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What is exactly the "L.A. Sound" of the 1970's? Drum Machines & Samplers
Old 9th February 2012
  #1
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What is exactly the "L.A. Sound" of the 1970's?

The "LA Sound" of the 1970's is a term that gets tossed around alot in music recording articles.

I have read so much about this type of songwriting/engineering style in those "classic tracks" sections in Sound on Sound magazine, etc. When referring to this particular songwriting/mixing/engineering style one reads references to "thick, lush and warm pop arrangements" , but don't quote me on it.
Some say it was a kind of mix style/engineering heard on a lot of rock/pop albums that were recorded in alot of the studios in Los Angeles or the Bay area and hence because so many records had this signature sound, it became coined the 'LA Sound'.
From what I have read, recordings from Groups that could be attributed to having this signature 'Sound' in their mixes were Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, Exile, England Dan and John Ford Coley, Ambrosia, and groups that used alot of Eddie (Typo correction: Jimmie) Haskell string arrangements in the sessions . Supposedly alot of these groups were tracking and mixing down in LA studios that were sporting Frank Demidio modified API Custom consoles. Others say it was a sound that Wally Heider honed up at the Plant in Sausalito or Hyde Street Studios in SF, again, using Frank's custom consoles.
Albums like Fleetwood Mac's 'Rumours' were supposedly recorded on these consoles and it was these kinds of consoles and mxing styles that comprised this 'LA Sound'


"Ken Caillat (left) in the control room at Wally Heider Recording with a particularly excited Lindsey Buckingham and a rather blurry Richard Dashut. In the background is Chris Morris, an assistant from the Record Plant in Sausalito." Look to the lower right on the console table in front of Richard Dashut...you can see what looks like a fat line of Cocaine...perhaps it was all the drugs that made up the LA Sound? You had to be high to create it, ha ha.

Quite frankly, when it comes to the 1970's, I cannot tell the difference in the 'warmth' of a record. They all seemed to have an analog tape saturated solid state and tube compression/sound to them. Furthermore, I cannot tell the difference in 'Warmth' per se, between records made by 10cc as opposed to Todd Rundgren as opposed to Chic as opposed to Nicolette Larson as opposed to Fleetwood Mac as opposed to 'Name your Favorite Artist of the 70's . Furthermore, the aforementioned artists recorded their tracks in UK, NYC, LA and SF Bay Area Studios, respectively, from the mid 70's to the early 1980's.
So, does this mean that LA just gets the credit but really neither honed or created a sound per se?

It would be great to know more....and interesting to get to the bottom of this as the "LA SOUND" thing. A lot of the info out there is fuzzy at best and it doesn't seem fair that one area/geographic locale of the recording industry get all the credit for a sound that seemed to be prevalent everywhere at a time when every seemed to 'sound warm'

If anyone is an engineer, roadie, studio assistant, producer, session musician or just plain from that era and can clarify if the the term was ever used when you were around or made its way around the industry, it would be great to know more and to which studios, engineers and artists made up this now infamous style of recording, ....I mean, there is such a thing as New York styleSide Chain Compression so why not an 'LA SOUND' ?
If no such term was ever coined back in the day then we will just have to chalk it up a term that has been used extensively in retrospect but never was phrased at the time nor a true 'form' of mixing style per se. It would be interesting to know more.

This kind of music history is important, in a "You can't get to where you are going unless you know where you have been" sort of retrospective way so I hope for the sake of clarity, someone can offer up some answers..

Cheers!
Old 9th February 2012
  #2
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vernier's Avatar
I don't think it was anything in particular, except that many used the same gear, 24 track, big console, 1176, and plate. The big console and lots of tracks made for a sound that (to be frank, my record collection doesn't contain much from that decade).
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Bowstring Soldiers . . . Lover of the Bayou - YouTube
Old 9th February 2012
  #3
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During the early '70s there still weren't store-bought consoles. Every studio had a shop and a huge proportion of their gear was hot-rodded and not stock. Studios were competing for who offered the best sound.

LA in the '70s was unique because almost the entire music industry of the '60s from New York, Chicago and London had relocated there. I'm jealous to this day of the folks who worked there as second engineers. Many got to work behind virtually every single "name" producer and engineer in the world.
Old 9th February 2012
  #4
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I'll add that the local session musicians contributed significantly to the "LA sound" because they had a different, more relaxed feel than NY musicians.

Let's not forget that a dead room and a wallet on the snare drum were fashionable.
Old 9th February 2012
  #5
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I beg to differ on a couple points. First off the leading, most popular studios that had the best reputation for sound were by no means dead. Only the new ones in magazine pictures. The wallet trick dates back at least to the '50s in New York and Chicago. Session musicians were almost all jazzers between 1940 and the mid 1960s no matter if they were in New York, Chicago, LA, Detroit or even Nashville. It was all about being able to learn and possibly improvise a better part with no rehearsal and the expectation that you could complete four master songs in three hours. Demo sessions demanded six!
Old 9th February 2012
  #6
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Deep carpeting.


