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Clean guitar sound on Billie Jean?
Old 27th August 2006
  #1
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Mark Warren's Avatar
 

Thread Starter
Clean guitar sound on Billie Jean?

Bruce,

Thanks for rockin with us here, it is very informative.

I've got a quick question on how the clean guitar sound on Billie Jean was created, that spanky guitar that riffs in the background and on the break section.

It sounds like a tele (or perhaps a strat) straight into the board or through some DI, then some chorus added to it, and maybe a little compression (although it seems you're not into a lot of compression so maybe not).

I've seen posted on the net about some custom DI boxes that you've created and that when using DI you would sometimes even bypass the console and go direct into the tape machine!

Is this how it was done or was there an amp used and/or any additional effects? Any light you can shed on this would be great as I always have liked when that guitar riff comes around in the tune and wondered exactly what used to get that sound on the track, and even who played it if you'd like to share.

Thanks,
Mark
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Old 27th August 2006
  #2
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Roger Starr's Avatar
 

Good question...

Roger
Old 29th August 2006
  #3
Viking
 
Bruce Swedien's Avatar
 

That is the David Williams guitar solo from the demo that we did on Billie

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark Warren View Post
Bruce,

Thanks for rockin with us here, it is very informative.

I've got a quick question on how the clean guitar sound on Billie Jean was created, that spanky guitar that riffs in the background and on the break section.

It sounds like a tele (or perhaps a strat) straight into the board or through some DI, then some chorus added to it, and maybe a little compression (although it seems you're not into a lot of compression so maybe not).

I've seen posted on the net about some custom DI boxes that you've created and that when using DI you would sometimes even bypass the console and go direct into the tape machine!

Is this how it was done or was there an amp used and/or any additional effects? Any light you can shed on this would be great as I always have liked when that guitar riff comes around in the tune and wondered exactly what used to get that sound on the track, and even who played it if you'd like to share.

Thanks,
Mark
Mark.....

I think the clean guitar that you are refering to is David Williams guitar solo on Billie Jean.....

That fantastic Guitar Solo is actually the David Williams guitar solo from the demo of Billy Jean. We recorded the Billie Jean demo in Michael's studio at his home on 16 track 2 inch, with no noise reduction, of course. It was just after Michael wrote the song I think....

When we did the finished track on Billie Jean,we tried many times to have David re-play that solo and it never was just right...

I have no idea what kind of guitar that David played, or what kind of amp he used at that point in time.... I do know it was quite simple and straight forward...

So I figured it would be best to use what David had played as the guitar solo from the demo. There was no SMPTE on the demo 16 track, but there was an open track on that tape. I striped the open track with SMTPE. Then I synced the 16 track demo up to the finished masters, )I used 2 - 24 track machines at that time) and messed about with the rhythm syncing of the two tapes and the rest is history!!!

There you are!!!! There is a bit more to this story.... Want to hear it????

Bruce Swedien


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Old 29th August 2006
  #4
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zboy2854's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post

There you are!!!! There is a bit more to this story.... Want to hear it????

Do you even have to ask? heh
Old 29th August 2006
  #5
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six_wax's Avatar
 

Of course we do!
Old 29th August 2006
  #6
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orange's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post
There is a bit more to this story.... Want to hear it????
errr.....yes !
Old 29th August 2006
  #7
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Mark Warren's Avatar
 

Thread Starter
Bruce,

Thanks so much for that info, and if there is any more to that story I'd definitely like to hear it. This is HIStory in the making right here, except the story being told this time is that of Bruce Swedien!

So that is pretty wild that it was taken from the demo. It almost makes sense now that I hear it, because even though it sounds awesome in the track it does have that 'demo style' clean guitar sound to it, as if it was perhaps a DI guitar, it had that kind of spank to it.

There are other parts in the song though where that clean guitar comes in though, at about 1:40 or so in the background when Michael sings: "She says I am the one"...[chinki ching chicki ching riffy]..."but the kid is not my son".

Is that background riffing also David Williams lifted flown over the demo?

Anyways yes please do share, it's so amazing how much that record changed the shape and scope of pop music, and any and all related stories are great!
Old 29th August 2006
  #8
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not_so_new's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post

There you are!!!! There is a bit more to this story.... Want to hear it????
Ahhhh... do ducks swim?

LOL

heh
Old 29th August 2006
  #9
Gear nut
 
texdc's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post
There is a bit more to this story.... Want to hear it????
Absolutely! I've been enjoying your posts.
Old 29th August 2006
  #10
OHA
Gear Addict
 
OHA's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post
There is a bit more to this story.... Want to hear it????

Bruce Swedien


YESS!!!!!!
Old 29th August 2006
  #11
Gear Maniac
 
brad347's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post

There is a bit more to this story.... Want to hear it????

Bruce Swedien


I do!

I think it's also interesting how often a "great sound" and a "great performance" go hand in hand... thanks for the anecdote!

