Classic Track: Rick Springfield, "Jessie's Girl"

Jun 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Barbara Schultz


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Rick Springfield

Also on the session was drummer Mike Baird. “Because of Rick’s shooting schedule, we had to work quickly; that’s why I brought in Mike,” Olsen says. “His time was like a metronome. If you never want the time to drift, and you don’t want to play to a click like everyone does now, you hire a good drummer. I hired a great drummer.”

Minto says rhythm tracks were laid down first: “Every piece was done in the ‘A’ room,” he says. “Drums were typically on a riser, three-quarters of the way toward the back wall, away from the glass, with the drummer looking into the control room. And there were large gobos behind the drums to control leakage. Those gobos at Sound City were really huge, because the ceiling was very high—18 or 20 feet.

Guitars and vocals were then recorded and layered on: “For Neil’s guitars, we typically used AKG 451s with the 10dB pad and an SM57,” Minto recalls. “Neil had custom 100-watt Marshalls and Countrymans, and we recorded his guitars in stereo. He had a rack of digital effects; one amp would be just a clean sound from his guitar, and the other had the effects. We typically used his sound the way he recorded it because it was extraordinary. We recorded his guitars to two tracks, and punch-ins were never a problem because his timing was exquisite.”

After Baird’s count-off, Giraldo sets the tempo of the first bars from that first, unmistakable riff that blew Grohl away—those few moments just before Springfield sings, “Jessie is a friend…”

“Rick’s vocal was to an AKG 414 that I still own,” Olsen says. “And of course, that went into a Neve mic pre, in the console. From there, it was split and I used 75 percent of that and 25 percent of my vocal expander made by Dolby Labs. Then it went to one channel of a 33609 [Neve compressor], and then to the Studer tape machine, which would have been either an A80 16-track or an early A800 24-track. But I know we mixed it down to an A80 2-track half-inch machine at 30 ips. That was my go-to [vocal chain], and that’s what I’ve used on every single artist before and since.”

Minto says, “I think that vocal chain—bringing the return from the Dolby back on the second fader and busing the two of those through a compressor to tape—was a trick that Keith learned from George Martin and Ray Dolby. It added a very nice emphasis to the vocal, especially if the vocalist was soft and might have had the danger of getting lost in the track. It created a nice texture.

“One of the main things on the sound overall, though, was that fabulous-sounding console,” Minto continues. “It had all those fabulous Neve mic pre’s in there that people have been cannibalizing consoles for, for years. To have a console full of those things is magic. It had that wonderful, clear, warm Neve sound.”

Both Olsen and Minto joke that the secret ingredient on “Jessie’s Girl” was actually the “Hit Train”: “Sound City had a railroad track 100 yards away,” Olsen says. “When I first cut the Fleetwood Mac album, you hear some rumbling every once in a while. I went on to do Grateful Dead there, and the train went by. And on Foreigner—that sold, what, 8 or 10 million copies?—I was doing the vocals on ‘Hot Blooded’ and the train went by. So, I started saying, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s on all my records.’ I started calling it the Hit Train.”

It probably wasn’t the Hit Train that drove “Jessie’s Girl” to Number One, and earned Rick Springfield a Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, and made the song an enduring favorite for three decades. So what was it? “It was the story,” Olsen says. “Making pop records, or rock records, is always about nailing the story to the point where the listeners claim it. They hear ‘You’re a real tough cookie with a long history of breaking every heart like the one in me,’ and they think, ‘Oh God, that happened to me!’

“The things that make a hit are always: It’s about the song first, the melody and the lyrics,” he continues. “Second, the performance and how that song is put together. Rick had that part down. He has stage presence to end all stage presence. And thirdly, and definitely last on the list, is the sound. Song, performance, sound—in that order.”

Springfield’s Platinum Working Class Dog album has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide, mostly on the strength of “Jessie’s Girl.” After 30-plus years and dozens of other Top 40 hits, it’s still the song that Springfield is always asked to perform, and he doesn’t seem to mind.

Engineer Minto left full-time engineering several years ago to work on the technology side; he serves as vice president of Miller and Kreisel Sound USA.

Meanwhile, Olsen, whose resume reads like a who’s who of classic rock, continues to engineer and produce in his personal studio/production company, Pogoloco Corporation. Just before the interview for this story, he had finished tracking another Australian act, the young band the Monks of Mellonwah.

“They have this song called ‘Escaping Alcatraz’ that’s full of symbolism about how we all have our own Alcatraz, our own prison that we’re trying to get out of,” he concludes. “I love that they’re writing these unique stories. So, you see? There it is again. The story is most important.”

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