January 29th is not JUST my Mum’s birthday, it’s also the day, in 1983, that Stevie Nicks and then husband Kim Anderson were making their way up the PCH to celebrate their wedding when Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” came on the radio. Stevie started to sing a melody over the bits in-between Prince’s lyrics and found herself inspired. She and Kim pulled into a little town as soon as one appeared and purchased a tape-recorder so that she could commit the idea in some way.
Once the honeymoon was over, she entered the studio in Los Angeles to get working on her second solo album The Wild Heart. Her first solo record, 1981’s Bella Donna had been a critical and commercial success, so they had high hopes for this sophomore release. It was recorded after the emotional roller-coaster of the death of her best friend, Robin Anderson, the birth of Robin’s child right before her death, who Stevie was Godmother to, and the subsequent 3-month marriage to Robin’s widower, Kim. You can’t make this stuff up. That’s a LOT of inspiration! The record eventually went double platinum and delivered one of Nicks’ most celebrated tracks.
“Stand Back” is one of those songs that was written and recorded in the Halcyon Days of the Record Industry. It’s a SINGLE song, but just look at the personnel involved:
- Stevie Nicks – vocals
- Jimmy Iovine – producer
- David Williams – guitar
- Sandy Stewart – synthesizer
- Prince – synthesizer
- Bobbye Hall – percussion
- Waddy Wachtel – guitar
- Ian Wallace – percussion
- Russ Kunkel – drum overdubs
- Steve Lukather – guitar
- Marvin Caruso – drums
- David Bluefield – OB-Xa synthesizer and DMX drum machine programming
- Sharon Celani – background vocals
- Lori Perry-Nicks – background vocals
- Shelly Yakus – engineer
- Chris Lord-Alge – mixer
There is NO way, in 2018, that one song would garner this much focus from so many MONSTER players. It’s a veritable “Who’s Who?” of session musicians, each bringing their own individual perspective and talents to bear. And that’s why it’s SO good.
TO THE TAPE!!
It appears that David Bluefield is the man responsible for the main drum-loop on this thing. A delicious example of the form. The Phil Collins “Face-Hugger” snare sound in full effect. Rich analogue samples. A tight texture, as I like to call it. “But there are TWO drummers listed in the credits,” I hear you think. Yup, there are. And one of those is Russ Kunkel, a player of great repute. He has graced the kit on recordings from Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Neil Diamond, Joe Walsh, and Bob Dylan, to name just a few, oh and he was ALSO Eric “Stumpy Joe” Childs, one of the ill-fated drummers for the band Spinal Tap. On this recording, I believe that it is he who provides the real toms being used at the end and during certain segments of the verses. This was something that happened a lot back in the 80’s. The anemic sounds of the MANDATORY drum-machine would be bolstered by real players layering acoustic drums over the top of the samples. It lends a more “organic” feel and helps to seat the groove in a 3D way that is hard to do when it is generated by just the machine. Hardly ever happens these days. But it should.
There’s also a wonderful percussion part being played by Bobbye Hall. She’s is one of the most respected percussionists in the biz and has appeared on 58 Top 100 singles, 22 Top 10 hits, and 6 #1’s. Not too shabby. My only complaint is how low it sits in the mix…you can hardly hear the bloody thing!
The bass part is a rich, growly, bit of synth magic, I believe also played by Bluefield. The looping dance of its arpeggio weaves throughout the track and bears its Prince influence pretty brazenly. BUT…if it ain’t broke! There is a wonderful innocence to these early synth-pop parts. You can almost hear the joy in them, the discovery of new textures, hitherto unheard. What an incredible time to have been making music at this level. The budgets, the freedom, the equipment, none of these things had existed prior. And these were the players who could truly exploit the technology and bend it to their will. This entire rhythm track is baller. It wouldn’t have been out of place in a roller-skate jam like Expose’s “Point Of No Return.” Another of my favs. I’m pretty sure we roller-skated to this at Good Skates, Long Island. “Couples Only!”