Could you tell us a little more about the genesis of that track... some of the key players in the process, who came up with that sick bassline, etc.
Old 29th August 2006
  #12
Gear maniac
 

YEAH,lets hear it!

Thanks for doing this.

Pete
Old 30th August 2006
  #13
Lives for gear
 

I had that "Thriller" guitar for a few months back in 1996-ish.

David Williams had a house on Martha's Vineyard (where I was living at the time) and he used to sit in with my band. We became friends and he ended up lending me that very guitar.

Oddly enough it was an Ibanez strat copy (I think he said from the early 70's) and if I remember correctly it had Seymour Duncan stacked pickups in it (I know that doesn't seem to make sense cause all those MJ songs sound so single coil-ish but that's how I remember it).

At the time I had a guitar custom built to be just like it (even got those same pickups) but it ended up sounding nothing like it at all so I sold it shortly after completing it

Bruce, do you keep in touch with David? I haven't heard from him in many years.

He is the BB King of rhythm guitar. Very few notes but funky as anyone!

I remember at the time his discography was incredible (Rufus and Chaka, Madonna, MJ, Rod Stewart, Whitney, Elton, Tears for Fears, Go West etc...)
Old 30th August 2006
  #14
Gear maniac
 
danocaster's Avatar
 

what a cliff hanger !! Is it sweeps week ??

YEAH !! We wanna hear it !!
Old 30th August 2006
  #15
Gear Addict
 

Years ago I was cutting some guitar tracks for Tito Jackson at his home studio and David Williams came buy. We got him to add a little flavor and cut a couple of tracks. He just grabbed one of Titos 335's and went direct into the console through a direct box. As I remember, he said he usually just went direct for all the skanky clean stuff.

Great player and a nice guy.

Kenny M.
Old 30th August 2006
  #16
Viking
 
Bruce Swedien's Avatar
 

For me, it's almost like falling in love.

About "BILLY JEAN"....

Here's the real deal on "BILLY JEAN"....

How Music “Speaks” to Me

In order for a piece of music to communicate a feeling to me, or to anyone actually, it must first have a "hook"... not simply a catchy phrase in the chorus, but a melody and rhythmic concept, combined with highly interesting sonic values, that instantly arrests our attention. I think that this is true to some degree in everyone.

A piece of music must "Speak to me". For me, it's almost like falling in love. I think it is purely an emotional response. It must make me respond instantly. This response in myself does not have anything to do with style or variety of music. The actual feeling varies in myself a little. In classical music, if a piece of music "Speaks to me", it makes me feel 'jubilant', or 'sad' or it can make me want to cry. In 'pop' music it is usually a more primitive, animal-like response. It can make me want to dance, or 'move'. I think it is much the same in most people. I'm sure it varys with the individual, though. It is the one thing in myself that I hope falls in with this same type of response in the masses. If that is true then it makes it very easy for me to pick records and songs that will appeal to the general public.

I think I have this quality. Most of the records that I have recorded that have been huge hits, are songs and recordings that I have liked very much right from the start. A perfect example of this is Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean". I fell in love with “Billy Jean’ immediately, the first time I heard Michael sing a demo of the song. I call this ability for affection for certain pieces of music, in myself, my "Antenna".

Here's another thing that frequently happens to me when I go out and buy a record that I have heard on radio or TV and liked very much.(I think maybe I should get into this in depth elsewhere, if you are interested.) If I hear a song on the radio and it sounds interesting to me, more often than not, I get the record home and the sonics of it sound like doo-doo! This seems to happen mainly when I hear a record that sounds great on the radio, and that is my main interest in it. Perhaps it is musically not "Speaking to me", but the sound of it, on the radio, is interesting. Often when I play these records at home or in the studio, I am very dissapointed. Hmmm - Interesting...

But, More About "BILLY JEAN".....

The year is 1982. The song is "Billie Jean". The sonic image of Michael Jacksons' "Billie Jean" is a perfect example of what happened, when I sat around dreaming awhile, about combining different recording techniques to produce a unique musical canvas with a tremendous 'sonic personality'.

I recorded the drums,(played by my pal N'Dugu) with as tight, and powerful a drum sound as I could come up with. Of course I put N'Dugus' drum set on my plywood drum platform. Also at this time, I had a special kick drum cover made that covers the whole front of the kick drum. There's a slot with a zipper in it that the mike fits through. When the kick drum mike is in place, in the slot in my drum cover, I zip the opening tight around the mike.

Brucie asks - Shall I post a Photo of this beautiful device????? I still have it and use it on every session!!!

I brought in my old pal George Massenburgs' spectacular sounding, portable, 12 channel recording console and used it to record the rhythm section. With it I recorded the bass, drums and guitars on my analogue 16 track, with no noise reduction equipment in the way of that fantastic sound!

In my estimation, “Billie Jean” is a perfect example of what I call “Sonic Personality”. I don’t think there are many recordings, where all you need to hear is the first few drums beats, and you instantly know what song it is.

Great albums always start with great songs....