And Panama Red
Old 9th February 2012
  #7
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Van Halen was the L.A. sound of the 70s. They changed the way records were made and how gtr and backup vocals were done. Bands like Fleetwood mac were just doing the same old same old

Listen to Van Halen I, II women and children first , they are so raw and powerful but yet so polished. Noone is capbale of making records like that. You listen to the Fleetwood mac records of the 70s and the drum sounds are so pitifully small and cardboardish, It sound like a demo tape. Same with the Eagles records. horrible. They are so boring and small sounding. It's how not to make records.

Listen to the acoustic guitar sounds on the early VH, those are awesome too.... also the clean sounds. They wrote the book.
The VH harmonies and gtr tone would influence the 80s more than any other band. That may be good or bad based on your perspective but
they laid down the foundation of what came later. They were game changers. When you look at heavier music these days the gtr tone
is all owed to Van Halen

That sunset studio II API is the sound
Old 9th February 2012
  #8
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Isn't the "LA Sound" supposed to be an API 312????
Old 9th February 2012
  #9
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drBill's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by mu6gr8 View Post
I'll add that the local session musicians contributed significantly to the "LA sound" because they had a different, more relaxed feel than NY musicians.
That's it in a nutshell. The "70's LA sound" is not about gear or technology or recording techniques. In that respect, LA was not much different than SF, NY or Chicago at the time. It was about a tight knit group of LA studio guys that influenced the records coming out of LA during this timespan that infused their "sound" and "vibe" into many local recordings.
Old 9th February 2012
  #10
Whatever happened to that initiative to ban use of the words, "warm," "warmth," "mojo," "vibe," and a few other warm, fuzzy nonsense words?

I didn't think it was necessary back a few years ago but increasingly now, I'm not so sure...





FWIW, one of the schools I studied commercial recording at in the early mid-80s acquired one of the custom consoles from the then-closing Gold Star studios where a jillion famous artists recorded -- and where Phil Spector perfected his "Wall of Sound." The console was a rather amazing affair, lots of quirky but (for the period of its design) cutting edge features.

But the 'magic' of Gold Star and its historic string of hits was not in the console(s), advanced-for-the-time though they were. Put a bunch of student musicians in the live room and student engineers behind that console and you got sounds that were fairly typical of low-mid range studios of the 80s. (That school is where I really learned to hate gated 'verb snare which was all the rage among my fellow tyro engineers. But, looking back, their finger was right on that pulse. And I did learn a lot of good studio practice there.)
Old 9th February 2012
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by robertshaw View Post
Van Halen was the L.A. sound of the 70s. They changed the way records were made and how gtr and backup vocals were done. Bands like Fleetwood mac were just doing the same old same old

Listen to Van Halen I, II women and children first , they are so raw and powerful but yet so polished. Noone is capbale of making records like that. You listen to the Fleetwood mac records of the 70s and the drum sounds are so pitifully small and cardboardish, It sound like a demo tape. Same with the Eagles records. horrible. They are so boring and small sounding. It's how not to make records.

Listen to the acoustic guitar sounds on the early VH, those are awesome too.... also the clean sounds. They wrote the book.
The VH harmonies and gtr tone would influence the 80s more than any other band. That may be good or bad based on your perspective but
they laid down the foundation of what came later. They were game changers. When you look at heavier music these days the gtr tone
is all owed to Van Halen

That sunset studio II API is the sound
Not to rain on Van Halen's parade, as their first album was, indeed, a breath of fresh air amidst the other post-glam hard rock bands.

(I saw them live in '77 or so; intrigued by a write-up in the LA Times from the infamous Bob Hillburn called "Homegrown Punk" -- I was utterly horrified by the utterly obnoxious band on stage, prancing around in dayglo spandex tights and making the same old boring hard rock as a bunch of other bands. Even EVH's guitar playing was disappointing. I'd heard he was good -- but all we got was incessant tweedling. It was the most annoying show I'd seen since the last time I saw Black Oak Arkansas on a festival bill.)

Now, I was no kind of fan of the Buckinham-Nix era of Fleetwood Mac (though a huge fan of Peter Green's FM). But it's more than kinda nuts to write-off the calculated, meticulous studio craft that went into their big mid-70s albums. It wasn't necessarily in the same exact current as the "L.A. Mafia"/"Wrecking Crew" recordings, which were highly dependent on the studio musicians and recordists associated with that sound, but I don't think there's much question that the FM recordings of the era were influenced by much of that approach and went on to influence future recordings.

