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  1. #1
    JarredMcAdams's Avatar Ubisoft SF Game Designer
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    BackTrack Spotlight: "Space Oddity" by David Bowie



    Each week we showcase an existing song from our extensive Rocksmith song library on the weekly Twitch stream, in addition to the current week's offerings. We’ll announce the BackTrack here each Wednesday and offer some thoughts about the featured song.

    This week's BackTrack Spotlight comes from lead notetracker Brian McCune.

    David Bowie -- “Space Oddity”
    Released as Rocksmith DLC on November 27, 2012
    Guitar Notetracked by Brian McCune, Bass by Jason Kocol
    All Arrangements in E Standard tuning


    "Space Oddity," with its dark story line and musical intensity, is a familiar and captivating staple of Classic Rock radio, but it isn't one that meets the ear as a demonstration of instrumental virtuosity. And yet Rocksmith bassists know it as one of the most challenging bass arrangements in the game. While it doesn’t display the sheer velocity and density of Black Betty’s “Ram Jam,” a few things work in tandem to trip up even experienced bass players. Let’s take a look at what makes it so tricky, and why someone would go to all that trouble for a part that stays primarily in the background.

    First off, it doesn’t repeat riffs very often. Herbie Flowers’ approach to this track is more jazz than rock ‘n’ roll—he creates melodic contours that dance around the roots of the chords, sometimes even delaying the arrival of the tonic for a few beats. The bass is the harmonic foundation, providing a low-frequency bed on which the guitar and vocals are supported. Most rock tunes have the bass reinforcing the harmonic content root notes played in time with the rhythms of the guitars, but an octave lower. By breaking free from this, Flowers helps Bowie achieve a free-floating texture that is uncommon in rock music.

    This melodic approach also lends itself to fuller exploration of the fretboard. No other bass arrangement in the game goes up and down the neck with such frequency. We have low open E’s, high slidey-bits up to the 21st fret on the D string, and everything in between. Take a look at this excerpt from near the end of the track. After a few yellow 5’s and 7’s, Herbie launches into the stratosphere and slip-slides his way around notes of the scale.


    He also uses rhythm to ramp up the intensity of the song. This is especially evident in bridge sections. After playing the root note F (yellow 8) and the octave above it (orange 10), every note until the downbeat of the next measure is played on the inner-beats, mostly commonly referred to as upbeats. This avoidance of downbeats—which are stronger than upbeats—is textbook syncopation. The fact that there are five in a row (O9-B12-B10-B9-Y10) temporarily dispels any sense of gravity (see what I did there?) until we finally land on terra firma again in measure 39.


    All these elements work together to create a musical metaphor for the subject matter of “Space Oddity.” It’s an appropriately name for what the bass is doing in the song. The fact that they happen to make the part difficult is secondary. The virtuosity of the performance serves the song and the musical journey it takes us on.
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  2. #2
    rapplebee's Avatar Member
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    I am sooo looking forward to seeing this on the stream tomorrow. My favorite bass performance. Wish I was better at it but I have a great time every time I give it a go.
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  3. #3
    Taking my protein pill and putting my helmet on. Should be a great backtrack
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  4. #4
    stray75's Avatar Senior Member
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    Makes me want to buy it again
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  5. #5
    I find these backtracks really helpful! I never really noticed how intricate the bass line is, I was so focused on the guitar which seemed too simple, and so I didn't buy this. Now I probably will.

    I'd like to see a spotlight on the use of the chromatic scale in something by Anthrax or Slayer. I know they use it to great effect, and I know when it works, but I have no idea how or when to apply.
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  6. #6
    SeattleSauve's Avatar Senior Member
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    Yes, definitely one of the more challenging bass tracks. Was a devil tier on Rock Band Pro Bass for a good reason
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  7. #7
    elemenohpenc's Avatar Senior Member
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    One of the best bass tracks in the DLC library. Nice write up! I never understood how someone could write something so unconventional.

    Took me 39 full plays before I got my FC on the original RS (about 2 weeks before RS2014 came out).

    Took 17 full plays on RS2014!

    One of my most proud FC's on both games. Def the most fun I ever had on a weekly challenge. Had fun really detailing my experience working with this one from my 86% sight read to my 100% in less a week.
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  8. #8
    BazzTard61's Avatar Banned
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    thank you for reviewing another of my requests,and especially for commenting on Herbies awesome bass lines.

    It is one of my fave basslines of all time. My trio is learning this song, but man, it is so hard to memorise for the very reasons you mention, ie he doesn't get to the tonic straight away and root notes mean little to him. So I can't just follow the chords the guitars are playing,I have to learn every little intricacy of his great work,coz anything less won't do him justice.

    many thanks
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  9. #9
    rapplebee's Avatar Member
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    Herbie recalling the gig.

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  10. #10
    I wish there was a book in the form of these "Backtrack spotlights" - same concept, maybe slightly expanded upon. A list of popular songs dissected from various angles. In fact, I'm amazed something like that doesn't exist already - it would be a great read for every musician and would-be musician out there...
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