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Most Iconic Songs of All Time


Hazel Wyatt

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1. Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana

 

The song that launched 1,000 grunge bands and changed the course of popular music found its conceptual spark in a grocery store in Olympia, Washington, in August 1990.

While pacing the aisles, Kurt Cobain's musician girlfriend Tobi Vail and her Bikini Kill bandmate Kathleen Hanna came upon a can of deodorant named Teen Spirit.

"We were both joking around because the name looked so funny," Hanna told Double J in 2016. "I mean, who names a deodorant Teen Spirit? What does teen spirit smell like? Like a locker room? Like pot mixed with sweat? Like the smell when you throw up in your hair at a party?"

That night, after a few too many drinks, Hanna was gleefully trashing Cobain's apartment when she found a Sharpie marker and wrote the magic words on the wall:

Kurt smells like Teen Spirit

Cobain later noted that he thought the phrase referred to their earlier discussion about teen revolution and was suggesting, however ironically, that he was an inspirational figure.

"I took that as a compliment," he said in Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana. "I thought that was a reaction to the conversation we were having but it really meant that I smelled like the deodorant. I didn't know that the deodorant spray existed until months after the single came out."

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2. Imagine - John Lennon

 

Through these lyrics, John Lennon was asking us to imagine a place where things that divide people did not exist. The song covers the violence issue we have in this world. We are surrounded by hate, cruelty, murder, war and racism. The world that he sings about tells us how we should want the world to be. In the song there is world peace and everyone is living together as one; sharing the world. It was written to show us that there is another way out there to live our lives; that we don’t need to hate and kill but to learn to live in peace and harmony with each other. It’s so pleasant to imagine that everyone is sharing the world, instead of fighting for the imaginary boundaries. These are all fantasies that can never come true and he is dreamer, he knows that there are many other people like him who dream of peace, love and equality -“You, you may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.” He hopes that someday everyone will have the same dream and so it won’t be a dream anymore, it will become reality and then we won’t be separated by our countries or beliefs and we’ll live together as one. – “I hope someday you will join us, and the world will live as one.”

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3. One - U2

 

The band wrote this song in Berlin after toiling there for months trying to record Achtung Baby. The Berlin Wall had just fallen, so the band was hoping to find inspiration from the struggle and change that was coming to the region. Instead, they found themselves at odds with each other and unable to do much productive work.

This song came suddenly - the bones of it written in about 30 minutes by most accounts, and it rejuvenated the band creatively. When they left Berlin, they had little to show for it except for this song, but they were able to complete the album back home in Ireland with this song as the centerpiece. Says The Edge: "It was a pivotal song in the recording of the album, the first breakthrough in what was an extremely difficult set of sessions." (From Q Magazine, September 2005.)

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4. Billie Jean - Michael Jackson

 

This song is about a girl who claimed Jackson was the father of her child. Jackson based it on a woman who used to stalk him, writing him letters about a son she thought was his. Jackson rarely spoke about this woman, but he had a very hard time dealing with this unwanted attention and became more reclusive as a result. The song was his way of expressing his feelings without addressing her directly.

While Jackson didn't give many details about the real Billie Jean, his producer Quincy Jones said that Jackson found the woman one day lounging by his pool with a bathing suit and sunglasses on. According to Jones, she accused Jackson of being the father of one of her twins, which Jones thought was pretty funny.

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5. Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen

 

Freddie Mercury wrote the lyrics, and there has been a lot of speculation as to their meaning. Many of the words appear in the Qu'ran. "Bismillah" is one of these and it literally means "In the name of Allah." The word "Scaramouch" means "A stock character that appears as a boastful coward." "Beelzebub" is one of the many names given to The Devil.

Mercury's parents were deeply involved in Zoroastrianism, and these Arabic words do have a meaning in that religion. His family grew up in Zanzibar, but was forced out by government upheaval in 1964 and they moved to England. Some of the lyrics could be about leaving his homeland behind. Guitarist Brian May seemed to suggest this when he said in an interview about the song: "Freddie was a very complex person: flippant and funny on the surface, but he concealed insecurities and problems in squaring up his life with his childhood. He never explained the lyrics, but I think he put a lot of himself into that song."

Another explanation is not to do with Mercury's childhood, but his sexuality - it was around this time that he was starting to come to terms with his bisexuality, and his relationship with Mary Austin was falling apart.

Whatever the meaning is, we may never know - Mercury himself remained tight-lipped, and the band agreed not to reveal anything about the meaning. Mercury himself stated, "It's one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them." He also claimed that the lyrics were nothing more than "Random rhyming nonsense" when asked about it by his friend Kenny Everett, who was a London DJ.

The band were always keen to let listeners interpret their music in a personal way to them, rather than impose their own meaning on songs, and May stated that the band agreed to keep the personal meaning behind the song private out of respect for Mercury.

Mercury may have written "Galileo" into the lyrics for the benefit of Brian May, who is an astronomy buff and in 2007 earned a PhD in astrophysics. Galileo is a famous astronomer known for being the first to use a refracting telescope.

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6. Hey Jude - The Beatles

 

Paul McCartney wrote this as "Hey Jules," a song meant to comfort John Lennon's 5-year-old son Julian as his parents were getting a divorce. The change to "Jude" was inspired by the character "Jud" in the musical Oklahoma! (McCartney loves show tunes)

In 1987 Julian ran into Paul in New York City when they were staying at the same hotel and he finally heard Paul tell him the story of the song firsthand. He admitted to Paul that growing up, he'd always felt closer to him than to his own father. In Steve Turner's book The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song, Julian said: "Paul told me he'd been thinking about my circumstances, about what I was going through and what I'd have to go through. Paul and I used to hang out quite a bit - more than Dad and I did... There seem to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing at that age than me and Dad. I've never really wanted to know the truth of how Dad was and how he was with me. There was some very negative stuff - like when he said that I'd come out of a whisky bottle on a Saturday night. That's tough to deal with. You think, where's the love in that? It surprises me whenever I hear the song. It's strange to think someone has written a song about you. It still touches me."

