One Cool Thing – Ancient Drum Loop
Way back before computers and samplers, if you wanted to use a sound over and over, whether a real instrument or a found sound, you had to create a loop of it on tape. Read our previous blog post about the amazing Mellotron tape ‘sampler’, and how this instrument used tape loops of real instruments sounds to great effect. Link below…
The legendary 60’s, 70′, 80’s and beyond group The Bee Gees were working on some new tracks for a movie soundtrack, to be recorded at Chateau d’Herouville, where Elton John had recorded Honky Chateau. A few tracks had been put together, but the track “Stayin’ Alive” was proving problematic. They had a rough version, and were ready to record the final version when the drummer’s father passed away and left for England. While listening to a playback, no one in the studio was impressed with the timing and accuracy of the drums. What to do? Since it would be some time until the drummer would return, someone suggested creating a ‘loop’ of the drums, essentially taking the best, most accurate section of the drum track and looping it. This was 1977, with primitive technology and tools at their disposal. These days, an engineer can take even a syllable of a great take and copy and paste as if they were working in Word or an email. Then, you had to rock the reels to determine the correct edit point on the beat. Not fun stuff if you make a bad edit, you need to create a new copy and try again.
Producer Albhy Galuten and the Bee Gees listened to the entire drum performance over and over until they identified the best two bars of the drummer’s performance and then copied that over to another machine. They then copied and spliced it over and over until the final loop of tape was over 20 feet long! This then cycled around while they overdubbed the rest of the instruments onto the 2 inch master. Because it was 4/4 time — just hi-hats and straight snare — it sounded steady as a rock, and this was pre-drum machine.
The drum loop would go on to have quite a career in its own right, serving as the backbone to not only the ‘Stayin’ Alive’ and ‘More Than A Woman’, but also Barbra Streisand’s ‘Woman In Love’. When the drummer returned he overdubbed the tom fills, cymbals and hi hat. The drum track was so good that the producer received many calls looking to book this rock solid drummer!
Here’s a clip of the finished track:
If you are interested in reading the complete story, SoundOnSound has a great article about the track HERE
- Blog Post #15: Blog Post – One Cool Thing…The Mellotron!