Mental Floss

7 Songs That Show Off Flangers & Phasers

David K. Israel

All this month I'll be looking at some of the more popular audio signal processing effects out there, which I'm sure you'll recognize from some of the most successful songs ever recorded. Impress your friends next time one of these babies comes on the radio by saying, "Wait, check out this part and listen to the ____!"

Today, let's fill in that blank with flangers and phasers. Without getting overly technical with this post, I can say that while they're not nearly the same exact thing, both effects produce a semi-similar effect by taking the original signal, let's say a guitar, and splitting it in two. With a phaser, one part of the signal stays the same and the other part gets a phase shift of varying depth. The two signals are mixed back together at the output and the differences between the two create the legendary phaser effect heard in the excerpts below.

A flanger, on the other hand, takes the split signal, slows one part of it down anywhere from a few milliseconds to about 20 milliseconds, and then speeds it back up to meet the original signal. This alternating creates a sweeping effect that some people say sounds like a jet plane passing overhead. (You'll definitely understand that reference when you hear the soundbites below). The word flanger actually comes from the old days when studio engineers used to record the signal to two tape reels/decks and then play them both back simultaneously to a third deck. If the engineer put a little pressure on one of the original reel's flanges, it would slow down a few milliseconds, thus producing the flanger effect. Here are 7 of my favorite recordings using phasers and flangers (of course, there are tons more):

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2. "Head Over Heels" by Tears for Fears - This is one of the truest, cleanest, most exciting flanger effects ever put on tape. Listen to the split signal slow down and the come back and actually pass through the original creating a millisecond-long musical black hole (technically this is called through-zero flanging). This song came out when I was in high school and I used to rewind the tape and listen to this drum fill over and over again dreaming of the day when I'd have enough money to buy a flanger that went "through zero." To me, the sound of that flanger made life worth living:

3. "Listen to the Music" by the Doobie Brothers - Listen for the flanger sweeping in to take us to the bridge:

4. "Just The Way You Are" by Billy Joel "“ That's a phaser on the famous Fender Rhodes intro. Pretty classic stuff:

5. "Barracuda" by Heart - Listen for the cycling flanger on the famous guitar riff:

6. "Life in the Fast Lane" by The Eagles - The bridge is coated in a gorgeous sweeping flanger:

7. "The Spirit of Radio" by Rush, Yes, that classic hollow-pipe sound on the main guitar riff is, as you can probably tell by now, a flanger:

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