This was the Beatles longest single, running 7:11, and at the time was the longest song ever released as a single. It was the first long song to get a lot of airplay, as radio stations still preferred short ones so they could play more of them. When this became a hit, stations learned that listeners would stick around if they liked the song, which paved the way for long songs like "American Pie" and "Layla." Disc jockeys were the real winners here, as they could finally take a reasonable bathroom break.

The Beatles inner circle was shifting when Paul McCartney wrote this song. John Lennon had recently taken up with Yoko and cast off his first wife, Cynthia; McCartney had broken off his engagement with his longtime girlfriend Jane Asher. He was the only Beatle to reach out to Cynthia and Julian at this time.

The drive to the Lennon home in Surrey was one of reflection for McCartney, who thought about Julian and how difficult life could be as a child of divorce. He wrote the line, "Don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better" thinking about how he could encourage the boy.

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7. Like A Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan

 

An iconic Bob Dylan song, "Like A Rolling Stone" is the story of a debutante who becomes a loner when she falls out of high society. It's a crushing blow, but there is an upside: when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose. Another advantage to being on your own: when you're invisible, you have no secrets to reveal.

The title is not a reference to The Rolling Stones. It is taken from the proverb "a rolling stone gathers no moss." Dylan got the idea from the 1949 Hank Williams song "Lost Highway," which contains the line, "I'm a rolling stone, all alone and lost."

Thanks to The Rolling Stones, many associate the phrase with a life of glamor, always on the move, but Williams' song is about a hobo paying the price for his life of sin. Dylan also used the phrase to indicate loneliness and despair: his rolling stone is "without a home, like a complete unknown."

"Like A Rolling Stone" is Dylan's most popular song and his first big hit, although having a hit song was low on his list of priorities.

It was the only single from his sixth album, Highway 61 Revisited, released in 1965 when he was buzzworthy - especially in the New York City music scene - but hardly a sensation. The song got significant airplay and many connected with it, sending them on an enlightening journey through his back catalog. Dylan became one of the most respected and analyzed songwriters of his time, with "Like A Rolling Stone" often the gateway.

Al Kooper, who was primarily a guitarist and went on to be a very successful music producer, played the famous Hammond organ riff on this song. If you listen very closely at the beginning, you'll notice the organ is 1/8th note behind everyone else. Kooper wasn't an expert on the organ, but Dylan loved what he played and made sure it was turned up in the mix.

When Songfacts asked Kooper what stands out as his finest musical accomplishment, he said: "By the amount of emails I receive and the press that I get it is undoubtedly the organ part on 'Like A Rolling Stone.' I kinda like the way Martin Scorsese edited my telling of that story in the documentary No Direction Home. For me, no one moment or event sticks out. I think reading my resumé every 10 years or so, is my finest moment - certainly my most incredulous. I cannot believe I did all the stuff I did in one lifetime. One is forced to believe in luck and God."

The song runs 6:13, which was far longer than the typical pop song. Some radio stations wouldn't play songs that ran much more than three minutes, so it was a big breakthrough when "Like a Rolling Stone" got significant airplay. It was also rare for a song packed with so many lyrics to do well commercially.

Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman, who revolutionized the music manager profession and was known as a shrewd defender of his artists, was the one who told Columbia Records that they couldn't shorten the song to make it more radio friendly.

It took a few more years for another song this long to break through as a hit: "Hey Jude" by The Beatles in 1968.

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8. I Can't Get No Satisfaction - Rolling Stones

 

On May 6, 1965, The Rolling Stones played to about 3,000 people at Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater, Florida while on their first US tour. According to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, about 200 young fans got in an altercation with a line of police officers at the show, and The Stones made it through just four songs as chaos ensued. That night, Keith Richards woke up in his hotel room with the guitar riff and lyric "Can't get no satisfaction" in his head. He recorded it on a portable tape deck, went back to sleep, and brought it to the studio that week. The tape contained his guitar riff followed by the sounds of him snoring.

Richards was staying at the Fort Harrison Hotel (known at the time as the Jack Tar Harrison Hotel) when he rolled out of bed with the idea for this song. The hotel still exists. In 1975, it was bought by the Church of Scientology and frequently hosts religious retreats.

The guitar riff is similar to Martha & the Vandellas "Dancing in the Street." Richards thought that is where he got the idea, and was worried that it was too similar.

This was released in the United States on June 6, 1965, just a month after Keith Richards woke up with the guitar riff in his head. In the UK, it wasn't issued until August 20, since The Stones did not want to release it in England until they were there to support it. While they were touring in America, they became very popular in England, so they kept recording singles in the States to keep their momentum until they could return for a tour.

Mick Jagger (1968): "It sounded like a folk song when we first started working on it and Keith didn't like it much, he didn't want it to be a single, he didn't think it would do very well. I think Keith thought it was a bit basic. I don't think he really listened to it properly. He was too close to it and just felt it was a silly kind of riff." >>

Richards ran his guitar through a Gibson Fuzz Box to create the distortion effect. He had no intention of using the sound on the record, but Gibson had just sent him the device, and he thought the Fuzz Box would create sustained notes to help sketch out the horn section. The band thought it sounded great and wanted to use the sound because it would be very unusual for a rock record. Richards thought it sounded gimmicky and did not like the result, but the rest of the band convinced him to ditch the horn section and use the distorted guitar sound.

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9. God Save The Queen - Sex Pistols

 

Few songs are as easily identifiable as the Sex Pistols’ punk anthem ‘God Save The Queen’ if you can’t name the track title, album and humble beginnings of the song from Steve Jones’ first ripping chords then the chances are by the time Johnny Rotten arrives with his razor-sharp vocal you’re left in no doubt.

Working as part of the punk legends’ iconography, Rotten, AKA John Lydon, once said of the archetypal punk tune: “These are fun songs. Done for a laugh. God Save The Queen? It’s kind of high camp, in a way,” said Sex Pistols singer in 2002. “You certainly don’t think it’s going to be taken as a declaration of civil war.”

 

By the end of 1977, the year of its release and Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee, the Sex Pistols had seen their way through a seemingly endless succession of battles. Not only across television, the newspapers and radio but also in the spittle-dripping concerts, most of which were left entirely gobless. The reason for much of this turmoil was the band’s controversial single ‘God Save The Queen’.