“BILLY JEAN” is just such a superb song! Of course, Michael wrote “BILLY JEAN”.

Quincy says that the lyric he wrote is highly personal. I’m sure that’s true. Michael told us... it was about a girl, that climbed over the wall at Michael’s house, and was lounging out there, by the swimming pool.... she was laying out there, near the pool , lounging... hangin’ out... with shades on, her bathing suit on.

One morning she just showed up! Kind of like a stalker, almost. She had accused Michael of being the father of ONE of her twins... Is that possible? I don’t think so....

Hmmmmmm.....

Bruce Swedien


Old 30th August 2006
  #17
Gear nut
 

Bruce.

In some clinic of yours, do i remember correctly that you were someway tampering with Louis Johnsons bass when tracking Billy Jean? Something with the pickup?

/A

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post
About "BILLY JEAN"....

But, More About "BILLY JEAN".....

The year is 1982. The song is "Billie Jean". The sonic image of Michael Jacksons' "Billie Jean" is a perfect example of what happened, when I sat around dreaming awhile, about combining different recording techniques to produce a unique musical canvas with a tremendous 'sonic personality'.

I recorded the drums,(played by my pal N'Dugu) with as tight, and powerful a drum sound as I could come up with. Of course I put N'Dugus' drum set on my plywood drum platform. Also at this time, I had a special kick drum cover made that covers the whole front of the kick drum. There's a slot with a zipper in it that the mike fits through. When the kick drum mike is in place, in the slot in my drum cover, I zip the opening tight around the mike.

Brucie asks - Shall I post a Photo of this beautiful device????? I still have it and use it on every session!!!

I brought in my old pal George Massenburgs' spectacular sounding, portable, 12 channel recording console and used it to record the rhythm section. With it I recorded the bass, drums and guitars on my analogue 16 track, with no noise reduction equipment in the way of that fantastic sound!

In my estimation, “Billie Jean” is a perfect example of what I call “Sonic Personality”. I don’t think there are many recordings, where all you need to hear is the first few drums beats, and you instantly know what song it is.

Great albums always start with great songs....

“BILLY JEAN” is just such a superb song! Of course, Michael wrote “BILLY JEAN”.

Quincy says that the lyric he wrote is highly personal. I’m sure that’s true. Michael told us... it was about a girl, that climbed over the wall at Michael’s house, and was lounging out there, by the swimming pool.... she was laying out there, near the pool , lounging... hangin’ out... with shades on, her bathing suit on.

One morning she just showed up! Kind of like a stalker, almost. She had accused Michael of being the father of ONE of her twins... Is that possible? I don’t think so....

Hmmmmmm.....

Bruce Swedien


Old 31st August 2006
  #18
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Chris's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post

Brucie asks - Shall I post a Photo of this beautiful device????? I still have it and use it on every session!!!
Yes please. :D
Old 31st August 2006
  #19
Lives for gear
 
Mark Warren's Avatar
 

Thread Starter
Bruce,

Thanks so much for all the information!

It really made me think when you mentioned about creating music with 'highly interesting sonic values'. And also when you mentioned about hearing the first few beats of Billie Jean and recognizing the song.

Not only is the song recognizable in the first few beats, but it is awesome in just the first few beats. Just hearing those drums and that bass coming in is enough to make the hair stand up on ones neck sometimes!

But then I think about what is really going on there in those first few bars, not a whole lot muscially really. There's a straight beat with the kick on 1 and snare on 3 as usual in 1,000 other songs. No wild fills or fancy playing. Then the bass line comes in an is quite repetitive as well.

So I don't think there's anything musically that grabs me in the first few bars as much it is something sonically that really just makes you stop whatever you're doing and listen to the song. In another thread in the 'Bruce Swedien' section here another GearSlut from Mexico mentioned something about being at a party and hearing Billie Jean for the first time (apparantly having missed this song somehow ) but immediately took notice and began asking everyone what song it was as it sounded better than anything recent that he had heard.

I think this confirms it right there. There is something going on sonically that connects to some part of the brain that gives you the happy tingly feeling and you can't help but to stop what you're doing and just listen.

So the question then remains - what exactly is the magic sonic thing that imparts this quality? And how is it either captured or created?

(hmmmmmmm... thats a tough one! - Jules)
Old 31st August 2006
  #20
Lives for Jesus
 
stevep's Avatar
Thumbs up

Bruce, Thank you so much for the story

Your attention to detail in recording the basic tracks paid off !




Thanks,

steve





Old 31st August 2006
  #21
Gear maniac
 
RaGe's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post
A piece of music must "Speak to me". For me, it's almost like falling in love.
Dear Bruce,
How much does the mix contribute to this effect? I mean, could you feel such intense emotion over a rough mix as well?

Regis
Old 23rd September 2006
  #22
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post
About "BILLY JEAN"....

Brucie asks - Shall I post a Photo of this beautiful device????? I still have it and use it on every session!!!



Yes please - show us this beautiful device and a picture of your plywood drum platform too.


/David
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