I have had an innocuous obsession over the last few days over the term "over-produced." A friend, whose taste in music I respect, was not quite as enamored, to say the least, with Bruce Springsteen's new release, "Western Stars," as many, including myself were, citing, "over-production." My immediate thought was, "No it isn't. Not by a long shot." Quite the contrary, "Western Stars" is arguably the cleanest and most realized record in The Boss's catalogue. "Western Stars" was most definitely "produced."
Was "Born To Run" over-produced? How about "Sgt. Pepper?" Or, "Good Vibrations?" What makes something "over-produced" and not just made into a record?
I thought about Bruce's "Dancing In The Dark." Up until the first live acoustic reading of that monster hit, "Dancing In the Dark" meant little to me. It was a fine pop tune. It sounded tailor made for MTV and the then current airwaves. Once I heard the song, stripped of the gloss during a live performance at one of Neil Young's "Bridge Benefits," it became something entirely different; a heartbreak masterpiece, which was all but lost on me amidst the synthesizers and drum machines. So, is "Dancing In The Dark" over-produced? Would it have spent four weeks at #2 on the Billboard charts, and sold one million singles as an acoustic tale of loneliness?
The first time I heard John Wesley Harding's acoustic take on Madonna's "Like A Prayer," I was quite frankly, blown away. Since that time, the ironic acoustic reading of a big and loud rock or pop song, has become commonplace, and quite often boring. It feels like JWH started the whole thing with "Like A Prayer." Hearing the lyrics, sung with an alternate passion, opened my ears to something I did not get with Madonna's hit. It was a good song, as well as a good record! But is Madonna's version "over-produced?" I think not. As a matter of fact, I think it's her best single.
Back to Bruce for a minute.
Many have suggested that both "Human Touch" and "Lucky Town" suffer from bad production. A song in particular is "Real World," a song performed acoustically, possibly for the first time, in 1990, then released in 1992 on the former, as a souped up mess, complete with church bells. Is this a case of over-producing or just bad producing? Is there a difference? I know I rarely listen to "Born In The USA." But I rarely lilsten to anything from the 80's, as most of it sounds more dated than a Rudy Vallee record. But I didn't think that at the time. I went gaga over Tony Thompson's drum sound on both Bowie's "Let's Dance" and the Power Station...at the time. Not so much anymore. Neither badly produced, nor over-produced. Just perfect for the time.
Thinking on this for a bit, doing your best not to hastily toss out examples of songs or artists you may not care for in the first place, can you give me an example of a song that you think is "over-produced" and why? Be prepared, my goal is to disagree. My goal is to defend the lost art of record-making. Your goal is to stump me, to get me to agree that your selection is indeed, "over-produced."