Originally called ‘No Future’ and driven by Glen Matlock’s bass, the band member was kicked out of the group prior to its release and replaced by Sid Vicious. The band’s second single, and a landmark moment on their only album Nevermind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols, would fuel an onslaught on the band that wouldn’t subside until their break up in 1978.

The track is an atomic blast of pent-up angst. It saw Rotten and his band explode in a series of provocative lyrics and a snarling performance that spoke highly of an ongoing disillusionment and its radiation still lingers to this day.

Despite the year being 1977 and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, the band have always denied that they wrote the song — a track clearly aimed at the establishment, even likening the Queen to a “fascist regime” only a few decades on from World War II — to deliberately coincide with the event. Paul Cook saying that “it wasn’t written specifically for the Queen’s Jubilee. We weren’t aware of it at the time. It wasn’t a contrived effort to go out and shock everyone.”

In fairness, the expectation that the band, and perhaps more pertinently their shrewd manager Malcolm McLaren, would conduct such a stunt isn’t out of the realms of possibility. After all, this was a band who only a few months earlier had sent the British press into meltdown following a four-letter rant on the infamous Bill Grundy show. But it would appear the sentiment of the track wasn’t only about goading the elders, it was about galvanising the disadvantaged.

Rotten once said of the lyrics: “You don’t write ‘God Save the Queen’ because you hate the English race. You write a song like that because you love them, and you’re fed up with them being mistreated.” Despite the grandiose sentiment much of what the band was doing was fuelled by pure unbridled enthusiasm, especially on the part of the young singer.

Rotten told Rolling Stone in 2017: “I’d written this down as one solid piece. We did quite a bit with [producer] Chris Spedding before doing the album, and he taught me aspects of song structure and how to not ignore the music and just to stop ranting. Music was new to me. Even though I had bought records ever since I can remember, it’s quite different to be in the studio trying to keep in time with the tune and fit the words in.”

 

Rotten embellished further on the lyrics and once again, despite the obvious sentiment, the song was not a loaded gun at the Queen’s temple: “To me, the lyrics themselves were a fun thing. It was expressing my point of view on the Monarchy in general and on anybody that begs your obligation with no thought. That’s unacceptable to me. You have to earn the right to call on my friendship and my loyalty. And you have to have value-proven points in order for me to support you. That’s how it is.”

With the song released on May 27th 1977, the buzz around the band had already ensured that sales were more than likely. But Malcolm McLaren was still keen to underline the fever pitch atmosphere that he knew would lead to money in the bank. As well as quite possibly one of the most controversial singles covers of all time — featuring a James Reid designed image of the Queen with the ransom note font across her face — he planned a very special excursion.

On 7th June, officially the Silver Jubilee holiday, McLaren planned a boat trip down the Thames intended to pass by the pomp and pageantry that was going down in Westminster. Yet, after a scuffle involving soon-to-be Public Image Ltd. member Jah Wobble and a cameraman, the police were called and several members of the band’s party were arrested when they docked.

It was enough to throw some petrol on the already smouldering release and send sales rocketing. The single peaked at No. 2 on the British chart being pipped to the top spot by Rod Stewart’s ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’. This, however, is an ongoing point of contention.

In the middle of the single’s surge to the peak of the pile, the BBC banned the song, as did the Independent Broadcasting Authority, which dictated what was played on the radio. But it went further still. People suggest that in order to prevent it from reaching the top spot for one-week compilers “decreed that shops which sold their own records could not have those records represented in the chart”, and thus sales from the band’s label Virgin at their Megastores were written off.

While it may have stopped the band reaching the milestone it didn’t stop its infamy growing both the Sex Pistols and punk in stature. It firmly put punk, quite possibly the greatest youth subculture of British history, in the mainstream, despite its protestations.

Whether it was “high camp” or a sincere track about the working class, it’s undoubted that the Sex Pistols snotty anthem for the disillusioned will remian a glimmering jewel in the punk crowd forever. We mean it maaaan.

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10. Sweet Child O'Mine - Guns N' Roses

 

The lyrics came from a poem Axl Rose was working on. He wrote the song about his girlfriend, Erin Everly, the daughter of Don Everly of the Everly Brothers. After dating for four years, they got married at a quickie wedding in Las Vegas on April 28, 1990, but just nine months later, the marriage was annulled, with Everly claiming abuse.

Appetite For Destruction was Guns N' Roses' first album, released in July 1987. It took a long time to catch on, and three cracks at a hit single before it did.

"It's So Easy" was the first single, followed by "Welcome To The Jungle." Both flopped, but when "Sweet Child O' Mine" was released as the third single in June 1988, it made a steady climb to the top, bringing the album with it. The song hit #1 in September; the album reached the top spot in August. In the wake of the "Sweet Child" success, "Welcome To The Jungle" was re-released and this time became a hit.

Slash came up with the riff when he was playing around on his guitar. He thought it was silly and wanted nothing to do with it, but Axl loved it and had him keep playing it. Izzy Stradlin added some chords, and the song came together. According to Duff McKagan's 2012 autobiography, Slash always considered it the worst Guns N' Roses song.

Slash told Rolling Stone magazine: "It's a combination of influences. From Jeff Beck, Cream and Zeppelin to stuff you'd be surprised at: the solos in Manfred Mann's version of 'Blinded By The Light' and Gerry Rafferty's 'Baker Street.'" >>

Axl listened to a bunch of Lynyrd Skynyrd songs before recording his vocal. He liked their down-home, genuine sound and wanted to duplicate it on this track.

Axl Rose had a rough childhood, but in this song he recalls one pocket of light, remembering childhood memories "where everything was as fresh as the bright blue sky."

He told the Los Angeles Times: "The 'blue sky' line actually was one of my first childhood memories - looking at the blue sky and wishing I could disappear in it because it was so beautiful."

The video was directed by Nigel Dick, who did the first five Guns N' Roses videos. Unlike their later epics for "November Rain" and "Don't Cry," the Sweet Child O' Mine video is just grainy, black-and-white footage of the band performing the song. It was good enough to win them the MTV Video Music Award for Best Heavy Metal Video.