With regard to drum sounds -- I like my drums big and bold, too, when there are no other considerations. But you're not going to drop the dime to bring in some crazed skin pounder and build a huge drum sound on a song called "Peaceful, Easy Feeling," now, are you? Unless you have no sense of appropriateness and tone in what you're doing.
Old 9th February 2012
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by theblue1 View Post
Not to rain on Van Halen's parade, as their first album was, indeed, a breath of fresh air amidst the other post-glam hard rock bands.

(I saw them live in '77 or so; intrigued by a write-up in the LA Times from the infamous Bob Hillburn called "Homegrown Punk" -- I was utterly horrified by the utterly obnoxious band on stage, prancing around in dayglo spandex tights and making the same old boring hard rock as a bunch of other bands. Even EVH's guitar playing was disappointing. I'd heard he was good -- but all we got was incessant tweedling. It was the most annoying show I'd seen since the last time I saw Black Oak Arkansas on a festival bill.)

Now, I was no kind of fan of the Buckinham-Nix era of Fleetwood Mac (though a huge fan of Peter Green's FM). But it's more than kinda nuts to write-off the calculated, meticulous studio craft that went into their big mid-70s albums. It wasn't necessarily in the same exact current as the "L.A. Mafia"/"Wrecking Crew" recordings, which were highly dependent on the studio musicians and recordists associated with that sound, but I don't think there's much question that the FM recordings of the era were influenced by much of that approach and went on to influence future recordings.

With regard to drum sounds -- I like my drums big and bold, too, when there are no other considerations. But you're not going to drop the dime to bring in some crazed skin pounder and build a huge drum sound on a song called "Peaceful, Easy Feeling," now, are you? Unless you have no sense of appropriateness and tone in what you're doing.
Yesiree - Station Man - best Rock&Roll Rhythm riff in history when the IV goes to the I. I loved the other Fleetwood Mac for different reasons but the original albums were the cheese! Kiln House is an album that never got the respect it deserved.
Old 9th February 2012
  #13
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jtaylor27's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by robertshaw View Post
Van Halen was the L.A. sound of the 70s. They changed the way records were made and how gtr and backup vocals were done. Bands like Fleetwood mac were just doing the same old same old

Listen to Van Halen I, II women and children first , they are so raw and powerful but yet so polished. Noone is capbale of making records like that. You listen to the Fleetwood mac records of the 70s and the drum sounds are so pitifully small and cardboardish, It sound like a demo tape. Same with the Eagles records. horrible. They are so boring and small sounding. It's how not to make records.

Listen to the acoustic guitar sounds on the early VH, those are awesome too.... also the clean sounds. They wrote the book.
The VH harmonies and gtr tone would influence the 80s more than any other band. That may be good or bad based on your perspective but
they laid down the foundation of what came later. They were game changers. When you look at heavier music these days the gtr tone
is all owed to Van Halen

That sunset studio II API is the sound
Someone's crushing on Van Halen
The debut album didnt come out till '78, when the 70's were almost over! There are plenty of records from about 74 till then that share common traits of "the L.A. sound".

I think of the L.A. sound of the 70's as a very clean, polished sound, owing as much to gear as it did to obtaining perfect takes, perfect harmonies and getting the cleanest signal on tape. Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, The Doobie Brothers, Kenny Loggins, The Eagles and other bands of that ilk. As far as guitar sounds, when I think of the L.A. sound of the 70's I think of Mesa/Boogie's with their compressed distortion sound and hot rodded Fender amps by Paul Rivera. Not Marshalls as used by Eddie Van Halen. A good example would be "Peg" by Steely Dan with the guitar solo by Jay Graydon which was done in 1977, a whole year before Van Halen would even come out with their debut album. There is tapping. There is distortion, but its more of a smoother distortion. Fender Rhodes. Tight basslines. Wallet on a deep tuned snare. Lots of 15k on the overheads and cymbals. That to me is the L.A. sound.

Van Halen would constitute as the L.A. sound as well, true, but thats more on the hard rock side of things.
Old 9th February 2012
  #14
Quote:
Originally Posted by PdotDdot View Post
Yesiree - Station Man - best Rock&Roll Rhythm riff in history when the IV goes to the I. I loved the other Fleetwood Mac for different reasons but the original albums were the cheese! Kiln House is an album that never got the respect it deserved.
The post-PG era was an interesting one. I actually like that period a fair bit. Kiln House came out while Kirwan and Spencer were still around. Once Jeremy Spencer left to join the odd Maoist/Christian cult, the Children of God, and Bob Welch came in, it took the band in a very modern, provocative direction. Very different than the Green/blues era, of course. I ended up really liking Furture Games and Bare Trees.

