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J. Yuenger's blog has been a garden of delights. Through it, I discovered Studio Multitracks, a blog that collects isolated tracks (drums, bass, guitars, vocals, etc.) of songs. These have been cropping up all over YouTube. Rock Band and Guitar Hero have resulted in the public availability of songs' isolated tracks; perhaps studio employees leak them, too. Studio Multitracks sorts through YouTube and groups together isolated tracks by song.

So now it's possible to hear the components of many songs separately. I've spent much time nerding out on Studio Multitracks. One can learn a lot about a song by hearing its parts. Of course, the final product is what matters. But greater appreciation of ingredients can lead to greater appreciation of results.

The isolated tracks for Metallica's "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" yield two good insights. (Its isolated guitar track is a mixture of James Hetfield's rhythms and Kirk Hammett's leads.) These occur early in the song.

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"Welcome Home (Sanitarium)"
Just the guitar

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The first occurs at 0:38. After two iterations of the main clean riff, it gets doubled by another clean guitar with what sounds like a tremolo effect. (Or perhaps the original guitar gets layered with a tremolo effect on a separate channel.) Doubling a clean guitar is a brilliant idea. In all my years of amateur recording, I've never thought of doing that. It gives clean tones a depth that a single guitar lacks. Also, the method of doubling is brilliant. The original guitar is almost twangy, while the second one is soft and hazy. The haziness conveys a surreality befitting the song's theme of insanity. I don't know who made these decisions, but they're great examples of production furthering the aims of a song.

The second starts at 0:51, when Hammett begins soloing. Not only is he imperfect, sometimes he's downright bad. His execution isn't that clean, and some notes and bends are sharp or flat. The note he hits at 0:56 makes me grit my teeth. But it doesn't really matter. The performance isn't great by itself, but it works in the mix. With almost all of the isolated tracks that I've heard, the musicians sound fallible. They rush, they lag, they don't hit everything cleanly. And these are some of the greatest songs and musicians of all time! They were recorded before the age of Pro Tools and sound replacement. Producers decided that these performances were good enough and served the larger purpose of the songs.

That's one reason why music of yesterday often sounds more "alive" than music of today. Those recordings preserved the human element. Pro Tools editing and sound replacement deny the human element. "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" wouldn't sound the same if Lars Ulrich were metronomically precise. He's lurching around with a wobbly sense of time - and that's what we've come to know on a subconscious level. If some other drummer had played on the song, it might have sounded tighter, but it also might not have had the magic of the result. With all its imperfections, the song is perfect as it is.

— Cosmo Lee

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I'd love to hear isolated tracks of the following:

1. Duane Denison's guitar in The Jesus Lizard
2. John Tardy's vocals in Obituary
3. Peter Hook's bass in Joy Division/New Order
4. Pino Palladino's bass on anything
5. The bass on Cryptopsy's None So Vile

And you?

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