A third verse Axl wrote was edited out because the record company thought it made the song too long.

The song hit #1 in America on September 10, 1988, and stayed there for two weeks. While it was climbing to the top spot, Guns N' Roses was touring as the opening act for Aerosmith. By the end of the tour on September 15, G N' R had eclipsed their headliners in popularity and were chosen for the cover of Rolling Stone for their November 17 issue.

The tour went very well thanks to a ground rule Aerosmith established: no drugs in their presence. The now-rehabbed Aerosmith could see Guns N' Roses heading down the same path of addiction, but made no effort to preach to them about the dangers, as they knew the Gunners would have to make their own mistakes. Aerosmith did, however, give T-shirts to the band listing the rehab centers they had been through instead of tour dates, which they felt was their statement.

The song revealed a sensitive side that Rose hadn't shown before and has done so sporadically since: "A lot of rock bands are too wimpy to have any sentiment or any emotion in any of their stuff unless they are in pain," said Rose at the time. "'Sweet Child O' Mine' is the first positive love song I've ever written, but I never had anyone to write anything about before."

In the video, a few moments before Slash's solo takes off, Axl can be seen taking off his jacket. Axl had so many bracelets on his arms, he had trouble getting his jacket off, which made them do a number of retakes. Axl stated in a 2006 radio interview with Eddie Trunk, "The video they wanted to do for the song was supposed to be of an Asian woman carrying a baby into the United States. At the end of the video, the baby is cut open and there is heroin inside because that's what the song is about." >>

This is the most-covered song that Slash has ever written. He told UK's Metro newspaper: "There are some really good instrumental versions for the piano or violin, but I've been horrified by some muzak versions. I've been sitting in a doctor's office thinking, 'That sounds familiar,' and then realizing it's someone's interpretation of what I've written. That can be a creepy feeling."

Slash broke out the wah-wah pedal for his guitar solo, which landed at #3 on Guitar World's 2015 list of greatest wah solos of all time.

This won Best Single, Heavy Metal/Hard Rock at the 1989 American Music Awards. The group performed "Patience" at the show with Don Henley sitting in on drums for an ailing Steven Alder.

This was remixed and re-released in the UK in May 1989, where it went to #6. When first released there in August 1988, it made #24.

Sheryl Crow covered this in 1999 for the Adam Sandler movie Big Daddy, scoring a #30 hit in the UK and earning her the Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 2000. Her version appears near the middle of the movie right after they take the kid away; the Guns N' Roses original is played at the end with the credits. >>

The guitar solo is ranked #37 in Guitar World magazine's 2013 list of the 100 greatest guitar solos of all time (Slash's "November Rain" solo ranks #6). >>

In an interview with Uncut magazine February 2008 Slash was asked where the weirdest place that he'd heard one of his songs was. He replied: "I've heard 'Paradise City' and 'Patience' in some odd places, but the weirdest thing is hearing Muzak versions of 'Sweet Child O' Mine' in elevators and shopping malls. I've even heard an arrangement of it for harp. Recently I was in a hotel and the lounge pianist was playing it. I get a mixture of emotions when that happens. Part of it is 'hey wow, that's our tune!,' part of it's embarrassment at even noticing it, part of it's bewilderment of somebody else playing your music, someone who knows nothing about you, who has never met you, who is just playing your music as part of a thousand pieces of material that they have to play. Imagine how, say, Paul McCartney must feel, hearing his music absolutely everywhere."

In 2008, the Recording Industry Association of America declared Appetite for Destruction the best-selling debut album in the US with 18 million copies sold. The previous record holder was Boston's 1976 self-titled debut, which sold 17 million.

This song plays near the end of the 2008 movie The Wrestler when Mickey Rourke's character makes his entrance into the ring. Axl Rose, who is friends with Rourke, allowed the low-budget film to use the song for almost nothing, something Rourke thanked Axl for at the Golden Globe awards when he won for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama.

In 2009, a mellow jazz version by Taken By Trees, aka the Swedish singer Victoria Bergsman, reached #23 in the UK thanks to its use in TV commercials for the department store John Lewis.

The song runs 5:55 and was issued at that length as a single, which was fine for rock radio. When it became clear that the song also had tremendous pop appeal, Geffen Records distributed a truncated version running 3:42 with the intro cut down and the second guitar solo (after the second verse) removed. This was a good option for radio stations with listeners that would only tollerate so much rock guitar; it got the song on the air across a breadth of formats. >>

Speaking with the radio station WEBN in Cincinnati, Ohio, Slash admitted that he isn't fond of this song apart from its riff. He explained: "You know, Guns N' Roses was always a real hardcore, sort of, AC/DC kind of hard rock band with a lot of attitude. If we did any kind of ballads, it was bluesy. This was an uptempo ballad. That's one of the gayest things you can write. But at the same time, it's a great song - I'm not knocking it - but at the time, it just did not fit in with the rest of our, sot of, schtick. And, of course, it would be the biggest hit we ever had."

On October 15, 2019 this became the first music video from the '80s to reach one billion views on YouTube. The previous year, the band's "November Rain" clip also became the first '90s video to reach the one billion mark on the platform.

An instrumental version was used on the series finale of The Office in 2013 when Phyllis has to carry an injured Angela down the aisle to marry Dwight.

"Sweet Child o' Mine" features on the soundtrack of Thor: Love and Thunder and was also used in the film's marketing. Director Taika Waititi, a huge GnR fan, said it helped "reflect the sort of crazy adventure that we're presenting."

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11. London Calling - The Clash

 

This is an apocalyptic song, detailing the many ways the world could end, including the coming of the ice age, starvation, and war. It was the song that best defined The Clash, who were known for lashing out against injustice and rebelling against the establishment, which is pretty much what punk rock was all about.

Joe Strummer explained in 1988 to Melody Maker: "I read about 10 news reports in one day calling down all variety of plagues on us."

Singer Joe Strummer was a news junkie, and many of the images of doom in the lyrics came from news reports he read. Strummer claimed the initial inspiration came in a conversation he had with his then-fiancee Gaby Salter in a taxi ride home to their flat in World's End (appropriately). "There was a lot of Cold War nonsense going on, and we knew that London was susceptible to flooding. She told me to write something about that," noted Strummer in an interview with Uncut magazine.

