Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Best Count-ins in Rock

What are the best count-in intros in rock?

Well it's probably worth explaining exactly what a count-in actually is first. All bands, especially in rehearsals, start off a song by counting to 4. The purpose is to focus the band and to given then a cue when to start playing together. It is also used to give an indication of tempo - how fast to start playing when everybody starts. It is usually the drummer who counts the band in by counting to 4 (for want of a better drummer joke, if they can't do that, they tap their sticks together four times). Having said that, in the Ramones it is the bass player Dee Dee who does the counting in, and oftentimes his count-ins are not of the same tempo of the actual song!!

The count-in is fast becoming an anomaly on records these days as most bands don't actually play live in the studio anymore. Each musician lays down each part of the song one at a time, layer by layer. In this environment, there is no need for a count-in to unify the band. In years gone by, live recording in the studio was common, if only to get the backing tracks recorded, with the other parts layered over the top. The count in would have be used, but in most cases edited out before reaching the mastering stage.

One of the earliest of these count-ins opened the first Beatles album. It's a wonderfully exuberant count-in that, I believe, was left in accidentally. In 1963 it was considered unprofessional to have that sort of thing on a record. However, it added a sense of realism to the album - the human touch. It also indicates that this would be a fun album, and it kicks it off beautifully.

Every now and then you hear then on various tracks, but it's not altogether very common. (For the record we are not counting songs that have sequential numbers as lyrics or count-ins in the middle of songs). Here are some of the best:

"Good Lovin'" - The Young Rascals

On the subject of exuberant count-ins, they don't get much more joyful than this. And in the stereo version, the counting jumps around the room (or the headphone space, depending on how you are listening) courtesy of the placement of the vocals in the stereo spread.

"Taxman" - The Beatles

The opening of the the debut Beatles album may have been joyous, three years later, after touring the world and achieving things most of us only ever dream of, it sounds deflated. Opening their 1966 album "Revolver" with a slamming indictment of the British taxation model, the count-in sounds sinister, smarmy and seedy.

"Incendiary Device" - Johnny Moped

In 1978, with tensions running high between the punk kids and their parents, the count-in on this track sums up the tension beautifully: "1-2-Cut your hair!"

"Used To Love Her" - Guns 'n Roses

This count-in is rather odd. Guitarist Izzy Stradlin' does away with formal counting and just uses rhythmic language (or rather, mild profanity, as is their wont) : "ok...bitchin' fussin' pissin'..."

"Hot Pants" - James Brown

James Brown only gets as far as three in real numbers, but he indicates that things are about to get raunchy and sweaty. "One, Two, ah One Two Three Uh!"

"Living In The Real World" - Blondie

This count-in is indicative of the neurotic paranoia of the lyric, with urgent grunts and a full throated scream of "1!! 2!! 1-2-3-4!!!" from Debbie Harry to kick off the proceedings.

Granted, this is not a complete list. I'm sure there are more. Which ones have we missed? Let us know in the comments below.


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