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  The Making of 'Answer Ballads'

1. Mrs Jones' Song
2. Maggie's Song
3. Daniel's Song
4. Roxanne's Song
5. Pearl's Song
6. Billy-Joe's Song
7. Marie's Song
8. Bobby's Song
9. Lucille's Song
10. Mrs Avery's Song/Sylvia's Song
11. Dino's Song
12. Jolene's Song
13. Final

In spring 2012, I embarked on making an album of 'answer songs': in which hitherto silent characters from other people's songs are given voice. This blog is an account of the songs that I picked, and of how I went about writing and recording my 'answers'.

Running Order, Album Title and Cover.

Running Order

So there we are -thirteen songs, written, recorded and mixed. Pretty much done then, eh ? Not quite.

Having mixed the album, we still have to master it. More of that in a moment - because before we can master it we need to decide on a running order.

Running order is something close to the heart of those who grew up during the era of the vinyl album. The advent of the compact disc and it's attendant horseman, 'Shuffle Play' sounded the death knell, the coming of the MP3 was the final nail. But I still love albums and I still care about running orders (see footnote 1).

I started by picking the first track. I knew from very early on that this would be 'Mrs Jones's Song'. Partly simply because I really like it (and you should always kick off with a strong one) but mainly because of the opening refrain - "here comes my song"- which I feel sets the tone for the conceit of the whole album.

The second track to pick is what comes last. For me, 'Jolene's Song' had to go last, mainly because of the lyric. With it's theme of retiring from the world, it feels like a closing statement - it wouldn't seem right to have another song following it. It needs a little silence after.

Having got the start and end, it was a case of getting from one to the other. I decided to space the three 'male' songs out evenly, always having at least two female songs between them. I also wanted the two 'Sylvia's Mother' songs to go next to each other. Given these constraints, it was then a case of shuffling bits of paper with song titles on them around the table for a few hours. My only real dilemma was over tracks 2 and 3. I wanted to put the Kris Drever song second but it felt too early -in terms of spacing out the male songs - so I moved it to third. This meant a slightly uncomfortable transition from track 1 to track 2- because the first ends with vocal, and the second begins with vocal (2)- but apart from this I was happy with the order.


In the mastering process, you basically adjust and balance the sound and the volume of the various tracks. I did this with Ray Staff at Air Studios, who I have worked with for many years. Ray spotted quite a few little clicks and pops that I hadn't noticed, and that we had to get rid of- Kath Williams and John Smith in particular had a lot of little vocal 'smacking' noises we had to isolate and get rid of. Once all that was done, we had to choose the lengths for the silences between the tracks. I went for quite long gaps on this album, as the listener is adapting to the sound of a new vocalist after every song.

Album Title

My main working title for this album was 'Here Comes My Song' - in fact I used it as the opening line to the first song, for this reason. An alternative title that I had in mind was 'You Have 12 New Messages'. I liked this because I was picturing artwork based around an answering machine. This title ran into two problems. First, several people pointed out that answering machines were old hat, and some would not recognise one if they saw it. Second, I ended up with 13 songs, and, to me, 'You Have 13 New Messages' simply doesn't sound, or look, as good.

I went down to meet Navigator Records with these 2 titles to suggest, and they quite them both. I also suggested that, whichever we chose, the album should have an explanatory subtitle, thus giving us:

"Here Comes My Song: An Album Of Answer Ballads".

Too long, said Glen (the boss). Just call it 'Answer Ballads'! Murmurs of agreement from around the room. I stuck to my guns for a while (I liked 'Here Comes My Song'!). But eventually I realised they were probably right. It does what it says in the tin, I guess.


About six months before the scheduled release date, I decided it was time to think about a cover. I had a meeting with designer Chris Dimmack, in which I explained the concept of the album. I also mentioned my 'answering machine' idea, and asked him to come up with a few options. He went away for a couple of weeks to think about this , during which time I called him to say that the album title had been simplified to 'Answer Ballads'. Here are some of the options Chris came up with for me:

Album artwork - A

Album artwork - B

Album artwork - C

Album artwork - D

Album artwork - E

Album artwork - F

Chris and I both thought A was the strongest idea, while both acknowledging that F had a real 'on the tin' quality that would probably appeal to the record company. In this, we were proved right - Glen and all the guys from Navigator immediately chose F. We decided to go with this decision - cover F was in fact our second favourite, anyway, so no biggie. The people at the record company were the ones who would be doing all the work from now on, so I figure anything that makes it easier for them has to be the right option .

So- album done, mixed and mastered, title and cover sorted, anything else I can do ?

"How about a blog of some kind?" piped up a voice from the corner of the room....

Thanks for listening!


"Answer Ballads" , created & curated by David Rotheray is available on Navigator Records


1 An example: the ‘White Album’ is , I believe, a slightly substandard album rendered brilliant purely by the running order.

2 A problem solvable by placing a longer gap between the songs