According to guitarist Mick Jones, it was a headline in the London Evening Standard that triggered the lyric. The paper warned that "the North Sea might rise and push up the Thames, flooding the city," he said in the book Anatomy of a Song. "We flipped. To us, the headline was just another example of how everything was coming undone."

The title came from the BBC World Service's radio station identification: "This is London calling..." The BBC started using it during World War II to open their broadcasts outside of England. Joe Strummer heard it when he was living in Germany with his parents. >>

The line "London is drowning and I live by the river" came from a saying in England that if the Thames river ever flooded, all of London would be underwater. Joe Strummer was living by the river, but in a high-rise apartment, so he would have been OK.

The line about the "a nuclear era, but I have no fear" was inspired by the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor meltdown in March 1979. This incident is also referred to in the lyrics to "Clampdown" from the same album.

 

The Clash wrote this song in 1979 on their first US tour, then recorded it after returning to England. The band was intrigued by American music as well as its rock'n'roll mythology, so much so that the album cover was a tribute to Elvis Presley's first album.

This was recorded at Wessex Studios, located in a former church in the Highbury district of North London. Many hit recordings had already come out of this studio, including singles and albums by the Sex Pistols, The Pretenders and the Tom Robinson Band. Chief engineer and studio manager Bill Price had developed a slew of unique recording techniques suited to the room.

Fellow punk band The Damned were recording overdubs to their album Machine Gun Etiquette in the studio, and as they were old touring buddies of The Clash they roped Strummer and Mick Jones into record backing vocals for the title song to their album - the shouted lines of "second time around!" in that song are actually Strummer and Jones in uncredited cameos.

Interestingly, the band initially wrote most of the London Calling album at the Vanilla rehearsal studios near Vauxhall Bridge in London. Roadie Johnny Green explained: "It had the advantage of not looking like a studio. Out front of a garage. We wrote a sign out front saying 'we ain't here.' We weren't disturbed."

With a great vibe going in the studio and having already recorded some demos with The Who's soundman Bob Pridden, Strummer had the crazy idea to record the entire album there and bypass expensive studio time. CBS refused point blank, so Wessex was chosen because it had a similar intimacy to Vanilla. The original Vanilla demos were made available on the 25th anniversary edition of London Calling.

At the end of the song, a series of beeps spells out "SOS" in morse code. Mick Jones created these sounds on one of his guitar pickups.

The SOS distress signal has often been used metaphorically in songs (like the 1975 Abba song), but in "London Calling" it's more literal, implying that the disaster has struck and we are calling for help.

London Calling was a double album, but it wasn't supposed to be. The band were angry that CBS had priced their previous EP, The Cost of Living at £1.49, and so in the interests of their fans they insisted that London Calling be a double LP. CBS refused, so the band tried a different tactic: how about a free single on a one-disc LP? CBS agreed, but didn't notice that this free single disc would play at 33rpm and contain eight songs - therefore making it up to a double album! It then became nine when "Train in Vain" was tacked on to the end of the album after an NME single release fell through. "Train" arrived so late on that it isn't on the tracklisting on the album sleeve, and the only evidence of its existence is a stamp on the run-out groove and its presence on the end of side four. So in the end, London Calling was a 19-song double-LP retailing for the price of a single!

Rolling Stone magazine named London Calling the best album of the '80s. Pedantic readers noted that it was first released in the UK in December 1979. In the US it was released two weeks into January 1980, meaning that from a US perspective, it's a 1980s album. And if anyone can come up with a better alternative to best album of the '80s, Rolling Stone would love to hear from you!

According to NME magazine (March 16, 1991), we know that Paul Simonon smashed his bass guitar - as photographed on the cover of the album - at exactly 10:50 pm. This is because he broke his watch in the process and handed the busted bits to photographer Pennie Smith, who snapped the photo.

Smith thought the photo wouldn't be good for an album cover, citing that it was too blurry and out of focus. "I was wrong!" she admitted in the Westway to the World documentary!

As a tribute to Clash singer/guitarist Joe Strummer, who died in 2002, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, Elvis Costello and Little Steven Van Zant played this at the close of the 2003 Grammys as a tribute to the band. All four played guitar and took turns on vocals. The Grammys is the type of commercialized event The Clash probably would have avoided, although they did win their first Grammy that night when "Westway To The World" won for Best Long Form Music Video.

In 2003, The Clash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and it was rumored that Bruce Springsteen would join them to perform at the ceremony. The classic lineup of Strummer/Jones/Simonon/Headon were in talks to reunite to perform at the ceremony and play on stage for the first time since 1982, but Simonon was always against a reunion. In the end, Strummer's death in December 2002 put paid to the reunion of the original lineup, and the remaining members declined to play. Said Simonon: "I think it's better for The Clash to play in front of their public, rather than a seated and booted audience."

According to Mick Jones, his guitar solo was played back backwards (done by flipping over the tape) and overdubbed onto the track.

This is one of the most popular Clash songs, and has been used in many commercials and soundtracks. It was used in promos counting down the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, as well as the film soundtracks for Intimacy (2001), Billy Elliot (2000), Atomic Blonde (2017) and the James Bond movie Die Another Day (2002).

The lyrics contain an observation about how society often turns to pop music to make them feel better about world events, and how The Clash didn't want to become false idols for folks looking for escapism. This can be heard in the line, "Don't look to us - phoney Beatlemania (a reference to The Beatles' massive fanbase in the '60s) has bitten the dust!" (Mick Jones said the line was "aimed at the touristy soundalike rock bands in London in the late '70s.)

There's also a subtle reference to Joe Strummer's brush with Hepatitis in 1978 with the mention of "yellowy eyes."

A check of the archives reveals that this song - hailed by many music journalists as a monumental track - received far from unanimous praise from critics when it was released. David Hepworth in Smash Hits criticized the band for playing too loud in the studio. "Why won't Joe Strummer let us hear more than one word in every three? Until they face those elementary facts, sides like 'London Calling' will always fail to condense all that fury and grandeur into a truly great record," he wrote.