(Sadly, none of those three post-PG albums appear to be available through subscription, although the Green and Buckingham/Nix eras are well represented, at least in the service I use, MOG. "Future Games," the song [and a couple others that were on FM albums] is available on a Bob Welch album but, while it sounds pretty similar, it's just not the same.)
Old 9th February 2012
  #15
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Of course a lot of the important "LA" or "Yacht Rock" records were recorded or mixed in places like NYC and Miami. And a lot of things that would never get associated with LA were recorded in LA.

It's just an easy way to classify something. The idea is that LA has nice weather and a laid back, easy-going pace. Soft rock is typically laid back, easy to digest music. The pairing was natural.
Old 9th February 2012
  #16
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Jim Gordon
Old 9th February 2012
  #17
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JBL 4350s or Big Reds

At least - the LA Smell of the 70s can be answered for by these brutes
Old 9th February 2012
  #18
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drBill's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by jtaylor27 View Post
and hot rodded Fender amps by Paul Rivera.
Ah yes......I've still got a blackface deluxe that he did in the vein of those used by Graydon, Lukather, and Carlton. Between that and my Emery, life is good. hehheh
Old 10th February 2012
  #19
Don't understimate the effects of the fact that everyone sitting around the mic singing in those days had a big 'fro, and may have been wearing a frilly cravat as well. It did something to the sound.
Old 10th February 2012
  #20
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the afro for absorption and the frilly cravat for diffusion?
Old 10th February 2012
  #21
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BudgetMC's Avatar
Carol Kaye.
Old 10th February 2012
  #22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dean Roddey View Post
Don't understimate the effects of the fact that everyone sitting around the mic singing in those days had a big 'fro, and may have been wearing a frilly cravat as well. It did something to the sound.
And really fancy cowboy boots.
Old 10th February 2012
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ethereralgreta View Post
...and groups that used alot of Eddie Haskell string arrangements in the sessions....
Yeah, that Eddie Haskell sure got around after his time on "Leave It To Beaver".
Old 10th February 2012
  #24
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To add to the 'it's the musicians more than the studio' point- Hotel California was recorded in London.
Old 10th February 2012
  #25
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To me, the '70's LA sound' usually conjures up sonic images of the great "singer songwriter + session musicians" albums. Records by people like Paul Simon, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Carol King, Linda Ronstadt, etc etc.

Many had the same rotating crew of session guys backing them up and there was a laid back but ultra high quality depth to the music and the recording. Of course, to some it was just 'cheese', especially if you're fond of the harder edged stuff. But it's still some primo quality cheese, if that's what you wanna call it.

I think of musicians like Richard Tee, Steve Gadd, Russ Kunkel, Jim Keltner, Waddy Watchell, Lee Sklar, Jim Gordon, and probably a dozen or so others I should've paid more attention to. I always paid more attention to the drummers more than anything else back then...

Anyway, that's the stuff I tend to think of as the 'west coast' sound of the 70's. Van Halen? not so much....

Old 10th February 2012
  #26
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timtoonz beat me to the punch and he covers a lot of the East Coast musicians but the 70s sound, as it used to be referred to prior to the internet which daily redefines our understanding and converts the ground on which we stand into shifting sand....use to mean the whole Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Brown, Andrew Gold and maybe early Doobie Brothers sound. Throw in David Lindley and George Massenburg on the board and there you have it. I'm sure there are a few I am missing but it was a group of morphing team members who played on each others albums and drove the sound of the mid 70s. Yeah the Eagles too. That fell away to disco which led to Donna Summers and the demise of live music in clubs. Michael Jackson emerged as an adult.

At the end of that era rose Van Halen at the tail end of the decade. They were not a part of the the traditional 70s sound but possibly saved music up until the whole counter movement made up of the Cars, Debra Harry and Chrissy Hynde. Disco morphed into the Sheena Easton type big hair music. Then glam rock rose which eventually morphed into the boy/girl band era.

I've lived too long.
Old 10th February 2012
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thenoodle View Post
Yeah, that Eddie Haskell sure got around after his time on "Leave It To Beaver".
Sorry about the typo...meant Jimmy Haskell string arrangements
http://www.allmusic.com/artist/jimmi...p84982/credits
and stuff produced/mixed by the likes of guys like Donn Landee and Ted Templeman.


Also, lets not forget Sunset Sound and Sound Factory Studios. I think I was remiss in not including them in the honorable mentions
http://www.sunsetsound.com/?page_id=68

All your points are great and valid, lets keep it going, this topic is starting to get interesting!
Old 10th February 2012
  #28
Being the same studio wtih 70s era Linda Ronstadt would probably have tended to give my playing a harder, more penetrating vibe I think, not more laid back. And, if the myths are true, that might have actually paid off at some point.
Old 10th February 2012
  #29
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Sigh...



Old 10th February 2012
  #30
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How about the Joni Mitchell 70's era stuff... Blue, Court & Spark..
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