A few years ago, the gang at Reverb put together a list called It’s All Relative: 5 Great Out-of-Tune Recordings. That story featured instruments that aren’t tuned to concert pitch - A=440Hz - and/or not simply tuned down a half-step, in the style of Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Below, however, we’re offering up a selection of songs featuring instruments that aren’t quite in tune with each other. Or, to explain it another way, your band has 16 strings (two six-string electric or acoustic guitars and a four-string bass), but at least one of those strings is in its own world and isn’t getting along nicely with the other 15.
Remember, we’re not knocking these songs - we love ’em. In fact, the out-of-tune guitars and basses add a touch of charm to the recordings, some of which are bona fide classics. Enjoy!
P.S.: This list idea was inspired by the flat-sounding bass on Bob Marley’s Stir It Up, but Guitar World’s senior music editor, Jimmy Brown - whose opinion I respect more than you’ll ever know - assures me that the flatness of the low A note is “just within the acceptable range.” OK, I’ll - begrudgingly - take his word for it, but I hereby consider it an “honorable mention”!
1. The Kinks - Nothin’ in the World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl
This moody tune from 1965 - which also appears on the soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s Rushmore - is fine until the bass enters the scene, right around 0:30. But if you really want to hear some “wonky” notes, head to 1:37 and keep listening. It’s almost as if the bass gets further away from “acceptable” as the song goes on.
The flatness isn’t really noticeable during the main, single-note riff, but you hear it on the chords. Equally noteworthy is the unsteady, “elastic” percussion hits, which waver from the “two and four” backbeat, most noticeably at 0:57, and at 1:12, where drummer Mick Avory momentarily pauses, then “turns the time around” by hitting on beats one and three.
2. The Rolling Stones - It’s The Singer Not The Song
Another one from 1965. It’s almost as if everyone except Charlie Watts and Mick Jagger is old-school out of tune (so, despite the song’s title, it’s not the singer!). You really hear it during the acoustic guitar solo, which starts at 1:08. That said, this is one of my favorite early Stones tracks.
3. David Bowie - Suffragette City
Simply put, the bass is out. The flatness is most noticeable on the ringing A5 power chords - but you can hear it clearly from :05 onwards.
4. Bob Dylan - Queen Jane Approximately
Someone must’ve gotten their guitar (and a few other instruments) “approximately” in tune the day this classic Highway 61 Revisited track was recorded. This one also happens to be from 1965. Maybe musicians were too busy doing, um, “other things” that year?
5. David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust
Yes, it’s Bowie and his crew again, specifically the electric rhythm guitar in the right channel of the stereo mix. It’s most noticeable during the intro riff.
6. Jimi Hendrix - Who Knows (from Band of Gypsys)
This one comes to you courtesy of Jimmy Brown: “Granted, it’s a recording of a live performance, so it’s excusable, but it’s worth mentioning that at least one of Jimi’s strings (definitely the D) becomes noticeably flat from all his impassioned string-bending and whammy-bar antics in his first solo.
“You only really notice it when he reprises the song’s main single-note guitar riff at 3:23. Interestingly, you can hear how he quickly realizes it and ‘plays around’ the out-of-tune string by avoiding chords and opting to play mostly bent notes after that.”