The sales figures and continuing popularity of the song suggest that not many other people had the same problem!

The video was filmed at Cadogan Pier, next to the Albert Bridge in Battersea Park in London. It was directed by longtime friend of the band Don Letts, and made on a wet night in December 1979 which sees the band performing on a barge. Letts didn't have a happy time doing the video. He explained:

"Now me, I am a land-lover, I can't swim. Don Letts does not know that the Thames has a tide. So we put the cameras in a boat, low tide, the cameras are 15 feet too low. I didn't realize that rivers flow, so I thought the camera would be bouncing up and down nicely in front of the pier. But no, the camera keeps drifting away from the bank. Then it starts to rain. I am a bit out of my depth here, but I'm going with it and The Clash are doing their thing. The group doing their thing was all it needed to be a great video. That is a good example of us turning adversity to our advantage."

Joe Strummer does some ominous echoed cackling about two minutes into this song. He was essentially imitating a seagull, as heard on the Otis Redding song "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay."

Many cover versions of this song have been recorded, including variants by One King Down, Stroh, and the NC Thirteens. Bob Dylan covered the song during his 2005 London residency, and Bruce Springsteen has followed up from his performance of the song at the 2003 Grammys by performing it at some of his concerts, including on his 2009 London Calling: Live in Hyde Park DVD, which is named after the song.

In late 1991, the Irish folk-punk band The Pogues sacked lead singer Shane MacGowan just at the height of their fame. Joe Strummer, by now well split up from The Clash, agreed to take over on vocals for a couple of years until he departed in 1993 on good terms - he didn't want to be the permanent replacement for MacGowan and wanted to do his own thing. During his time with the Pogues, the band would often play a searing version of "London Calling" at live shows. Like many strong Clash songs, Strummer took it with him to play with his solo band the Mescaleros in the late 1990s.

Authorship of this song was credited to Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, but at some point the other two members of the band, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon, were added.

This was featured in the October 13, 2013 Funny Or Die episode, where a costumed Fred Armisen interviewed the real Mick Jones and Paul Simonon.

This was featured in the 1998 Friends episode "The One with Ross's Wedding: Part 1," when the gang arrives in London for Ross and Emily's nuptials.

A draft of Joe Strummer's handwritten lyrics published in The London Calling Scrapbook reveals these lines that didn't make the cut:

The USA is sinking
The world is shrinking
The sun is blinking
While I'm drinking
The oil stops flowing
The wheat stops growing
The world stops knowing

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12. Waterloo Sunset - The Kinks

 

Written by Kinks lead singer Ray Davies, he called this "a romantic, lyrical song about my older sister's generation."

Waterloo Bridge is in London, and the lyrics are about a guy looking out of a window at two lovers meeting at Waterloo Station. Davies used to cross Waterloo Bridge every day when he was a student at Croydon Art School.

Ray Davies brought this to the band while they were in the middle of recording the album. He was reluctant to share the lyrics because they were so personal. In a Rolling Stone magazine interview, his brother (and Kinks guitarist) Dave Davies said Ray felt "it was like an extract from a diary nobody was allowed to read."

It is often claimed that the line, "Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station every Friday night" is about the relationship between actor Terence Stamp and actress Julie Christie. However, Ray Davies denied this in his autobiography. He subsequently revealed that it was "a fantasy about my sister going off with her boyfriend to a new world and they were going to emigrate and go to another country."

According to Kinks biographer Nick Hasted, Terry was Ray's nephew Terry Davies, whom he was close to in early teenage years.

Further confusing the matter, Davies told Rolling Stone in 2015 that Julie and Terry were "big, famous actors at the time." The actors had been dating since the early '60s and starred together in the film Far From the Madding Crowd, which is often cited as the direct inspiration for the song, but the film didn't come out until six months after the single's release.

Ray Davies started writing this a few years before The Kinks recorded it. At first, it was called "Liverpool Sunset," but when The Beatles released "Penny Lane," he changed the words so it wouldn't look like a rip-off.

On February 23, 2003 David Bowie was joined on stage by Ray Davies and performed a duet of this song at Carnegie Hall in New York City for the Tibet House benefit.

 

The perfectionist Ray Davies, before releasing the single, revisited the song's location at sunset to ensure "the atmosphere was right."

Ray Davies (From Uncut magazine January 2009): "It came to me first as a statement about the death of Merseybeat. But I realized that Waterloo was a very significant place in my life. I was in St. Thomas' Hospital when I was really ill as a child, and I looked out on the river. I went to Waterloo every day to go to college as well. The song was also about being taken to the Festival of Britain with my mum and dad. I remember them taking me by the hand, looking at the big Skylon tower, and saying it symbolized the future. That, and then walking by the Thames with my first wife (Rasa, who left Ray, taking his two daughters, in 1973) and all the other dreams that we had. Her in her brown suede coat that she wore, that was stolen. And also about my sisters, and about the world I wanted them to have. The two characters in the song, Terry and Julie, are to do with the aspirations of my sisters' generation, who grew up during the Second world War and missed out on the '60s.

Sometimes when you're writing and you're really on good form, you get into the frame of mind where you think, I can relate to any of these things. It's something I learned at art school-let all the ideas flow out. But if you listen to the words without the music, it's a different thing entirely. The lyrics could be better. But they dovetail with the music perfectly."

Popular British singer Paul Weller has said this is his favorite song.

Ray Davies performed this with Jackson Browne on Davies' 2010 collaborative album See My Friends. In an interview for Daniel Rachel's book The Art of Noise: Conversations with Great Songwriters, Davies recalled that Browne was taken with a particular lyric: "He said, 'I don't need no friends?' He said it twice. I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'That's the most beautiful thing I've ever had to sing. It doesn't make sense on the page but when you put it with the music...'

I hadn't thought about it that way. The melody takes the curse off the grammar fault. The choice of words, the way they're pronounced, sometimes gives an emotion that's unexpected. Don't is the killer word because it's not correct. Great lines are only great because of what precedes them, maybe sometimes when they happen after."

