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Arranging “Call Me Maybe”

I was recently tasked with arranging Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” (YouTube link) for a variety band. I thought I might share my process.

My first step was to take inventory of the various components of the song. How about instrumentation? Never mind what parts are heard in the recording; what really concerned me was how those parts could be spread among one guitar, one keyboard, one drummer, and a bassist. The variety band has horns — could those be utilized? How about background vocals? What would the roadmap look like? Could I squeeze this arrangement into a single page, using repeats and a coda?

Thankfully, this tune has a rather simple arrangement, well-suited for cover bands. I determined to arrange the guitar and bass almost exactly as heard in the recording. Same for the keyboard, which would have to change from pizzicato strings during verses to arco strings during the chorus. Drums would probably need to be simplified. As for the horns, I figured they could double the famous keyboard riff during the chorus and lay out during verses, but overall they would be treated as optional.

Once it became time to put pencil to paper — or in this case, mouse pointer to virtual paper — things couldn’t have begun more simply. Here’s what I heard the keys doing during the verse:

Listening closely to the recording, I noticed that the D-G diad in the opening two bars gives way to alternating C-G and D-G diads as the vocals enter. This makes sense, because it foreshadows the chord changes in the chorus. I wouldn’t have perceived this if I didn’t have to arrange the song. Details like these are what make me nervous about trying to “fake” any song from memory.

In the guitar, I heard this pattern:

Notice that the E on the final eighth-note pulse of bar 4 rubs against the D in the keyboards. I may have heard the recording incorrectly, but conceptually I didn’t have a problem with it. It doesn’t break any “rules” by implying an Em7, and when a rub is spread across two different-sounding voices, the dissonance is softened.

By the way, songwriters take note: It is a natural tendency to set up an opening verse with a four- or eight-bar vamp. Not here. This arrangement cruises right into verse one after little more than the establishment of a tempo. This being one of the hookiest songs I have ever heard, I am not surprised. The original arranger shows zero tolerance for filler.

Also note the instructions in the guitar part. As a guitarist, I recognized the honky sound of a bridge pickup in the beginning, which works well later as the overdrive kicks in, so I did the courtesy of providing a clue to the performer. Without direction, guitarists have a variety of tones at their disposal, and may rely upon their own favorites. I also wanted to be perfectly clear about how subtle the guitar part is. “Piano” wasn’t enough; I spelled it out in plain English.

Bass was pretty straightforward — in a high register, it doubles guitar, but with glissandi between some notes.

Lacking the time and energy to transcribe every note in the drum part, I looked up drum arrangements online until I found one that didn’t take too many liberties, and pretty much copied it into the part:

There was some clean-up work here and there, but the drum part I worked from was pretty reliable. And no, this is not cheating; this is getting a job done for a working band.

More on this process in part two, later.

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