Only Shallow

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"Only Shallow"
Only Shallow.jpg
Single by My Bloody Valentine
from the album Loveless
ReleasedMarch 1992 (1992-03)
Recorded1989 (1989)–1991 (1991)
LabelCreation (UK)
Sire (US)
Virgin (FR)
Songwriter(s)Kevin Shields, Bilinda Butcher
Producer(s)Kevin Shields, Colm Ó Cíosóig
My Bloody Valentine singles chronology
"When You Sleep"
"Only Shallow"

"Only Shallow" is a song by the alternative rock band My Bloody Valentine. It is the opening track and second single from the band's second studio album, Loveless (1991), released on Creation Records. Written by Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher, "Only Shallow" features Shields' distinctive guitar sound—a technique known as "glide guitar"—characterized by heavy use of a tremolo bar while strumming.

Origin and recording[edit]

"Only Shallow" was recorded during the recording sessions for Loveless, which took place over the course of three years in nineteen recording studios. Originally, producer Alan Moulder was hired for the sessions in 1989[2] and was the sole engineer frontman Kevin Shields trusted enough to perform tasks such as micing the amplifier.[3] Shields has since stated that all of the engineers "with the exception of Alan Moulder and later Anjali Dutt—were all just the people who came with the studio [...] Everything we wanted to do was wrong, according to them."[4] During the spring of 1990, Anjali Dutt was hired to replace Moulder and assisted in the recording of vocals and several guitar tracks.[5] During this period, My Bloody Valentine recorded in various studios, often spending just one day at a studio before deciding that it was unsuitable. In May 1990, they began recording at Protocol in Holloway, London, which became their primary recording location.[6] In July 1991, Creation agreed to relocate the production to Eastcoate studio and following the completion of the vocal tracks, "Only Shallow" was mixed by Kevin Shields and drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig with engineer Dick Meany at the Church in Crouch End during the autumn of 1991.[7]

The vocal tracks for "Only Shallow" were recorded in Britannia Row and Protocol studios between May and June 1991. This was the first time vocalist Bilinda Butcher was involved in the recording of Loveless. Shields and Butcher hung curtains on the window between the studio control room and the vocal booth, and only communicated with the engineers when the duo would acknowledge a good take by opening the curtain and waving. According to engineer Guy Fixsen, "we weren't allowed to listen while either of them were doing a vocal. You'd have to watch the meters on the tape machine to see if anyone was singing. If it stopped, you knew you had to stop the tape and take it back to the top."[8]

Shields' guitar sound was recorded using a unique set-up. Speaking of the song's guitar sound to Guitar World in March 1992, he said: "that's just two amps facing each other, with tremolo. And the tremolo on each amp is set to a different rate. There's a mic between the two amps. I did a couple of overdubs of that, then I reversed it and played it backwards into a sampler. I put them on top of each other so they kind of merged in."[9]


"Only Shallow" is written in Gm a modal tuning[citation needed], with the main riff constructed from four barre chords (F5-G5-B5-C5). Kevin Shields uses a technique known as "glide guitar" throughout the song, characterized by heavy use of a tremolo bar while strumming, to create its distinctive sound.[9] The main riff also uses distortion and equalization, sourced from Shields' Yamaha SPX 90 processing unit.[9] The riff has been described as "wash of guitar effects and a hard strummed ringing bass line."[10]

The song opens with "an immediately identifiable quick instrumental four count by Colm Ó Cíosóig on the snare."[10] "Only Shallow" was one of the two songs that Ó Cíosóig performed live on Loveless, the other being "Touched." Ó Cíosóig was suffering from physical and personal problems during the album's recording, and samples of various drum patterns that he was able to perform in his condition were recorded on other songs.[11] The song has extensive use of a sampler during the intro and chorus, which according to Shields is mostly feedback: "we learnt from guitar feedback, with lots of distortion, that you can make any instrument, any one that you can imagine".[12]

Release and reception[edit]

"Only Shallow" was featured as the opening track to Loveless, released on 4 November 1991 on Creation Records. To accompany the album's release in the United States, Sire Records—which handled Creation's distribution in North America—released "Only Shallow" as a promotional single in December 1991.[13] The single featured a radio edit of the song and the album version. Three months after its release, the song peaked at number 27 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks,[14] the only My Bloody Valentine song to chart in the United States to date. In March 1992, a retail version of the single was released in France and distributed free in the March 1992 issue of Les Inrockuptibles magazine.[15] The single featured the album version of "Only Shallow," and two B-sides—a pre-Loveless song titled "Sugar" and an Isn't Anything outtake titled "Instrumental".

