Terrific string arrangements within pop songs
September 1, 2011 10:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for pop/rock songs that make fantastic use of backing strings.
posted by Iridic to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Sleep Comes Down - The Psychedelic Furs
Clear Days - Yes

More folk than rock/pop, but the strings in River Man by Nick Drake are amazing.
posted by saladin at 10:15 AM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mitty Collier did a bunch of songs with great string/horn backing like this.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:15 AM on September 1, 2011

make fantastic use

Which 3 songs are linked to here?
posted by John Cohen at 10:19 AM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Going by your second example's use of orchestral strings, Bjork's Isobel was an old favorite of some time ago. John Barry's You Only Live Twice has a fantastic hook (actually a lot of John Barry's works are top notch). Artists like Alison Goldfrapp make good use of strings (albeit likely synthesized).

It's hard to tell exactly what genre of rock or use of strings you're looking for however from your examples. Is it anything from the old classics to 90's era stuff like Under the Bridge? Are you looking for more eclectic works (possibly synthesised) like Imogen's Canvas?

Maybe describe what you like out of the three songs you liked to help narrow it down? Otherwise you'll likely get a huge range of responses I'm thinking...
posted by samsara at 10:33 AM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Many of Scott Walker's finest songs use incredible, often discordant arrangements - here's Sleepwalker's Woman from Climate of Hunter, in a similar vein It's Raining Today from Scott 3 and Boy Child from Scott 4, The Electrician by the Walker Brothers and Farmer in the City from Tilt. He started out like Tom Jones and Englebert Humpedink and ended up on the avant garde, so I suppose he comes in as pop/rock on average.

(To show how far out he went, here's Scope J that he wrote for Ute Lemper.)
posted by Grangousier at 10:33 AM on September 1, 2011

Bittersweet Symphony
posted by 4ster at 10:53 AM on September 1, 2011

Which 3 songs are linked to here?

English Beat: "Save It For Later", Jo Ann Garrett - A Thousand Miles Away, The Jayhawks - I'd Run Away.
posted by cashman at 11:00 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tonight Tonight - Smashing Pumpkins
Vagabonds - New Model Army
One More - Turisas

A pretty broad range, sorry if any are too far off genre
posted by Bodd at 11:03 AM on September 1, 2011

Damn. I came to recommend Bittersweet Symphony, since it's basically built around the strings. As a backup, I'll recommend Regina Spektor's Fidelity.
posted by Gilbert at 11:08 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding samsara's request that you explain a little more about what you specifically like about those three songs besides the strings. Are you interested in any songs with great string arrangements, or are you looking for more specific genres/timeframes?

In any case, Tonight We Fly by The Divine Comedy and Vienna by Ultravox are my two favorites that come immediately to mind.
posted by scody at 11:11 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nina Nastasia's entire catalog pretty much has amazing string arrangements, especially 'Run to Ruin' and her latest one has basically a chamber orchestra backing up every song. It's called 'Outlaster.'

This Familiar Way
posted by TheRedArmy at 11:26 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Morrissey - Dear God, Please Help Me
posted by kryptondog at 11:28 AM on September 1, 2011

Tori Amos - "Winter," "Jackie's Strength," "Yes, Anastasia"

Bush - "Glycerine"

Regina Spektor - "Us"

Guns 'n' Roses - "November Rain"

Marvin Gaye - "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" (and so many other Motown/soul songs)

The Arcade Fire - "No Cars Go," "Crown of Love," and most of their songs

The Beatles - "I Am the Walrus," etc.

ELO - "Livin' Thing," etc.
posted by John Cohen at 11:31 AM on September 1, 2011

"A Few Hours After This" by the Cure.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:33 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Shelleyan Orphan Cavalry of Cloud (actually, lots of that album has good strings.

Siouxsie and the Banshees Killing Jar

Martin McCarrick fan girl here
posted by crush-onastick at 11:34 AM on September 1, 2011

Siouxsie and the Banshees - "Burn-Up" has incredible strings, especially near the end.

Kanye West's "Runaway" is amazing.

