Nosing my car into the northbound traffic on the M1 the other day, a familiar drum break came out of the speakers. I knew I was in for a great few minutes in the company of Edwyn Collins and his song “A Girl Like You” (often referred to as “Never Met A Girl Like You Before”).
This song is associated with many fond memories for me, in large part because it was the record that got me really interested in music production.
I’d always enjoyed listening to music, but rarely given any thought to how music is made to sound the way it does in a recording studio. I rather took it for granted that after the hard work of writing a song, it was all downhill from there…a couple of quick takes later and the record was there, all ready for the listening public.
Looking back, I’m even ashamed to say it wasn’t hearing “A Girl Like You” back in the heady days of 1995 when it first came out that sparked my interest, although I enjoyed listening to it on the radio from the first time I heard it.
My interest wasn’t even piqued by the iconic black-and-white music video that accompanied the tune every time it appeared on MTV, back when MTV was the music world’s most important promotional platform.
No, my interest was in “A Girl Like You”, and by extension the record production side of the music business, wasn’t sparked until a couple of years later.
I remember the spark quite clearly. I was on a long car journey up the very scenic west coast of Scotland and an interview with Edwyn Collins, who wrote, performed and produced “A Girl Like You”came on the radio.
My memory is that Edwyn Collins was speaking with BBC Radio 1’s Kid Jensen, but it was a long time ago…
Whoever the conversation might have been with, the interview that sparked my interest in music production was all about how how Edwyn Collins created such a memorable and distinctive sound for “A Girl Like You”. That’s when my eyes…and ears…opened.
Realising this is one of those “you had to be there” stories which I won’t try to replicate in all its glory here, Edwyn Collins went into the most intricate detail of exactly how he’d set the studio up, the various types of microphones and effects pedals he’d attempted, but discarded before recording the final version of “A Girl Like You”, how he’d got a feel to the song that made it sound like it came from another time without making it sound completely retro…and many, many other nuggets.
He even demonstrated the difference between some of the original ideas he had and the ones he finally used on the track “live” in the course of this interview. His knowledge and experience, not to mention his ear for how to fashion particular sounds, drew me in completely.
The interview went on for a good half-hour, perhaps longer, and I was hooked.
It was perhaps the equivalent of watching Leonardo da Vinci fashion a sculpture, one strike of the chisel at a time, or observe Rembrandt painting a masterpiece, brushstroke by brushstroke, right in front of your eyes.
If Edwyn Collins’ interview had gone on all day, I’d probably have kept listening to it, even after I got to my destination.
“A Girl Like You” also has some neat little audio tricks built into it.
If you listen on a car radio’s speakers, for example, even pretty decent ones like mine, you won’t notice this, but listen through even pretty basic headphones and you’ll pick up a barely whispered “to the left”, followed by “to the right” in the relevant ear during the intro. You’ve really got to listen to pick it up, but it’s there.
I love production tricks like that. I’ve got a theory that all record producers like to include something in each of their songs which a casual listener would never notice, as a sort of in-joke on the listening public.
In-jokes apart, this also shows the level of detail true craftsmen go to. This is far beyond the point amateurs think that what they’ve done is good enough and leave things as they are.
The clever thing is, even though people mostly can’t consciously hear this sort of thing in a recording, at some level it contributes towards how you feel about a song. When you point out features like this, many more people can hear it…although even then, some people still can’t hear it and wonder if you’ve gone mad…(probably with some justification in my case).
“A Girl Like You” sets the scene right out the starting blocks…
I’ve never met a girl like you before
Now just like in a song from days of yore
Here you come a-knockin’, knockin’ on my door
And I’ve never met a girl like you before
Beyond producer’s in-jokes and the song’s lyrics, “A Girl Like You” is notable for other reasons too…this track’s blistering guitar solo still makes most “greatest guitar solos of all time” lists over 20 years after its initial release.
And we’re not finished with the in-jokes, the lyrics and the blistering guitar solo…“A Girl Like You” is also one of those rare hit records which make extensive use of the vibraphone. That’s an important part of the song’s unique feel.
And in what I think may be a pop music first, Edwyn Collins even managed to shoe-horn the word “allegorically” into his lyrics…
You’ve made me acknowledge the devil in me
I hope to God I’m talking metaphorically
I hope that I’m talking allegorically
Know that I’m talkin’ about the way I feel
If you ask me, “A Girl Like You” should win some sort of lifetime achievement award just on the basis that Edwyn Collins somehow squeezed the word “allegorically” in there.
“A Girl Like You” has stood the test of time. Although it was released in 1994, charting in the UK in 1995, because its sound wasn’t really “of the 90s” it doesn’t sound dated even today.
It’s got a timeless feel. “A Girl Like You” could have been recorded 50 years ago, or it could have been recorded yesterday.
And that, perhaps, is the magic of Edwyn Collins’ fine record…it’s a timeless song, written about a timeless subject.
Now and again, we’ve all met a girl (or a guy) totally unlike anyone we’ve met before. They take our breath away. In an instant we make them a home in our hearts and they never leave.
When we’re with them, we want to do wild, crazy things…riding motorbikes, free-fall parachuting, bungee jumping, or whatever…because they help us to believe nothing is impossible and all the dreams we’ve ever had are within our grasp, if only we reach out…
When you feel that strength and acceptance coursing through your veins, that’s when you know you’ve never met a girl…or a guy…like this before.
Here’s Edwyn Collins to tell you what that feels like in his exquisitely produced song, “A Girl Like You”…
If you’ve read this far, thank you for your time and attention. I know you could have spent your time doing something else, so I’m very grateful that you’ve spent it in the company of one of my favourite songs.
The video is below, but if you prefer to listen to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/6XOINCZBv8Q7RXgNNiTwIN