At 81 Beats Per Minute and 6 minutes and 24 seconds long, “I Want You” embodies the slow, drawn out, hypnotic depression and desperation of the internal pain associated with unrequited love so perfectly that it could be considered the epitome of it. It is perhaps one of the biggest injustices in pop music that it was scrapped as the lead single off of Madonna’s 1995 ballads release, Something To Remember because of trouble between Warner Bros./Maverick label and Motown.
Why the trouble? In case you didn’t know, this is a Marvin Gaye cover and was originally recorded as a tribute that was included on an all star tribute-album Inner City Blues: The Music of Marvin Gaye. It was released on both Motown and WB/Maverick and we all know what happens when something is released on two separate labels. Money becomes an issue and if they aren’t figured out, they get scrapped. It’s a sad and dangerous game to have your song associated in so many different places. If you didn’t think it was enough to have them spread out onto those labels, Massive Attack, the track’s producer obviously owned some rights to the record because they also had the song internationally released on the special edition of their greatest hits album Collected, which is under the Virgin Records label.
Motown is under Universal Records. Warner Bros. is under their own company. Virgin is a subsidiary of EMI. That’s THREE out of the Big 4 record companies going at each others throats and bank accounts. Can you see the financial battles they were probably having play out in your head? I can. But, let’s put aside our rant about the business side of the recording industry for another day and get onto the good stuff, shall we?
To say this track is just another moody arrangement would be an understatement. One of the most interesting things about the mechanics of “I Want You” is that despite the abundance of strings throughout it, the heavy percussion, and overwhelmingly big bass sound, the track isn’t all that complicated from a basic mixing standpoint. None of the strings flow back and forth through the stereo speakers, but instead seem to focus most of their energy in the left side of the channel, allowing the supporting percussive instrumentation and Madonna’s vocals to have a bit more breathing room on the right. Together, with this mixing technique, both speakers create two separate moods. The left speaker providing a more densely layered but hopeful and light lift, and the right channel providing a more sparse and dark playing field. The right channel is not too dark though because it’d completely throw off the balance of the track, leaving it sounding 100% mentally unstable instead of just being temporarily down, so the main string line still has some give to the right speaker and every now and then a supporting string part will pop it’s way into that side of the mix as well.
Regardless of the landscape Massive Attack and producer Nellee Hooper created for us to sink our teeth into, Madonna rides above it and creates a vocal mood that’s both mournful and seductive. Throughout the verses, the lead vocal track finds her singing, and another finds her talking and playing around with the wording and melody of each phrase, making the track more haunting. Eighth-note stereo delay gives her background vocals an extra kick and lush reverb surrounds her the entire time. All in all, there aren’t many vocal tracks through the song, but the production on them makes them sound huge, emotional, and triumphant in some areas where the strings become more overcoming.
On the subject of strings, even when listening to the Orchestral Version of the track, it’s hard to distinguish whether any of the strings are actually programmed MIDI sequences or samples. I’m going to guess that the answer is no, but even when flipping through liner notes on both Massive Attack & Madonna’s albums there are no credited musicians. If any of it is MIDI, it’s damn good and flawlessly programmed and same goes for of it all is (but I highly doubt it. If anyone has any information as to who played on this track, please leave a comment below or tweet me!) As for the rest of the track? It’s all sample based with the exception of maybe the subtle guitar parts and bass. As with any great programmers, they’re damn good, high quality, great sounding samples that enhance the track instead of giving it a synthetic, cheap production sound.
Even with the extremely powerful bass track, it’s not bothering any frequencies. The engineers ensured that there are distinct EQ differences between the bass and kick (which are the most problematic low frequency instruments to mix, as they share most of the same frequencies), giving the bass a more low roar and nurturing the kick to have a more mid-range punch. There is one complaint that on smaller speakers, the bass seems to overpower a lot of the other things that are going on in the track.
In regards to a first impression on the track and to defend the almost too massive power that the low end carries throughout “I Want You,” I asked my brother, completely impromptu, who has no engineering training or interest in pop music in general, to lend a hand on the blog and inquired what he thought of the song I was playing. Normally, his response is that what I’m listening to is horrible and he’ll return to his room with the death metal blaring. His response to the Madonna song though? It was that “it needs to be played in a car with subwoofers.” Translation: it has a lot of bass. (One day I’ll review a metal album for you, little brother..I promise!)
You’d think that with Madge singing as low as she does in some parts that issues would arrive on her tracks with the low frequency focus and even have some issues with the higher frequencies of the strings, but nothing is wrong anywhere, not even with the mixing of the effects on her voice!
We’re dealing with a group of highly trained professionals in the industry and it’s great that nothing short of sonic perfection and emotional landscape was achieved on “I Want You”. Marvin Gaye would be proud.
Don’t even get me started on how emotionally tearing the Earle Sebastian directed music video is. It’s extremely subtle and repetitive. But don’t you ever tell me (loveeee isn’t true, it’s just something that we doooeeoooo) you haven’t waited by the phone for hours for someone at least once in your lifetime. The realism surrounding this song in every aspect of the sense is exquisite. Bravo!
What do you think about the track? Like Madonna? Like Massive Attack? Let us know in the comments section and be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all of the up to date information on 2020k and other endeavors!