One of the most inspiring project-studio stories ever told is that of Jyoti Mishra, who in 1997 created a global hit record using an Emu Emax II, a Casio CZ1, an Atari ST, and five tracks of a Tascam 688 cassette portastudio. (More technical info here – my favourite detail is that the vocal mic was a Realistic PZM boundary mic!) The song was called ‘Your Woman’ (released under the moniker White Town), and prominently featured a sample from a 1932 Lew Stone & The Monseigneur Band record, a sample that also appears prominently in Dua Lipa’s ‘Love Again’.
Thinking about the copyright implications of all this, though, does get a bit depressing. You see, the original Lew Stone record is actually a cover of the song ‘My Woman’ by Bing Crosby, Max Wartell, and Irving Wallman, but the riff Mishra sampled contains nothing of the musical material of that song whatsoever – it’s a riff that’s part of Lew Stone’s backing arrangement, and doesn’t appear in Bing’s original version (recorded nine months prior) at all. And yet if you look at the credits for the White Town single, the publishing credit reads: Jyoti Mishra, Bing Crosby, Max Wartell, and Irving Wallman. So the actual creator of this famous sample (or his estate) has received no real credit, and probably no money either.
Now the White Town record has since been covered and sampled by at least a dozen artists over the past 20 years, which has presumably sent plenty of publishing royalties in the Mishra’s direction, as you’d hope. But things get weird again with this new Dua Lipa song, the main hook section of which prominently features the Lew Stone sample Mishra used, looped in exactly the same way he did it. But the publishing credits for ‘Love Again’ make even less sense, because Dua Lipa and her three co-writers are joined by Crosby, Wartell, and Wallman – but not by Mishra! It’s insanity. After all, nothing that Bing Crosby and his writers did back in 1932 contributed in any way to the commercial success of this Dua Lipa record, and yet they collectively take almost half the publishing royalties. While Jyoti Mishra’s work in selecting that specific sample and turning it into the widely recognised ear-worm that it is (the recognition-value of which undoubtedly helped Dua Lipa’s sales) is left totally uncredited.
I reckon this year’s MisCreAnt Award must already be in the bag…
Although this is apparently based on the chorus of Olivia Newton-John’s early-80s song ‘Physical’, I can’t really see much similarity. (Did it even need clearing?) Still, I suppose we should be applauding such accreditation, seeing as high-profile artists have often been so stingy in that respect. Whatever its source, however, the harmonic progression is actually quite interesting.
You see, a lot of songs use repeating four-bar circle-of-fifths progressions, but these typically treat the home key chord as the destination towards which the cycle is progressing. The most common implementation of this is probably a simple chord-per-bar I-vi-ii-V pattern – as recently showcased in Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Happier’, for instance. What’s nice in this Doja Cat song, though, is that the cycle’s destination is the IV chord instead, within a repeating chord sequence of ii-V-I-IV. Furthermore, there are many aspects of the harmony that lend it a kind of untethered, woozy quality. For a start, the progression puts the key chord of Ab major on the third bar of each repeating pattern, one of the weaker positions in terms of establishing the key. All the chords (including the tonic) are garnished with sevenths too, and there’s a nice 4-3 suspension on the Eb chord as well.
Another contributor to the general ‘drifting’ atmostphere is the haze of vocal reverb floating around in the background, and yet it doesn’t really recess the vocals as you might expect it to do. As is often the case with reverb effects, listening to the stereo Sides signal is instructive here, and I take several things from hearing that. The first is that the trade-off between reverb level and reverb time (a crucial balance to be struck with any reverb effect) has favoured the reverb time, so you get a lesser level of longer-lasting reverb. Because this results in a reverb signal that resembles the dry signal less closely, it inherently separates the dry and wet signals perceptually, so that the vocal stays forward, and the reverb remains more in the background.
There seems to be something like a 16th-note predelay going on too, I think, or else some of what we’re hearing as reverb is actually a separate feedback delay effect – either way, those would both also be tactics for keeping the vocal upfront. And, finally, it’s clear from the Sides signal that the reverb is not as bright as the direct sound, so that will be positioning it to the rear of the depth perspective as well.