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13. Hotel California - The Eagles

 

Written by Don Felder, Glenn Frey and Don Henley, this song is about materialism and excess. California is used as the setting, but it could relate to anywhere in America. Don Henley in the London Daily Mail November 9, 2007 said: "Some of the wilder interpretations of that song have been amazing. It was really about the excesses of American culture and certain girls we knew. But it was also about the uneasy balance between art and commerce."

On November 25, 2007 Henley appeared on the TV news show 60 Minutes, where he was told, "everyone wants to know what this song means." Henley replied: "I know, it's so boring. It's a song about the dark underbelly of the American Dream, and about excess in America which was something we knew about."

He offered yet another interpretation in the 2013 History of the Eagles documentary: "It's a song about a journey from innocence to experience."

California is seen from the perspective of an outsider here. Bernie Leadon was the only band member at the time who was from the state (Timothy B. Schmit, who joined in 1977, was also from California). Joe Walsh came from New Jersey; Randy Meisner from Nebraska; Don Henley was from Texas; Glenn Frey was from Detroit, and Don Felder was from Florida. In a Songfacts interview with Don Felder, he explained: "As you're driving in Los Angeles at night, you can see the glow of the energy and the lights of Hollywood and Los Angeles for 100 miles out in the desert. And on the horizon, as you're driving in, all of these images start coming into your mind of the propaganda and advertisement you've experienced about California. In other words, the movie stars, the stars on Hollywood Boulevard, the beaches, bikinis, palm trees, all those images that you see and that people think of when they think of California start running through your mind. You're anticipating that. That's all you know of California."

Don Henley put it this way: "We were all middle-class kids from the Midwest. Hotel California was our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles."

"Hotel California" won the 1977 Grammy Award for Record of the Year, but the Eagles didn't show up to accept it. That's because Don Henley didn't believe in contests, and the band had work to do: Timothy B. Schmit had just joined and was learning the repertoire. Schmit says they watched the ceremony on TV while they were rehearsing.

Don Felder came up with the musical idea for this song. According to his book Heaven and Hell: My Life in The Eagles, he came up with the idea while playing on the beach. He had the chord progressions and basic guitar tracks, which he played for Don Henley and Glenn Frey, who helped finish the song, with Henley adding the lyrics.

Felder says they recorded the song about a year after he did the original demo, and in the session, he started to improvise the guitar part at the end. Henley stopped him and demanded that he do it exactly like the demo, so he had to call his wife and have her play the cassette demo over the phone so Felder could remember what he played.

The lyric, "Warm smell of colitas," is often interpreted as sexual slang or a reference to marijuana. When we asked Don Felder about the term, he said: "The colitas is a plant that grows in the desert that blooms at night, and it has this kind of pungent, almost funky smell. Don Henley came up with a lot of the lyrics for that song, and he came up with colitas."

The Eagles aimed for a full sensory experience in their songwriting. Felder adds, "When we try to write lyrics, we try to write lyrics that touch multiple senses, things you can see, smell, taste, hear. 'I heard the mission bell,' you know, or 'the warm smell of colitas,' talking about being able to relate something through your sense of smell. Just those sort of things. So that's kind of where 'colitas' came from."

 

"Hotel California" was recorded at three different sessions before the Eagles got the version they wanted. The biggest problem was finding the right key for Henley's vocal.

Glenn Frey compared this song to an episode of The Twilight Zone, where it jumps from one scene to the next and doesn't necessarily make sense. He said the success of the song comes from the audience creating stories in their minds based on the images.

The line, "They stab it with their steely knives but they just can't kill the beast" is a reference to Steely Dan. The bands shared the same manager (Irving Azoff) and had a friendly rivalry. The year before, Steely Dan included the line "Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening" on their song "Everything You Did."

Don Felder and Joe Walsh played together on the guitar solos, creating the textured sound.

The lyrics for the song came with the album. Some listeners thought the line "She's got the Mercedes Bends" was a misspelling of "Mercedes Benz," not realizing the line was a play on words.

Glenn Frey offered this take: "That record explores the underbelly of success, the darker side of Paradise. Which was sort of what we were experiencing in Los Angeles at that time. So that just sort of became a metaphor for the whole world and for everything you know. And we just decided to make it Hotel California. So with a microcosm of everything else going on around us." >>

When the Eagles got back together in 1994, they recorded a live, acoustic version of this song for an MTV special that was included on their album Hell Freezes Over. Don Felder came up with a new guitar intro for this version the day they recorded it, and while it was not released as a single, it got a lot of airplay, helped the album top the charts the first week it was released, and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, a category introduced in 1980 when the Eagles won with "Heartache Tonight."

Felder had some beef with how the credits were listed on this new version - the original single had the composers as "Don Felder, Don Henley and Glenn Frey," implying that Felder wrote most of the song and Frey the least. The new version was credited to "Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Don Felder." Felder claims that Henley and Frey added nothing original to the new version, and that this was simply a power play. Felder was fired from the band in 2001 after disputing payments and royalties.

All seven past and present members of the Eagles performed "Hotel California" in 1998 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The hotel on the album cover is the Beverly Hills Hotel, known as the Pink Palace. It is often frequented by Hollywood stars.

The photo was taken by photographers David Alexander and John Kosh, who sat in a cherry-picker about 60 feet above Sunset Boulevard to get the shot of the hotel at sunset from above the trees. The rush-hour traffic made it a harrowing experience.

Although it is well known that Hotel California is actually a metaphor, there are several strange internet theories and urban legends about the "real" Hotel California. Some include suggestions that it was an old church taken over by devil worshippers, a psychiatric hospital, an inn run by cannibals or Aleister Crowley's mansion in Scotland. It's even been suggested that the "Hotel California" is the Playboy Mansion. >>

The music may have been inspired by the 1969 Jethro Tull song "We Used to Know," from their album Stand up. The chord progressions are nearly identical, and the bands toured together before the Eagles recorded "Hotel California." In a BBC radio interview, Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson said laughingly that he was still waiting for the royalties.