Upon its release, "Only Shallow" received positive critical acclaim. Rolling Stone editor Ira Robbins said that the song, and others like "When You Sleep," "Come in Alone" and "Soon," "send the listener falling weightlessly through space, a fantastic journey of sudden perspective shifts and jagged audio asteroids."[16] Allmusic reviewer Stewart Mason has since called the song "a breathtaking start to a near-perfect album" and described it as a "disorienting haze of massively overdubbed and processed electric guitars."[17]

Music video[edit]

The music video for "Only Shallow" was directed by frequent collaborator Angus Cameron.[18] Cameron had previously directed the music video for My Bloody Valentine's previous single "Soon", and "Swallow" from the band's Tremolo EP, and would later direct the video for "To Here Knows When."[19] The video features footage of the band performing the song interlaced with close-ups of Bilinda Butcher singing. The video also features rapid changes in the camera direction.

Stylus Magazine described the video as "the only video which does not look like an outtake from cover shots for Isn't Anything and also the only one featuring "real" performance footage. To get a visual sense of what makes this song musically stunning, watch how Belinda [sic] Butcher's singing face montages to wildly cavorting guitar and bass frets and is interspersed with the subdued playing of the band."[10]

Cover versions[edit]

American instrumental band Japancakes covered "Only Shallow" on Loveless (2007), a tribute album covering the original Loveless in its entirety and replaced Butcher's vocals with steel guitar and distortion with a clean sound.[20] Canadian drone metal band Nadja covered "Only Shallow" on the band's covers album When I See the Sun Always Shines on TV (2009),[21] slowed the song down and used digital distortion.[22] The song was covered by Japanese band Tokyo Shoegazer for the tribute album Yellow Loveless released in 2013 and by Aydo Abay and his Band KEN in 2005 on the album I Am Thief.

Track listings[edit]

All tracks are written by Kevin Shields except where noted.

US promo CD (Sire, 5191)
1."Only Shallow" (edit)Bilinda Butcher, Shields3:46
2."Only Shallow"Butcher, Shields4:17
French promo CD (Virgin SA, 3239)
1."Only Shallow"Butcher, Shields4:20
2."Sugar" 4:00
3."Instrumental" 4:37

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1992) Peak
US Alternative Airplay (Billboard)[23] 27


  1. ^ Kurland, Jordan. "The Mix: 100 Essential Noise Pop Songs". NPR.
  2. ^ McGonigal 2007, p. 45.
  3. ^ McGonigal 2007, p. 46.
  4. ^ McGonigal 2007, p. 43–44.
  5. ^ McGonigal 2007, p. 48.
  6. ^ McGonigal 2007, p. 59.
  7. ^ McGonigal 2007, p. 62.
  8. ^ Cavanagh 2000, p. 359.
  9. ^ a b c DiPerna, Alan (1992). "Bloody Guy". Guitar World (March 1992): 26–152.
  10. ^ a b c Light, G.E. (21 August 2003). "My Bloody Valentine: Only Shallow – Seconds". Stylus Magazine. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  11. ^ McGonigal 2007, p. 72.
  12. ^ Gabriel, Clive (1991). "My Bloody Valentine feature". Lime Lizard (December 1991).
  13. ^ "My Bloody Valentine : Releases". Retrieved 24 December 2012.
  14. ^ "Loveless – My Bloody Valentine: Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 24 December 2012.
  15. ^ "Free single". Les Inrockuptibles (March 1992).
  16. ^ Robbins, Ira (5 March 1992). "My Bloody Valentine: Loveless: Music Reviews". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 10 December 2007. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  17. ^ Mason, Stewart. "Only Shallow – My Bloody Valentine". AllMusic. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  18. ^ Kevin Shields, Bilinda Butcher, Debbie Googe, Colm Ó Cíosóig (1992). The Story of Creation (VHS). Warner Reprise Video.
  19. ^ "Staff Lists: 100 Awesome Music Videos". Pitchfork. 20 June 2006. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
  20. ^ Dorr, Nate (10 October 2007). "Japancakes: Giving Machines / Loveless". PopMatters. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  21. ^ "When I See the Sun Always Shines on TV – Nadja". AllMusic. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  22. ^ Lee, Cosmo (16 March 2009). "Nadja: "Only Shallow" (My Bloody Valentine cover)". Pitchfork. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  23. ^ "My Bloody Valentine Chart History (Alternative Airplay)". Billboard. Retrieved 7 August 2017.