5 Hits Featuring Paul Buckmaster Orchestral Arrangements from Late in His Career

It’s hard to imagine what the careers of David Bowie and Elton John would have looked like if not for the contributions of the late Paul Buckmaster. “Space Oddity” was Bowie’s first chart single in both the U.S. and UK, and Buckmaster’s string arrangement—along with Rick Wakeman’s mellotron and Tony Visconti’s woodwinds—added to the song’s eerie drama. A few short months later, Buckmaster would work on the first of his many well-known string arrangements for John. He created arrangements for four tracks from John’s self-titled 1970 album, including one for the Double Platinum hit single “Your Song.” “Space Oddity” and “Your Song” were breakthrough hits for two of the ‘70s biggest artists, and Buckmaster played a critical role in both.

Videos by American Songwriter

He would go on to create memorable string arrangements for The Rolling Stones, Harry Nilsson, and Carly Simon in the early and mid-’70s. Hits like “Without You,” “Levon,” and “You’re So Vain” made Buckmaster a steady presence on Top-40 radio, though many listeners may not have realized he was behind each of those song’s string arrangements. He would continue to arrange and conduct strings for pop songs and film scores over the rest of the 20th century, but they were appearing less frequently on the radio. That would change in the 2000s, as Buckmaster’s arrangements started to show up on more popular songs. These five are among the most widely listened-to songs in this century to feature a Buckmaster arrangement.

“Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)” by Train

Train’s 2001 smash made an instant impression on Columbia Records president Don Ienner. According to Train frontman Pat Monahan, once Ienner heard the demo, he immediately thought of getting Buckmaster to provide strings. Monahan told Billboard, “[Ienner] said, ‘We need to get Paul Buckmaster to do the string arrangement’—because Almost Famous was a very popular movie at the time, and it was bringing all these old feelings back about these great string arrangements from Elton [John] and all that. So we hired Paul Buckmaster.”

Former Allman Brothers Band pianist Chuck Leavell was also recruited to play on the track, adding to its nostalgic ‘70s quality. With “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me),” Buckmaster achieved something he hadn’t done in the ‘70s by winning a Grammy Award. His work on the single earned him the award for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) in 2002.

“She’s My Kind of Rain” by Tim McGraw

Buckmaster worked with Tim McGraw on his 2002 album Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors, but not on the cover of John’s “Tiny Dancer” that closes out the record. For that track, David Campbell provided one of the many string arrangements he had created for McGraw, even though Buckmaster arranged the strings for the original. Buckmaster was brought in to arrange the strings for another single from the album, “She’s My Kind of Rain.”

On the same week in May 2003 that “She’s My Kind of Rain” peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 (at No. 27) and the Hot Country Songs chart (at No. 2), McGraw’s wife and frequent collaborator Faith Hill debuted on the Hot Country Songs chart with “You’re Still Here.” You guessed it—Hill’s song also featured a Buckmaster string arrangement.

“Tonight I Wanna Cry” by Keith Urban

McGraw wasn’t the only country star in the 2000s to cover an early ‘70s John song and feature a Buckmaster string arrangement on the same album. Keith Urban’s 2004 album Be Here includes a version of “Country Comfort,” which John recorded for Tumbleweed Connection (1971), as well as two original songs with Buckmaster arrangements. One of those, “Tonight I Wanna Cry,” was released as a single and became a hit on the Hot 100 (No. 36) and Hot Country Songs chart (No. 2). Buckmaster also arranged and conducted the strings for the upbeat track “She’s Gotta Be.”

“Back to December” and “Haunted” by Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift worked with Buckmaster for two songs from her 2010 album Speak Now, marking the first time she had used orchestral arrangements. More listeners are familiar with the arrangement on “Back to December,” which was released as the album’s second single, but Buckmaster’s strings are also featured on “Haunted.” The arrangements create very different moods on the two tracks. They add to the sadness of the remorseful “Back to December,” but for the angsty “Haunted,” the strings create tension.

In discussing “Haunted” for a Rolling Stone interview, Swift noted the orchestral touches were critical to creating the song’s drama. She said, “I wanted the music and the orchestration to reflect the intensity of the emotion the song is about, so we recorded strings with Paul Buckmaster at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles.” Swift also noted that Buckmaster’s arrangement “captured the intense, chaotic feeling of confusion I was looking for.”

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo courtesy Facebook

Leave a Reply

"DIO Dreamers Never Die" Premiere - 2022 SXSW Conference and Festivals

Sebastian Bach Points Out Fan, Rants About Skid Row at Recent Concert

Bruce Springsteen, Billie Joe Armstrong, Lucinda Williams, and More Featured on Jesse Malin Tribute Album ‘Silver Patron Saints’