The Most Difficult Song I’ve Ever Transcribed ... and It's Not by Yngwie
I’m often asked what’s the hardest song I’ve ever transcribed. The answer is not an offering by Yngwie, Dream Theater or Buckethead.
It’s “Mrs. Potter's Lullaby” by Counting Crows.
Let me begin by saying that there is only a handful of bands/artists I actively hate. My tastes are pretty eclectic and run the gamut from dissonant/atonal/harsh/obscure to the most syrupy, accessible pop. Even if something doesn’t move me, or I simply just don’t like it, I can usually still understand why others might, and I’ll appreciate it for what it is.
In the first draft of this blog entry, right here was the part where I proceeded to go into the many reasons I can’t deal with Adam Duritz. But after a good night’s sleep, and some cookies, I now feel comfortable with making this less about Duritz and more about “Mrs. Potter,” and have therefore decided to take the high road.
The playing, as you may have assumed, is not difficult. But, the production is stacked.
There are four guitar tracks using three different tunings — and one has a capo — so each guitar part needs to be written out separately (meaning no arranging two similar parts for one guitar). And, the parts are through-arranged, meaning no one ever plays the same thing from one verse/chorus to the next — read: minimal repeats and rhythm figures; almost every note from beginning to end must be written out.
Wherever the capoed part appears, I have to write out two rows of harmonic analysis (chord symbols) — one for the capoed key, one for concert key. And finally, writing out every single note from beginning to end is fine and dandy, as long as you can dig them out from under the layers of piano and organ that are also on the track.
Add to this the fact that there are, like, 92 fucking verses, sung in Duritz’ verbose, self-impressed, un-clever warble (dammit, I said I was gonna take the high road … sorry), the vocal lines for which, by the way, also need to be painstakingly written out.
Mind you, I’m not blaming Duritz’s band. From what I can tell, they are all capable musicians simply following orders. I am not knocking the playing or the band’s collective musicianship. But this thing where Adam Duritz thinks he’s Bob Dylan? He and his enablers must be stopped.
Final page count: 27. For one song. After sending it in, I remember informing the editor at Hal Leonard that I needed to take a few days.
Off the top of my head — honorable mentions, for various reasons, all of which I will try to cover in my next post: songs by a recording session god and a band that’s had 14 members, and Joey Buttafuoco’s theme song.
Guitar World music editor Matt Scharfglass has performed around the country and internationally, playing virtually all types of music with a wide range of artists, including R&B with Ashford & Simpson, old-school swing with the Blue Saracens and gospel with Richard Hartley & Soul Resurrection. Matt appears on the original-cast recording of Evil Dead: The Musical and the Broadway Cares album Home for the Holidays. He has also worked in countless theater pits and plays guitar up in the organ booth to crowds of 18,000 at New York Rangers home games at Madison Square Garden. An accomplished guitar and bass transcriber, Matt has had more than 600 of his transcriptions appear in Guitar World magazine and in books by Warner Brothers, Music Sales and Hal Leonard. He has also authored more than a dozen bass and guitar instructional books, including the "You Can Do It...Play Bass!" and "…Play Guitar!" series. He is the bassist and one of the main songwriters for his rock band, The Border Cops.
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