Upon entering the studio to work on the album, and this song specifically, Nicks reached-out to his Purple Majesty to see if he would be interested in playing on the song that he had inspired. To Stevie’s surprise, he showed-up a couple of hours later, entered the studio, walked to the Oberhiem synth, and proceeded to lay down the amazing part that, pretty much, makes the song so recognizable. It’s an interesting exercise to imagine the song WITHOUT this texture. What would it have been? It’s hard to hear it as a song without this signature riff. There’s a lot to be said for serendipity when it comes to the recording studio. We’ll never know what part may have been written instead had Prince not shown up. But, it’s FAIRLY guaranteed that it wouldn’t have been THIS good. Nicks said that it took him little over an hour to write and track the part, and at its conclusion he left the studio and she never heard from him again. Nicks has stated that it was all “like a dream.” It is also one of her great regrets that she didn’t ever get to perform it live with him. She did, however, give him a 50/50 split on the song-writing which, considering the success of the track, and the album, was no small gift. And is ALSO testament to what a solid chick she is. Well played, Stevie, well played. This particular track on this record is one of the few times you get to hear Prince outside of his solo work. Enjoy.
There are THREE blokes credited with the guitar playing on this song. Yup, three! David Williams, the legend Waddy Wachtel, and, as was seemingly MANDATORY in this era, Toto’s badass Steve Lukather. Dude was EVERYWHERE. It makes sense that the lead on the track is Luke, but the other parts, especially the Nile Rogers-esque “Funk Vibe” are hard to pin down. Chances are it’s Waddy, but if you know better please leave a comment with the correct credit. All of the parts are so good and the various flavors meld together perfectly. It’s a great compliment to the entire team that it’s actually hard to nail down just EXACTLY what kind of song this IS! Dance? Synth-Pop? Rock? All of them? It’s just MUSIC, really. This goes back to my comment about the freedom of this moment. All of the new instruments and sounds being layered with the “classics” made for a fertile environment to make records in. Everyone creating at 11. Awesome. It’s interesting to note that Stevie sings over the top of Lukather’s entire solo. She is The Queen, after-all. One must know one’s place.
It’s also hard to work out who is playing what on the additional synth tracks. Once we clear Prince out of the way we are left with some great ear-candy bits that help bolster the choruses with the inter-weaving “Atari” sounds juxtaposed against the bass synth and the chanky guitar. This is why it’s so important to have experts playing on your tracks. They know their shit! These arrangements are so good. They seem simple, but once parsed-out it reveals a complexity and thought that is easily over-looked. Everything fits together perfectly. There’s NO fat on this jam. Is that a mixed metaphor?
And now? The vocal. Man, Stevie’s voice is an instrument. She gained a little weariness by this point in her career. And the emotional turmoil that preceded the recording of this song is in each syllable. The whiskey-soaked, 2 packs-a-day, huskiness lends itself to the lyric. The performance is a thing of beauty. There are fragile moments, strong moments, and the final moment that I highlight in the audio segment is perfection. Sharon Celani and Lori Perry-Nicks had been singing back-ups for Stevie since her prior album and their voices are a perfect counterpoint to Nicks’. They have a clarity and bell-like focus that allows Stevie to provide the emotional weight without having to over-perform. When she reaches for the higher notes in the pre-chorus, I get chills every time. And hers’ is such a unique texture, whenever you hear it…you know its Stevie Nicks. There’s a reason that this song is still being played in the Fleetwood Mac live sets. It’s a FANTASTIC piece of synth-rock-pop-whateveritis.
The Radio Bit:
The rest of the team involved in the process of making this track ALSO cast long shadows. If he was ONLY known as a Producer, the bloke, named Jimmy Iovine, would have an enviable career. He went from the studio to the Board Rooms of the Industry to the rarefied air of The Billionaires Club. Who’d’ve thought it back in 1983? Not many, I’ll bet. The mixing on the album was managed by a bloke named Chris Lord-Alge, who has gone on to become one of the highest paid, and most respected, mixing engineers of all time. If it’s on the radio, there’s a chance that CLA (as he is known) was involved. A brilliant example of how wide a brush he can paint with is Green Day’s American Idiot. It’s a high-water mark of his career. Another BRILLIANT record.
Of course, no song recorded in the early 80’s was complete without a video that featured the “Moonlighting Filter,” a choreographed dance routine, wind machines, and random sets constructed to look like period pieces from Victorian England. Once again, the innocence of this time is an adorable thing to look back on. I have also attached the much MORE ridiculous “Scarlet Version” of the video, which was scotched due to Stevie thinking that she looked too fat in it. This version of the video somehow manages to OUT 80’s the OTHER video! Quite an accomplishment.
Enjoy the attached audio from the radio segment. It’s SO good!
Alright, I’m off to go and listen to Mac’s Tango In The Night, may favorite of their albums. If you haven’t listened to that one lately, I urge a re-visit. Epic record!
Have a great couple of weeks. See you at the next one.
The “Scarlet Version” of the video: