Stevie Wonder's Clavinet: even cooler when it's the only thing you're hearing
As any good music geek knows, YouTube is a treasure trove of isolated tracks — a single vocal or instrument lifted from a familiar song, sometimes from the master tapes, sometimes pulled out of the mix by an enterprising amateur sound engineer. It's a fascinating, stark and entirely new context in which to hear a guitar solo, drum pattern or lead vocal that was heretofore as familiar as your couch. Sometimes the revelations are impressive. Sometimes less so.
A YouTube search for “isolated tracks” nets 35, 700 results, including Sting’s “Message in a Bottle” bass, Adele's “Rolling in the Deep" vocals, Notorious B.I.G.’s “Machine Gun Funk” rap and a surprising amount of Dream Theater. So curating a list of the best-ever isolated tracks is a vast and somewhat impossible task. And here goes!
The Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter” vocals
Mick Jagger’s multiple vocal personas can sell a song even better than his stellar stagecraft, but the best vocal performance ever on a Stones song belongs to someone else. New Orleans-born soul singer Merry Clayton’s reaches hallelujah bliss at the 1:46 mark in the doomy “Gimme Shelter.” Note Jagger’s enthusiastic exclamation immediately afterwards. Mick’s witchy intro (0:12 in) and Brit-blues belting are also impressive. Clayton would later give Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” extra oomph, as well.
Stevie Wonder, “Superstition” Clavinet
The Hohner Clavinet D6 keyboard is inherently funky. In the hands of R&B genius Stevie Wonder, it sounds like a robot spider that’s been turned loose after ingesting a gram of coke and two ecstasy tabs. Wonder reportedly overdubbed around six Clavinet tracks on “Superstition.” The 1972 cut remains undeniable to this day, no matter how many Caucasians dance badly to it at wedding receptions.
The Beatles, “Helter Skelter” lead vocal
Paul McCartney’s vocals are so unhinged on “Helter Skelter” that a struggling Los Angeles musician named Charles Manson thought The Beatles were trying to send him secret messages via this song. (And others from the 1967 Fab Four LP best-known as The White Album.) At about 2:32, McCartney appears to have invented hair-metal shrieking. This after inventing punk-rock only about 0:12 in. Dude, take it easy — you’re supposed to be the Cute Beatle!
Duran Duran, “Rio” synth
You can almost hear the black lacquer here. Nick Rhodes’ refracted synthesizer work on the title track from Duran Duran’s monster 1983 album perfectly matches the disc’s stylized cover art, designed by Patrick Nagel. Rhodes reportedly used a Roland Jupiter-4 synth on the song. Just FYI: If you’re looking to start a DD tribute band, Jupiter-4’s usually go for around $3, 000 to $4, 500 on eBay.