Top 5 Isolated Tracks
There's something brilliantly bewitching (and a little eerie) about isolated tracks, which have been popping up on YouTube with greater regularity than Harlem Shake videos. More than just instrumental or a capella tracks, music obsessives – a term I use affectionately, being one myself – have taken it upon themselves to seclude everything from vocal takes to drum solos you actually want to listen to. Sometimes it's enough to send shivers down your spine; sometimes it's like a spooky dissection of a long-dead artist's handiwork. Here are five of my favourites.
The Ronettes – 'Baby I Love You' (Isolated Vocals)
This was my gateway into this crazy mixed up world, and it's probably still the high-point. Phil Spector's way around a melody was as important as the Wall Of Sound production technique, as highlighted by this gorgeous a capella version of the greatest love song The Ramones ever covered. Ronnie Spector's lead is beautiful enough, but when she's joined by her band mates, it hits that sweet spot few have done since. Just don't think about how often the producer waved a gun in their face to get such a performance, that might spoil it a bit.
(P.S. The isolated backing vocals for 'Be My Baby' are pretty special, too)
The Who – 'Won't Get Fooled Again' (Isolated Drums)
And now for something completely different: removed from the cacophony of wailing vocals and windmill guitars – not to mention from the folklore surrounding his world champion drinking – Keith Moon's drumming can really, properly shine. What's probably most surprising is that a man of such excesses could exact such restraint with sticks in his hand, with the amount of classy fills and lighter percussion that keep this being more than just an extended (and really dull) prog-rock drum solo. Shame the kit doesn't explode at the end, mind.
The Rolling Stones – 'Gimme Shelter' (Isolated Guitars)
We're three-for-three with bands with 'The' in their name and with bands from the sixties. I guess – with the latter at least – that's part of the appeal of isolated tracks: hearing classic songs from a different perspective. Also most of the more recent tracks are by Van Halen.
Not only that but the older songs tend to have that slightly faded, crackly sound that adds to the eeriness I mentioned before. It's like exhuming a long-buried corpse or something. But in all of these cases, it's a beautiful corpse – and the remains of Keith Richard's guitar playing will be a lot prettier than his actual ravaged body. There's some bleed (hurrrr) through of the drums on this – since they were probably performed together in the studio – but the parts where the rhythm section drops out and leaves that iconic, piercing noodling echoing into the ether is pretty amazing. The isolated vocals are worth a listen and all.
Nirvana – 'In Bloom' (Isolated Rhythm Section)
Okay, so I tried to find an interesting 'isolated bass' track but, well, there's no such thing. Sorry bass players, but you're not all that interesting to listen to without a band backing you. Or at least without the second part of the drum section. Krist Novoselic does actually sound pretty cool on this, all steely intensity (helped along by the metallic sound of striking the strings), but it'd be a bit tedious to listen to without Dave Grohl's drumming. It has given me a new appreciation for the song, divorced from Kurt Cobain's – or Paul McCartney's – singing.
The Beatles – 'She's Leaving Home' (Isolated Strings)
I've already skirted around the 'bands from the sixties with "The" in the name' thing, but then I went and invoked their one alive, non-douchey member by name, so I guess I sort of had to stick this on here. That's not to suggest any tokenism by placing this isolated vocal track on this list – I had to trawl through a heck of a lot of stuff to pick this, for one thing. It seriously tested my loyalty to my Merseyside home town. Why would anyone want Ringo's drums on their own? Other than 'Ticket To Ride' or 'Tomorrow Never Knows', I mean.
This is probably the most interesting on the list, since you'd probably be hard-pressed to guess what song these cellos are from when they've been stripped from their natural surroundings. They're also absolutely wonderful, and probably why arranger Mike Leander worked with every other sixties band. Whether their name was prefixed by a definite article or not.