The first multitrack recorder was invented in the 1950s and was quickly embraced by the music industry as an indispensable tool in the recording studio. Musicians could use multitrack recorders to separate and stack different channels of sound, free to tweak and massage the sounds however they liked. Want to hear more guitar? Turn up the levels on the guitar track. Are the snares too sharp? Turn down their levels. Need to boost the lead singer's vocals? Stack up multiple versions of her singing the same lines on top of one another.
Like the ingredients in a cake, instruments and vocals are mixed together — here with the help of a multitrack machine. (Photo: Pip R. Lagenta/flickr)
A typical pop song these days can have dozens and even hundreds of layers, all blended into one another in the final product. Guitars on top of guitars. Drums running over drums running over more drums. Vocals stacked up all over the place. It works, but once you blend it all together in the final mix (the one that comes in over the radio/Internet), like a birthday cake, you can't get a feel for the individual ingredients. Unless, of course, you find those ingredients all by themselves somewhere!
Thankfully, YouTube has a healthy collection of isolated vocal tracks, the single audio tracks from famous songs that give you a glimpse into the magic behind any given pop song. It's a window into the power and raw energy that the vocalists commanded (Freddy Mercury could sing) and a refreshingly intimate review of a song that you might have heard a thousand times — but not like this.
We waded through the videos and pulled out our favorites. Enjoy these 11 isolated vocal tracks from famous songs. Cheers!
We'd be remiss if we neglected to list something from the Rolling Stones, the band where MNN co-founder Chuck Leavell has most famously tickled the ivories for the past 30-plus years. Even though this song was recorded just before Chuck joined the band, it's too good not to share.
Mick Jagger and Merry Clayton on "Gimme Shelter" by The Rolling Stones
Marvin Gaye on "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"
The Beatles on "Abbey Road"
Kurt Cobain on Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
Freddy Mercury of Queen on "Somebody To Love"
And because Freddy Mercury is awesome ... here's another:
Freddy Mercury on "Bohemian Rhapsody"
Ann Wilson of Heart on "Barracuda"
Jon Bon Jovi on Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer"
I went to my first concert when I was in the fourth grade. It was Bon Jovi and it was great.
Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam on "Black"
James Hetfield of Metallica on "Enter Sandman"
Skip to 1:15 if you get impatient. This one takes a bit to start rolling.
Bob Marley on "One Love"
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