I’m sure there are plenty of them, but here’s my take on some what I think are just amazing production styles or techniques that has happened in the world of recorded music since the early fifties when popular music became distributed by vinyl. So this is mostly about record production, not about writing amazing songs.
10cc – I’m Not In Love
You could read more about this recording in the wiki entry. But basically this was an attempt to use a 16-track recorder as a huge sampler before the age of samplers. Anyway, the end result was this ethereal wall of singing voices. You could easily do it today with DAWs but this was one of the first doing this kind of technique, back in the seventies.
Kraftwerk – Autobahn
This was for me the first record I got (my third) with just synthesizers doing mostly used in the production. Especially drums were all electronic It was Kraftwerk’s fourth album, but they got very famous by the Autobahn track. This was then influencing a lot of other bands to move towards are more synthetic sound. Same with the arrangements, simple and to the point, style rather than substance.
Phil Spector – Wall of Sound
Anyone producing should take a listen to any of the Phil Spector productions using his ‘wall of sound‘ method, singles such as Ronettes’ Be My Baby, The Crystals Then He Kissed me and many others. This then influened other bands and artists such as Beach Boys (Good Vibrations), Bruce Sprinsteen Born to Run (some tracks had 25 guitars!) and many others.
Basically the sound is produced by using multiple musicians/instruments paired up, multiple pianists, multiple bass players, multiple guitar players, even multiple tambourines. The end result is a wall of sound where you can’t really recognize any original instrument lines but it all works well together. It even sounds good over an AM transistor radio! This is another technique worth testing out today as it’s very easy to achieve with DAWs.
Todd Rundgren – A Wizard A True Star
For a long time albums were just a collection of songs on vinyl. Bands like Pink Floyd started to work on conceptual album formats with themes. I guess I should have mentioned Dark Side of the Moon. But I took instead Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard a True Star as the example, this because it opened this up even more, to a pure stream of consciousness album where one style is weaved into the next track. There was certainly a lot of tape splicing going on! Today you could achieve this easily by just taking individual tracks and making a master with track cross-overs and so on. It also requires a multi-instrumentalist, arranger and a very open mind to make something like A Wizard A True STar.
Frank Zappa – Merging Live and Studio Takes
Frank Zappa pioneered a lot of studio techniques. For me the most exotic one was to merge studio takes with live takes on the same track. To some degree this was dictated by economical needs; it was cheaper to take a bunch of musicians, train them for live songs, play these live and then record them as raw material for later album releases. But with the technologies of the seventies it would have been tough to match together studio takes with live takes seamlessly. Sometimes a solo was lifted from a live recording into a studio recording, or all kinds of other combinations. This made the final result very ambient, you could not pinpoint it as a live recording or a studio recording.