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Moves Like Jagger

by Maroon 5
feat. Christina Aguilera

The whistled part in this production is a masterstroke on a number of levels. For a start, it presents the chorus’s key melodic moment right away, despite the song’s lyrics preventing the vocal from delivering it so early on. It also pops up all over the rest of the arrangement to ensure that you’re never more than 15 seconds from a reminder of the chorus, and allows a convenient means of signing off the song with an extra repetition of the final hook — all very savvy from a commercial perspective.

Then there’s the way that the whistling tracks the vocal fairly closely during the choruses, but deviates distinctly from it right at the end of the line, which to my mind actually draws more of your attention back to the vocal/whistle pairing for the important final “like Jagger”. (The arrangement pockets at 0:58 and 1:58 do a similar job.) The little vinyl-style pitch drops at 1:28 and the end of the song are also great, especially because they once again focus attention on the phrase’s critical end portion.

I think the drum parts are very effective too. The clap/snare backbeat has the kind of short, super-dense electronic sustain that (coincidentally) always reminds me of Christina Aguilera’s 'Genie In A Bottle'. The advantage of a timbre like this is that it doesn’t really rely on its attack to cut through the mix, so it’ll continue to speak reliably even if it has to compete with simultaneous kick hits, or if the mix gets pulped by extreme dynamics processing during mastering and/or broadcast. Furthermore, because the sustain isn’t a product of reverb processing, it enables the mix to remain poptastically up-front sounding.

I love some of the drum fills as well, because of the way they manage to sound reasonably fresh despite the powerful magnetic force that cliché exerts over anyone working around a four-to-the-floor beat these days. The kick roll at 1:29 is great, for instance, especially the way the timing and velocity programming manage to hit that sweet spot where the pattern-change doesn’t disturb the underlying groove or make the tempo appear to stumble. I periodically encounter fills like this at mixdown and, believe me, they’re much trickier to pull off smoothly than a lot of people think! The filtered snare fill at 1:37-1:45 is another highlight, setting up the clear expectation of a textbook machine-gun manoeuvre, but then wrong-footing you at 1:44 to clear out the texture for the “goes like this” chorus pick-up. (There was another good recent example of this kind of subverted cliché in Pitbull’s ‘Give Me Everything’, critiqued back in SOS December 2011.)

At first glance, it’s tempting to write off the bass part as no more than another ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ repetitive off-beat, but if you listen closely you’ll notice that the first note of every bar is actually a sixteenth-note later in relation to the kick than the other three. The way this fits in with the more sustained rhythm-guitar playing on each bar’s downbeat really helps give this groove personality, but not at the expense of stopping anyone’s head nodding — again, a finely judged tight-rope act from a programming and mixing perspective.

Finally, this production is also notable for its use of the stereo field. The way the whistle is offset very slightly to one side, for example, delivers a degree of separation between it and the vocal in stereo, but without significantly adjusting the relative balance between these two vital musical elements in the mono balance. The way the image seems to opens out for the first chorus is also very nice, not least because the verses don’t, by any means, give the impression of being narrow by comparison. Although the verse has some width in the panning of the multi-amped/miked guitar part and the vocal has a good dose of widener (probably from a short dual pitch-shifted delay, judging by the stereo Sides component), the chorus dramatically widens the field with its opening cymbal hit, and then sustains this width with wider percussion layers, panned backing harmonies, stereo send effects, and (I suspect) a fizzy, low-level synth pad.

I say ‘suspect’ in relation to the last of these because it’s arguable whether it’s actually present at all, as far as hearing it in its own right is concerned, but I have two reasons for thinking it’s there nonetheless. Firstly, the apparent stereo width of the mix as a whole seems somehow to remain wider and more consistent than I’d expect, given the tracks I can consciously identify, and yet the tone and balance of the identifiable instruments doesn’t seem to suffer too much when switching to mono. What does disappear when you sum the left and right channels, though, is a sense of air and harmonic richness — exactly what a wide, bright synth pad might add. Secondly, when the second chorus arrives there’s a more clearly audible string pad filling exactly this role in the arrangement, so the concept was clearly on the minds of the producers concerned, and it therefore wouldn’t have been a huge leap to arrive at the idea of including something more subtle earlier on.

Another nice little trick in this track: the low-pass filtering of the rhythm-guitar part at 0:15. You get some extra value out of the same part as far as arrangment is concerned, and you also remove away danger of high-frequency masking of the lead vocal, which helps that come through close and clear. So simple, but I’d almost certainly have overlooked it.

Also, if you’re wondering what I’m talking about when I mentioned a “short dual pitch-shifted delay” widener effect above, you can find a detailed description of it in this Q&A response. I use this effect all the time in Mix Rescue, and I find it so useful that it’s one of the very few effects I actually have built into my mixing default template in Reaper. If you want a potted plug-in version of it, try Schwa’s affordable cross-platform CMX.

As a final little aside, the band must be smarting at least a little bit about having forked out for their previous album to be produced by Mutt Lange, one of the most sure-fire hitmakers on the planet, given that their biggest hit so far has ended up being a follow-up produced by someone else…