If you don't mind one stringed instrument rather than a string section, Mike Doughty has been doing some good stuff over his last couple albums with cellist Andrew Livingston.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:55 AM on September 1, 2011

"1000 Umbrellas" by XTC
posted by Benjy at 12:06 PM on September 1, 2011

Elanor Rigby - The Beatles (probably the seminal strings in a pop song example).
posted by doctor_negative at 12:11 PM on September 1, 2011

This will not win you (or me) any hipster cred, but check out "Scandinavian Skies" by Billy Joel. I also love the strings in "Supreme" by Robbie Williams, which brilliantly quote "I Will Survive." Also (and I'm seriously biased as the arranger is my longtime musical partner) Chris Mills' wonderful "The Wall To Wall Sessions" record features amazing strings throughout.
posted by mintcake! at 1:53 PM on September 1, 2011

Colin Blunstone - Say You Don't Mind.
posted by essexjan at 1:56 PM on September 1, 2011

Response by poster: Maybe describe what you like out of the three songs you liked to help narrow it down? Otherwise you'll likely get a huge range of responses I'm thinking...

I wouldn't mind a huge range of responses, actually. I've been enjoying the breadth of suggestions above precisely because having more examples for comparison helps me to pinpoint what I love about the use of strings in the songs I mentioned.

But I will go a little into each of the qualities those arrangements exemplify:

Subtlety. The strings are never going to be the first topic that comes up when you talk about "Save It For Later." (Possible first things: the double entendres in the lyrics, the odd tuning, the Beat's impending break-up as reflected in the near absence of ska elements, the freakish accuracy with which the video's "retro" costumes anticipate female hipster fashion circa 2011.) But the strings are there, and they're crucial to the incredibly warm sound. I'd contend that the song just isn't complete without them; I think that's true for the other example songs as well.

Passion. Here's the original rendition of "A Thousand Miles Away." (1957, the Heartbeats.) It's very much a song of it's time, so much so that George Lucas deployed it as a nostalgia trigger in American Graffiti.

But Garrett's version, from a decade or so later, still sounds startlingly fresh, even though it retains the restrained rock beat and back-up vocals. The difference is in Garrett's voice - and in those Chess Records strings, which somehow manage to match her passion in that exultant, nearly manic crescendo. Now, I'm afraid I don't have the music acumen to articulate why this particular arrangement makes my blood race. But I can offer this counter-example of a big orchestral production trying for a facsimile of emotional profundity but failing completely.

Contrast. What the hell are those churning strings doing in the intro and outro to a twangy Jayhawks song? Maybe suggesting something of the turmoil in the lyrics belied by Gary Louris' sunny, don't give-a-shit delivery; providing a context and complement for the sweet, looping violins in the chorus; letting you know, perhaps, that an unusual sort of song has just come on, and you'd better turn up the volume.
posted by Iridic at 2:57 PM on September 1, 2011

Entire albums (and catalogs) for your consideration:

Lambchop's Aw Cmon/No You Cmon (2 separate albums)
Cat Power's The Greatest

Both—er, all of which were produced in Nashville, with Nashville strings.

My box set 'Complete Motown Singles' often lists strings and no-strings versions of the singles. It makes for very interesting listening and may help you pin down exactly what you enjoy about the sound.
posted by carsonb at 6:34 PM on September 1, 2011

I love these types of songs too!
Eels - Fresh Feeling
Ani DiFranco - Both Hands (off Living in Clip album)
Smashing Pumpkins - Disarm
Elton John - Your Song
Mike - Happy Ending
Jens Leckman - Your Arms Around Me
REM - Nightswimming
A couple more folky artists have several songs - Hem (Leave Me Here, The Beautiful Sea, Carry Me Home) and Greg Laswell (Marquee, Embrace Me)
Also highly recommend Zoe Keating - she just layers her cello over and over, it's amazing.
posted by wannabecounselor at 7:03 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sufjan Stevens - Chicago
posted by wannabecounselor at 7:22 PM on September 1, 2011

Early Randy Newman, particularly his album Sail Away.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:03 PM on September 1, 2011

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