Songs from the Big Chair was released in 1985 and spawned the hits Shout, Everybody Wants to Rule the World and Head Over Heels. A new wave classic, the album is a masterclass of songwriting and production, full of classic 80s synth sounds that have a more mature feel than many of their contemporaries, and one of my personal favourite albums of all time. Shout went on to become one of the most recognisable songs from the mid-eighties and is also recognised as the group's signature song. Featuring a repetitive chorus, power chords and an intense rock backing, the song was a no. 1 hit for 3 weeks.
"Orzabal played Hughes a chant he had written called “Shout.” They stopped everything else to focus solely on that number, which would become their second Number One and one of the most recognizable songs of the decade. They spent many, many months on that powerful anthem alone, making sure that each layer worked perfectly with the others."
The band consists of the songwriting / production duo of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, who seem to switch roles frequently when collaborating. In live performances of Shout the duo share vocal duties, Orzabel plays guitar and Smith plays bass, so I'm assuming this is how it was recorded. Around the time of Songs from the Big Chair they were joined by key member Ian Stanley who acted as the bands keyboardist. By this point the group owned an enviable collection of analog synthesizers:
"Their layered style of recording also made it easier to work from Stanley's home studio, which the band had recently upgraded using advance money from the second album. Stanley's newly expanded home studio included a 32-channel Soundcraft console, a 24-track analog tape machine and room for the band's keyboard and synthesizer collection, which included such classic designs as Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, Fairlight CMI, Roland Jupiter 8, Yamaha DX7 synthesizer and PPG Wave. They also had a LinnDrum LM-2, another recent acquisition."
The main sounds I'm interesting in exploring are the breathy vocal synth from the Fairlight CMI, the huge unison bass from the Prophet 5 and the classic 80s PPG / DX7 bass.
Songs From The Bass Chair
The song opens with some percussion followed by the songs hook underpinned by an ominous sounding synth bass. This simple yet iconic bass sound comes from the groups Sequential Circuits Prophet 5. I don't have a Prophet 5 (it's on my wish list though!) but I do have a Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 08, a modern hardware analog polysynth utilising much of the same technology as the original Prophet series. I'll also show how to program the sound in Arturia Prophet V, a software emulation of the Prophet 5.
The key element of the sound is the use of unison mode, which sets all the synth voices to double the same note, creating a huge, thick sound great for basses. The oscillators are two sawtooth waves, the envelopes are fully open with maximum sustain and the filter needs to be adjusted to take off some of the brightness. This last part is largely down to taste and what the song requires; I also found that adding just a little resonance to the filter went a long way to fattening up the sound.
The process in Arturia Prophet-V is largely the same, starting with the template patch 'Pro5 2 Osc' will give you a basic 2-saw waves patch with the filters and envelopes already open. From this template patch just turn on unison mode at the top-right of the interface, decrease the cutoff to the 2 o'clock mark and rase the resonance to 9 o'clock. To fatten up the sound even more increase the detune knob next to the unison switch.
The drums in my recordings come from some Emu Drumulator samples I found in my sample library, the original drum machine was the one used on Shout and samples of it can be found in many 'classic drum machine' sample packs.
A classic synth sound from Shout is the Fairlight "ARR 1" vocalsynth sound that you can hear in the pre-chorus. This is a really unique, recognisable sound marked by it's breathiness and low bit-rate quality; it was very popular and used by many 80s new wave artist, for example on the following songs:
- Art of Noise - Moments in Love
- INXS - Kiss The Dirt
- Pet Shop Boys - Domino Dancing
- OMD - Secret
- Yazoo - And On
The sound comes from the Fairlight CMI (Computer Music Instrument), a lo-fi sampling synthesizer that cost a staggering $30,000 when released. The synth utilised a combination of sampled sounds via the onboard computer and classic synthesising elements, making it really easy to recreate in the digital realm with plugins and samplers. The ARR sample can be found in commercial libraries such as G-Force's M-Tron Pro (in Streetly Tapes Vol 2), UVI Darklight IIx and Bitley Fairlight Kontakt R2. There is also a free Fairlight CMI IIX library available at fabel2112.synthpop.com. The controls are pretty basic but otherwise this free library captures the sounds well. If you wish to use the raw sample in a sampler yourself you can find some basic Fairlight samples in this forum thread.
edit - Sonic Bloom have a fantastic sounding, free Live Pack containing all the Fairlight human voices, check it out here.
The Fairlight part in Shout consists of layered harmonised arpeggios in the pre-chorus. Here is the part using both GForce MTron Pro and the free fabel2112 library. You can hear that the M-Tron samples are a lot cleaner and brighter whereas the Fabel samples are a lot darker sounding, which in my opinion isn't necessarily a bad thing. Mixing-wise I panned each of the parts left and right slightly, added reverb and EQed some low-end.
Also be sure to check out my New Order - Elegia tutorial that features a similar vocalsynth patch derived from the Emu Emulator synthesizer, a direct competitor to the Fairlight.
Another synth sound that comes in during the chorus is the more percussive bassline that was recorded from the PPG Wave synth, an early wavetable synthesizer. Although it's a simple sound it's hard to recreate in synths that don't offer wavetable functionality. Here's the sound recreated using Waldorf PPG Wave, a software emulation. I'll explore this sound a lot more when I do an article for Everybody Wants to Rule the World, another classic Tears for Fears song that uses this synth for it's bassline.