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Hear now: Isolated tracks from Nirvana, Whitney, Marvin, MJ, more

Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic

Last week for reasons only the Internet can explain, the isolated tracks from the Beatles' "Abbey Road" album blew up online, prompting bouts of awe and wonder at the group's precision and mastery of harmonies. The piece featured the band's voices naked, with all instrumentation removed, and revealed yet more reasons why the Beatles' music endures.

Such enthusiasm can be contagious, and I followed my own suggestion in last week's post highlighting Beatles tracks by diving into the vast digital archives to find more stunners. It was a fascinating experience, one that revealed crannies within recordings I'd heard many times before.

To wit: Roky Erickson's wail during the 13th Floor Elevators tripped-out psych-rock jam "You're Gonna Miss Me" is even more assured when he's singing in empty space. Keith Moon's vicious drumming on "Who Are You" will blow your mind. Whitney Houston's natural tone is undeniable.

Below are a few excellent clips from YouTube's virtual warehouse of isolated tracks and outtakes.

The 13th Floor Elevators burst onto the Texas rock scene in the mid-1960s with a sound that featured, of all things, an electric jug. The weird noise, which sounded like a proto-sequencer, became one of the band's calling cards. The other, though, was singer Roky Erickson's pitch-perfect yowl. Possessing one of the most distinctive voices in garage rock, Erickson on "You're Gonna Miss Me" is thrilling. 


Keith Moon remains one of rock's greatest drummers, as can be attested by anyone who's ever seen clips of him play or stumbled across some of his isolated drum parts. Why, exactly, Moon's work hasn't been more sampled by hip-hop producers is something of a mystery. He's funky and hard, and sure can land a fill. 


Wondering why Michael Jackson's music endures? Just listen to him isolated (with his brothers) on this recording of the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There." 


The late Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis' greatest vocal turn is on "Love Will Tear Us Apart," his heartbreaking ode to doomed love. Coupled with fellow Joy Division members, the voice of Curtis is devastating enough. Stripped naked, though, you can hear the literal isolation. 


Kurt Cobain's voice is all growl, but within that scratch are so many weird textures that hearing it stripped is incredibly instructive. It's a yowl that can move into harmony at will. He might not have possessed a flawless singing voice, but its power lies in Cobain's delivery. 

Hear now: Beatles vocals-only tracks highlight harmonies, passion 


Whitney Houston isolated, with only backing singers, is pure beauty. 


Metallica is best known for its massive guitars, but the secret weapon in the group's classic early incarnation was bassist Cliff Burton. The late instrumentalist's thick, beefy bass tone is metal personified. Scream along to Burton's bass on "Master of Puppets" below. 


Hip-hop acapellas are a whole other wormhole on YouTube. Hours can be lost devouring unaccompanied raps and marveling at technique and style. Pretty much any rapper of note has his or her biggest tracks available without backing, and much fun can be had by mashing up beats and acapellas. Here's the Notorious B.I.G. offering "Machine Gun Funk." If you listen closely during silent moments, you can hear Biggie Smalls' breathing. (Note, because of the many instances of cussing, we can't embed. But click here to listen.) 


Destiny's Child could have nailed the charts as an acapella group, if this recording of "Bills, Bills, Bills" is any indication. (Unfortunately, "Jumpin' Jumpin'" acapella was nowhere to be found. This works, though.) 


Two artists, one classic song: Marvin Gaye working out "What's Goin' On" with only the help of bassist James Jamerson. A masterpiece of minimalism.


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Hear now: Beatles vocals-only tracks highlight harmonies, passion

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