When I got hired to work with Crowded House back in 1986, they and I were virtually unknown in the United States. I had gotten the job after producing an album by the Del Fuegos called Boston, Mass. That album had gotten some attention, and eventually helped land me the gig with Crowded House. Jumping into it, we weren’t quite sure what direction whether the project would be a [Crowded House frontman Neil Finn] solo project, or a full band album. The band and I were really ambitious, and we wanted the music to sound its best. When the album Crowded House first came out, it failed, and I started hearing the regular litany of industry comments like “You didn’t have a lead track,” et cetera. Eventually, the decision was made to release “Don’t Dream It’s Over” as the album’s second single—and it took off.
The original demo of “Don’t Dream It’s Over” was just Neil Finn on electric guitar and voice, and it was absolutely beautiful, with that haunting Maori guitar rhythm you hear on the finished track. I had the idea to put an R&B feel under the rhythm guitar, and it seemed to work. Then, having always loved Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” which was like Bach to me, I had this idea: “What if the song has no organ in it most of the way through, and then you have a bar of six as a dramatic set-up, then an organ solo just comes in?”
So I wrote the solo out, as if it was a little tune in itself. The solo ends with a descending phrase, then continues with it again at the very end of the song. I played the solo entirely on the lower manual of the B-3, with just the first three drawbars out, holding notes here and there. A huge part of this style of organ playing, and the style of guys who influenced me, like Booker T. Jones, is when to change the Leslie speed for impact. The in-between speeds of the Leslie sound really affecting as well.
The funny thing is, the solo didn’t turn out as originally planned. When I finally went to record it after practicing it over and over again, I think I spent 40 minutes trying to get it right when I should’ve been able to do it in one pass. But the great thing about being a producer is, you can take as much time as you want!