Embellishing And Layering Lessons From Talk Talk’s Greatest Hit
|By Amir Said (Sa’id)|
Aside from the soul and funk records of the late 1960s and early 1970s,
(for example, some of the staple hits of Stax and Motown), I’ve learned a great deal about layering sounds from other music forms like new wave, British pop, British ska, and art rock as well. And among the various songs that the latter aforementioned music forms produced, “It’s My Life” by Talk Talk has left quite an impression on me.
As a beatmaker who appreciates both the sample-based and synthetic-sounds-based compositional styles, “It’s My Life” has been an important song of study for me. From a purely analytical focus, it’s one of the first songs that helped me to really understand how the sections in a song’s arrangement come together to formulate a truly engaging piece of music.
The verse section of “It’s My Life” is made up several main elements or rather sub-sections. There’s a steady groove comprised of a rubbery, bouncing bass line—that “walks up and down” nonchalantly. Then there’s a subdued synth phrase (a mainstay of similar pop synth bands of the era) that staggers in two notes before dissolving into a sustained ambiance. And then there’s a simple backbeat that features a hard-rapping snare on the “2.”
For the chorus, the “big payoff” of every contemporary pop music song’s arrangement, all of the subdued elements mutate and suddenly become more alive. Embellishments, shadings, and inflections are abound as the synth work becomes more deliberate and aggressive, staggering chromatically and rising—appropriately—right along with the growing level and intensity of the vocals. This is matched only by the bass line changing directions and going into overdrive, moving up a couple levels in pitch. Finally, not to be outdone, the drumwork gains more character with the layering of a tambourine (and a second “charged” snare) over the top of the existing snare, making this new snare-tamb hybrid—a staple drum sound combination of many of today’s beatmakers—more pressing and climatic.
For educational purposes…
Talk Talk – “It’s My Life”Articles, Beat Breakdown, Editor's Choice, MusicStudy