By Your Side (The Black Crowes Album) - Writing and Production

Writing and Production

Pre-production for By Your Side began in December 1997 with songs that later underwent substantial revision or were dropped altogether. Early versions of "HorseHead" and "It Must Be Over" were recorded at this point, and a reworked riff from "Every Little Bit" and some lyrics from "Tickle Tickle" were later incorporated into "Heavy". Some of the songs ultimately dropped, such as "Baby" and "Bled to Death", were later rewritten by Rich for his debut solo album, Paper (2004). More songs were introduced in January 1998, including "Red Wine Stains", which eventually became "Go Faster", and an early version of "Virtue and Vice". Some unused sections from this batch were borrowed for Paper, as well, including the main riffs of what became "Tomorrow Is Here" and "Thrown It All Away".

Producer Kevin Shirley was brought in on the advice of Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. As Rich explained, "We really wanted to work with someone who can come in and say, 'That's not good.' ... If Kevin says something I disagree with, he'll be the first one to say, 'Hey, it's your song,' but it's healthy for me and Chris to have him come in and be as excited about our songs as we are and say, 'Okay, that's cool, but what if we tried this?'" At his first meeting with the band, Shirley described the songs played for him as having "the same old jammy, shuffle feel of the last two records. I stopped them then and I said to them ... 'You've got to feel like you're teenagers again. You need a song like that.'" Shirley's prompting led the band to write "Kickin' My Heart Around" on the spot, before he had signed on to produce. Rich agreed that Shirley shifted the focus to making "a rock record" that was "focused and concise".

The band hired Shirley and agreed to his recording conditions, which meant recording in New York City at Avatar Studios, taking weekends off and recording from 1:00–8:00 pm. Chris said of the rigid schedule, "We loved it.... We had lives other than just being in the studio 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Got a different vantage point on the whole thing." Shirley's laid-back style also won praise from the band. "Kevin is the first guy that I've worked with that just went with it—especially my singing. A lot of this album is just my scratch vocals. It's very loose, and Kevin let it go.... He'd say, if we didn't get it in two or three takes, 'We'll come back tomorrow'", said Chris. Of the album's lyrical bent, Chris said, "...there is a lot of love on it, and I've never written love songs. I do think having a muse in my life like the woman I'm with now helped.... I think there's also a lot of humor on this album, which is something we haven't touched on before, except maybe on Shake Your Money Maker, which was a lighter time and a lighter mood." There was also a conscious effort to "simplify the language", which was inspired by Chris's listening to music by Otis Redding, George Jones and Muddy Waters. "I realized how direct and honest those records were – and I wanted that here", said Chris.

For the first time on a Black Crowes album, Rich was the only guitarist involved in the recording. He said recording that way was not a challenge because he recorded most of the guitar parts on Three Snakes and One Charm, as well. Rich also noted that having only one guitarist gives the band "a different dynamic" because it affords Pipien and keyboardist Eddie Harsch "a lot of space". Chris praised his brother's performance, saying, "It sounds like there's two guitarists, two distinct personalities."

Fifteen songs were recorded in the second quarter of 1998 during the main recording session with Kevin Shirley. Some were updated versions of songs from pre-production; a few were totally new; others combined newly written music with parts from older, shelved songs. The main riff of a Three Snakes and One Charm leftover called "Pastoral", for example, was used for the B-side "You Don't Have to Go", while its chorus riff was borrowed for "Then She Said My Name". Four of the songs were holdovers from the Band sessions: "Only a Fool" and "If It Ever Stops Raining" were included on the album (the latter with new chorus lyrics as "By Your Side"), while "Peace Anyway" and "Smile" were released as B-sides. One cover song, Bob Dylan's "When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky", was recorded during the session and later released as a B-side.

While touring in support of Sho' Nuff, Chris and Rich finished writing "Diamond Ring" and "Go Tell the Congregation". The two songs were recorded after the tour during a planned session for putting finishing touches on By Your Side, though the decision delayed the album's release from November 17 to January 12. Rich said, "It's cool that Columbia Records is backing us on an artistic level and they're being open to all the hassles that come with moving an album into the new year. I know we're driving them insane with these last-minute changes, but we know it's all for the right reasons." After finishing the album, Chris noted that it "has the same sort of energy" as Shake Your Money Maker, "...but there is much more to it. There are a lot of subtleties in these songs. These are rock 'n' roll songs with subversive pop hooks."

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