Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Story of the O'Jays' "For the Love of Money"

Nice little story from 1999 in the archive of Mix magazine.

Classic Tracks: The O'-Jay's "For the Love of Money"

Apr 1, 1999 12:00 PM, Blair Jackson

The meatiest part:

"For the Love of Money" was another socially conscious Gamble and Huff tune tailor-made for the O'Jays' powerfully gritty vocal style. It was recorded in the fall of 1973 at Sigma. Typically, Gamble and Huff's productions were done in three or four separate sessions, days or weeks apart. At the first session, Tarsia would record the basics on what was often a ten- or 11-piece group: "It was a mass of people to do rhythm," Tarsia says. "On a typical Gamble and Huff record, if you count doubling, we would have 54 to 60 people-that's almost a symphony orchestra.

"We might cut four tracks in a day; or we might cut just one and then recut it the next day if we didn't like it," he continues. "So rhythm was one day. Kenny and Huff would take the finished roughs of the tracks and listen to them over and over again and then work out the backgrounds and vocal parts. Then the next thing to be recorded was voices, when enough songs were assembled. With the O'Jays, they'd usually be around only for that; they'd do their parts and leave. If there was any kind of sweetening-like putting on another guitar part or a solo part-that would be done next. Strings and horns were a day, and then the mix was a day."

By 1973, Tarsia had put in a 32-input Electrodyne console, and he was recording to 16-track Scully (the studio went 24-track the following year). "It was a primitive board," he says. "It had one echo send and a three-setting equalizer. But we used to use outboard EQ-we had some API equalizers in the rack and a couple of Orban parametrics." The studio had a 40x6x12 live chamber, as well as EMT reverbs.

Effects were usually kept to a minimum, but "For the Love of Money" is notable in part because it did have some interesting audio trickery on it. The relentlessly funky bass line by jazzer Anthony Jackson (who even received a co-writer's credit for his contribution) is curiously altered, and then there's the distinctive background vocal wash-the famous, ghostly refrain of "Money, money, money" blowing through the song like an ill wind. The song proffers the notion that money is the root of all evil, and sonically the effects on the track do sound sinister.

Tarsia credits another Philadelphian, Todd Rundgren, for getting him into experimenting more with effects. "Back when Todd was doing The Nazz, he came in here with an engineer from the West Coast and they had all sorts of interesting ideas. I was basically a one-man studio so I spent a lot of time on this. They proceeded to do things like take a guitar amp, plug it into a Leslie cabinet from a Hammond organ and turn the input up with nothing plugged in, so it made noise. They double-miked the rotating horn in the tone cabinet to produce a stereo swishing sound. Then they were flanging part of another song. They were creating all these psychedelic effects and it was totally fascinating to me.

"And I absorb like a sponge, so lo and behold a jazz player [Anthony Jackson] comes to Philly and he's working with Gamble and Huff and he has a wah-wah pedal on his bass. Now the way Kenny used to work is he'd hand out chord charts to the musicians and Huff would sit at the piano and they would literally run down the song 20 or 30 times, and the musicians would start to gel together. Norman Harris would play a little guitar line, or Vince Montana would do something on the vibes, and they would weed and cultivate the arrangement. And after a couple of hours, they'd be ready to cut a track. On 'For the Love of Money,' I remember Kenny was sitting down on a stool in the middle of the studio, Huff was at the piano, and they were running down the song. I had just gotten an Eventide automatic phaser, and I heard that bass line and I plugged the phaser into [that and] the drum tracks and I thought, 'I better play this safe because Kenny might not like it.' I recorded them twice-once as I normally would and once phased. And when Kenny came into the control room he loved it. The other new toys I had just gotten were Kepex noise gates. We used that on the vibes-Kenny didn't like the vibes on the record and wanted to dump them. I decided to try to get something out of the the vibes by employing a Kepex gate, which was triggered by the snare drum and gated the vibes, adding tone to the snare."

As for the effect on the voices, after the O'Jays had left the background vocal session, "I took the tape, put it on the machine backwards and recorded echo on different tracks in reverse so the echo precedes the vocal. It's reverse echo," Tarsia says. "I was printing effects, but to the extent that I was covering my ass and had it with and without effects. The vocals were already down, so the backward echo was on another track and I would add that at will. And in the case of the drums, I doubled up. The other effects-the Kepex stuff, the echo on the bass-happened in the mixing. When we mixed it we went for broke. [On the opening of the track] Kenny reached up, grabbed the echo pot and turned it on the bass and then turned it off. At the time I hated it, but today I love it."

Read the entire post HERE.

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