think some of the finest recordings ever were made during the 80's. Bring on the verb!!
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Another thing in the modern mix is that people create an almost mastered sound during the mix by having every thing undynamic. So individual tracks are almost always peaking at say -6 all the time. Even the quiet sections of a song still peak at -6! The meters don't move!!! And then it's sent for matering!!!

Vocals are corrected in pitch and timing and fader moves keep it even and intelligable. And tight doubles for choruses etc...

There are all kinds of tricks but the start of things is to analyse what you are hearing. And to use modern mixes that you like to make comparisons to your own work with.

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4th December 2006
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Yep, reverb is not dead, it's just "hidden" these days. It's really hard to get a mix to sound "finished" without it..
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4th December 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mikem View Post
Thanks for taking the time to listen and comment.

So, what about something like the Universal Audio SOLO/610? That would be hitting the edges of my budget (because I'd probably still get the GR). Any preferred tube pre's in the $800 or lower range?
I've used the GT Brick (own one), some Aphex and other inexpensive tube preamps. I had a UA LA-610 but returned it (upgraded to LA-2 Classic) because I could distort the preamp in the LA-610 and the compressor did not sound like the LA-2.

Ok, with all that said, I know you asked about tube preamp but you should definitely check out the Chameleon Labs 7602 (it's not tube but it is class A). It can achieve a very friendly seductive sound, the EQ section is very handy and good sounding for shaping tones, and the D.I. input is useful for recording bass and guitar.

While there are high-end gear sales folks on this board who will refute these claims I've found this relatively inexpensive box to be very useful for recording.

I'm not trying to sell equipment so I can just speak my mind. All the best to you.
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Reverb is not dead, but in a lot of modern pop music, it's WAAAAYYYYY back in the mix.
A lot of time there is no Reverb on the verse and it's actually discrete even in the chorus.
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I think by "reverb is dead"...it means the use of anything you would "hear as" reverb. I'm fully aware that there's reverb being used. Hell, people keep wanting me to put more on my vocals...I know there's a relatively long plate there...but, it's down in the mix. Big difference in no reverb and the way it's used today.

Quote:
To be honest, it kinda boils down to me making the music *I* like, since I have no illusions of becoming the next Anybody.
I would recommend nothing different. Please take my thoughts only as ideas of what may be triggering the "retro" commentary you may be getting. Not as any kind of call to change.
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Mike! I heard the song and I think the songwriting is good !!!and totally possible to make it sound modern.

what I think u have to do is:

1-forget the long intros with solos o melody parts..specially if are long! the first song have the vocal coming in after 30 seconds!!!! and honestly the intro is not something unique ,bombastic with charisma that have a build up and make sense the 30 secs!

2- your sounds especially the drum sounds too thin and too clear..I mean clear as drum machine.use drums that are more natural, big, rough!

3 - you need to create layers with the Guitars!!and combination of patterns and inversions.

4-create a more interesting drum patterns where you can have ghost notes o maybe another rhythmic instrument that goes together with the drums in certain parts.

5-use unique effx in the guitars and other instruments.

6-be more direct with the song structure and add small parts that are interesting and that have a musical meaning.

7-the mix style is very plain ...well balanced but needs more edge! put some dirt in some track..not necesarly distortion..can be EQ colors!!

8-Reverb is not dead!! is just dead the way where u have an ocean of reverb!! the nice thing about reverbs and delays is to not hear them in the mix...but when u mute them you feel something is missing! Delays and reverb are better now as an special EFFX trick!

i hope that can help u.
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7th December 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mikem View Post
My second post, my first thread.

But my own mixes often seem to get called retro or even 80's. Usually they're not dripping with reverb or anything. I realize that the arrangements and style have a lot to do with it. If you'd like to hear examples, you can visit my [-Mike

From listening to your stuff I hear what you mean. Musically you need to lsten to a lot more of modern stuff to get the vibe of the chords being played and their arrangments. Its takes a bit to get used to if your from old--I am too. There is different melody scheme going on today in a lot of modern music

On the vocals your just not up front enough. If you cut down on the room sound and compress more you'll be more in the ballpark--on everything.

On a personal note the Mistake idea of the war in music is degrading to the people who actually serve. Most of them dont think its a mistake to have kicked out a regime that was responsible for 4 wars and over a million deaths since the 80's. In short..military men dont think like artists and would not appreciate that song.
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7th December 2006
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Maybe just wait a year or two until the world decides that what you are doing is cool again.
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7th December 2006
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Sometimes when you try to make something sound modern it will sound very dated five years from now.
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7th December 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tuflek View Post
Sometimes when you try to make something sound modern it will sound very dated five years from now.
I totally agree that that's an issue. By the time most people try to catch up to a trend, it's pretty much over. So yeah, rather than thinking of my music as retro, I like to think of it as timeless.
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7th December 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mikem View Post
I totally agree that that's an issue. By the time most people try to catch up to a trend, it's pretty much over. So yeah, rather than thinking of my music as retro, I like to think of it as timeless.
Yes! but one thing is to sound timeless, retro and another is to sound modern!

all records that sound timeless now, where very modern and lets say very innovative o different at their time.
To make sound a record "retro" now , possibly will sound super dated very soon.

the key is to sound different and innovative with alements that are never dated:
For EX: Electric Gtrs, acoustic drums, B3s plus originality and cool arragements.

also what is more important is how translate the emotion of the song amd performance with the arragement and the sound and how they blend together! thats the key!
If you listened songs like Black Dog(Zep), Shook me all nite long(AC/DC), Rock the Casbah(The Clash) just to name a few ...that emotion is not dated and the element around the song neither.
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