Released in September 1968, Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” became one of rock’s first songs to open with an extended passage of guitar distortion. The eerie prologue lasts 20 seconds and includes chugging electronic tones before dissolving into the song’s rhythmic power chords and blues-rock vocal.
The such an iconic rock sound — and an unforgettable part of their brand.
During a recent branding assignment, we had an opportunity to apply this concept of sound branding. When designing the campaign (which included a website, video, and interactive training CD) we kept in mind the characteristics of the logo and included a custom-designed sound effect that incorporated the qualities of the brand.
Lots of companies have used sounds to great effect. Sprint was so clear you could hear a pin drop. You can probably still hear the Nokia ringtone in your head. And who can forget the signature sound of Intel Inside?
Likewise, with its shorter guitar distortion intro, “Magic Carpet Ride’s” thick guitar riff set the tone for hard rock and heavy metal bands that followed in 1969 and ’70. The single reached No. 3 on Billboard’s pop chart.
Guitarist Michael Monarch says, “I cranked my Fender Concert amp full open. Then I took my Fender Esquire and leaned into the amp, to overload it and create midrange-to-bottom feedback. I was being real physical with the instrument, bending notes and hitting the strings hard with the bottom of my fist so the strings would touch the pickup underneath. Normally, they never touch, so when they did, it made a chugging sound, like a space ship landing. I gave the guys in the booth about 30 seconds of that. Then they asked me to do it all again. I did, but it came out different, of course. What you hear on the record’s opening are the two takes I recorded overlapping. The first part is my distortion and bending the guitar strings while playing. The second part is me hitting the strings rapidly against the pickup to get that chugging sound before John’s vocal comes in and the song starts.”
Read more of the story behind the sound at www.wsj.com