By | Wednesday, August 01, 2018 Leave a Comment

I am a huge fan of David Bowie's classic album Hunky Dory. I was listening to it yesterday, and noticed for the upteenth time the strange and wonderful ending to the song Andy Warhol. There are these odd guitar rhythms and claps that move back and forth in a pleasing but confusing way. Finally, I decided to go out to the web to try to understand how Bowie (et als) made it sound that way, and why it works. I found nothing. So, I asked the "global brain" on Facebook.  Here's what I learned. Please feel free to add your thoughts!

Andrew Sigal
OK, I am not a musician. Can one of my musician friends explain to me how the guitar and rhythm solo at the end of Bowie's "Andy Warhol" works? I've always found it fascinating, because it sounds like the guitar and (claps? toe taps?) aren't in the same time. And yet somehow, they work together. What is going on here?


I'm no longer much of a musician either, but it sounds to me like the claps are just on the off beats, and the guitar is alternating off and on, but cycling around. The guitar drags a little at 3:10, which makes it sound like they're completely out of whack, but it gets back in time 10 seconds later. My first thought was that the guitar might be playing drag triplets, but I don't think it is, pretty sure it's just off and on.

I take it back. The guitar is indeed playing drag triplets, which are three notes per two beats, starting on the 2nd beat of the 2nd measure.

So the crazy effect you're hearing is partly due to the guitar playing triplets while the claps are on off beats, and the fact that the pattern the guitar is playing only has two notes, so it sort of shifts back and forth from B-E-B to E-B-E in your head.
Karlo The harmonic guitar part is not triplets in the sense of a 3:2 or 3:4 polyrhythm. It's playing dotted quarters (3 1/8th notes long) over the 4/4 time signature.

The claps are alternating stereo channels (in the mix I have), playing on the backbeats (2 & 4). This is in contrast with the part the rhythm guitar plays in the first three minutes of the song, which accents beats 1 & 3.

The beginning of the section starts sloppily, and the tracks drift in and out of sync, which makes me wonder if the headphone mix in the studio was too low.
Cameron Karlo, dotted quarters starting on two was my first thought, but I couldn't make it line up, at least for the first two bars. 3/2 lined up perfect, and then got a little out of whack at 3:10. Maybe it's both? Drag triplets, turning into dotted quarters? I dunno, I was a trumpet player not a drummer.

Andrew Sigal Someone should turn this into a blog post for the world to enjoy

Annette Andrew, I was just thinking this...

Andrew Sigal @Clark - you're a drummer... any thoughts?
Wow. Thx for the excellent explanation Cameron and Andrew for the perceptive question!
Cameron Thanks Kris, however I live in fear that one of andrew's real musician friends might show up shortly and point out my mistakes... I'm approximately 75% confident in that explanation ;-)

Kris All in the cause of sharing good information!

Andrew Sigal
Thank you for the explanation. I think I understand (?) Bowie was definitely a clever and innovative musician who surrounded himself with clever and innovative musicians. I have always felt that Hunky Dory was the pinnacle of his work.

I think another important effect in this strange sound is the fact that they are playing with the stereo separation, with the guitar bouncing back and forth between the L and R.
Cameron Ok, I've made you a little track that might make my explanation clearer, please don't laugh. This starts out with a kick, then plays the claps, with the kick, then the guitar, with the kick, then both, with the kick, and then removes the kick.  SOUNDCLOUD.COM
Cameron Also, I agree with you that something is happening with the L/R, although I listened to a remastered version, and I think it's more subtle than just bouncing back and forth.

Andrew Sigal Wow, thanks. I'm gonna have to listen to the two of the back and forth a bit...

Great song and great album. I'm on the fly but this is my first quick pass. (I did this before reading this thread but think it agrees with Cameron’s analysis.)

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