In Ian Anderson's interview with Songfacts, he makes it clear that he doesn't consider "Hotel California" to be borrowing anything from his song. "It's difficult to find a chord sequence that hasn't been used, and hasn't been the focus of lots of pieces of music," he said. "Its harmonic progression is almost a mathematical certainty. you're gonna crop up with the same thing sooner or later if you sit strumming a few chords on a guitar. There's certainly no bitterness or any sense of plagiarism attached to my view on it, although I do sometimes allude, in a joking way, to accepting it as a kind of tribute."

After Don Henley came up with the title, a theme developed for the album. Don Felder told Songfacts how some of the other songs fit in: "Once you arrive in LA and you have your first couple of hits, you become the 'New Kid In Town,' and then with greater success, you live 'Life In The Fast Lane,' and you start wondering if all that time you've spent in the bars was just 'Wasted Time.' So all of these other song ideas kind of came out of that concept once the foundation was laid for 'Hotel California.' It was a really insightful title."

Don Felder explained: "I had just leased this house out on the beach at Malibu, I guess it was around '74 or '75. I remember sitting in the living room, with all the doors wide open on a spectacular July day. I had this acoustic 12-string and I started tinkling around with it, and those Hotel California chords just kind of oozed out. Every once in a while it seems like the cosmos part and something great just plops in your lap." >>

An alternative interpretation of the meaning of the lyrics is that the song is a description of the journey from Need to Love and Marriage to Divorce and ultimately to the impossibility of regaining the life and happiness of the pre-divorce state.

Initially the traveler is feeling the need of a relationship ("My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim, I had to stop for the night"). The traveler meets his love and gets married ("There she stood in the doorway. I heard the mission bell"). A marriage commitment opens up the possibility of happiness but also the traveler is aware and vulnerable to the possibility of intense unhappiness ("And I was thinking to myself, this could be heaven or this could be hell")

Unfortunately the marriage dissolves and his love becomes obsessed with money ("Her mind is Tiffany-twisted") where Tiffany" refers to the very expensive jewelry store, Tiffany & Co. With the divorce there is the division of property - she got the Mercedes Benz. After the breakup when he sees her with any guys she reassures him that the pretty, pretty boys" are just friends." In this new world of being single the other singles he meets do their dance in the courtyard" of life. They generally fall into two groups: There are those who can't stop talking about their Ex ("Some dance to remember") and there are those who don't what to say anything at all about their past marriage ("some dance to forget").

Now in this world of being divorced he longs to return the pre-divorced state of happiness ("So I called up the captain, please bring me my wine"), but he finds that his happiness is now irrevocably in the past ("We haven't had that spirit here since 1969").

Deep into the post-divorce single's scene with "mirrors on the ceiling, the pink champagne on ice" he is reminded that "we are all just prisoners here, of our own device." He and others want this divorce nightmare to be over, yet - "they stab it with their steely knives, but they just can't kill the beast." Now frustrated, he panics and is "running for the door. I had to find the passage back to the place I was before" But he is brought up short when the night man informs him that "You can checkout any time you like (commit suicide), but you can never leave" (become pre-divorced).

There are two choruses in the song and each mention the "Hotel California." Around the time the song was written, California was experiencing the highest divorce rate in the nation. Each chorus has lines that remember his past marriage ("Such a lovely place") and his past lover ("Such a lovely face"). The first chorus indicates that there can always be more divorces ("Plenty of room at the Hotel California, any time of year, you can find it here"). The second chorus points out that as a part of divorce you will always "bring your alibis." >>

The Hotel California album is #37 on the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all time. According to the magazine, Don Henley said that the band was in pursuit of a note perfect song. The Eagles spent eight months in the studio polishing take after take after take. Henley also said, "We just locked ourselves in. We had a refrigerator, a ping pong table, roller skates and a couple cots. We would go in and stay for two or three days at a time." >>

According to a reader-submitted poll for Guitar World magazine, the guitar solo for this song is ranked #8 out of 100.

Don Felder told Gibson about his contribution to this track. "I thought it was really unique and different to anything ever written. The Eagles had been heading in a conventional country-rock direction. I was added to the band for my electric guitar, slide-electric ability and to help turn them into more of a rock and roll band. I was writing stronger guitar tracks that used electric guitar like 'Victim of Love' and 'Hotel California.' When I came up with the 'Hotel California' progression, I knew it was unique but didn't know if it was appropriate for the Eagles. It was kind of reggae, almost an abstract guitar part for what was on the radio back then.

When I was writing for the Hotel California album, I was working on a TEAC 4-track in a beach house in Malibu and I was putting down ideas on tape. Then I made cassette copies and gave them to [Don] Henley, [Glenn] Frey, Walsh and [Randy] Meisner. Henley called me to say he really like the Mexican bolero, Mexican reggae song. I knew exactly which track he meant. Don came up with a great lyric concept for the song."

This followed "New Kid in Town" as the second single released from the album. There was no doubt about the song's merits as an album track, but issuing it as a single defied convention. Don Felder told us: "When we finally finished that whole album, the record company had been pounding on the door trying to get in and get this record, because they wanted to release it. We were about four months overdue on delivering our record per our contract. So we finally let the record company in. The execs come in and we had this playback party for them at the record plant here in Los Angeles. And after the song 'Hotel California' played, Henley turned around and said, 'That's going to be our single.'

In the '70s, the AM format, which was what we were really aiming for, had a specific formula; your song had to be between three minutes and three minutes and thirty seconds long, and it had to be a dance track, a rock track, or a trippy ballad. The introduction could only be 30 seconds long before the singer started, so the disc jockey didn't have to speak so long.

'Hotel California' is six and a half minutes long. The introduction to it is a minute long. You can't really dance to it. It stops in the middle when the drums stop: 'mirrors on the ceiling,' that section, and it's got a two minute guitar solo on the end. It's the complete wrong format.

So I said, 'Don, I think you're wrong. I think that's a mistake. I don't think we should put that out as the single. Maybe an FM cut, but not a single.' And he said, 'Nope, that's going to be our single.' And I've never been so delighted to have been so wrong in my life. You just don't know."

In Chicago at the time of this song's popularity many people started calling the Cook County jail "Hotel California" because it is on California street. The name stuck. >>

"Hotel California" was featured in the first episode of the TV series American Horror Story: Hotel, which is about a haunted and horrifying hotel run by Lady Gaga. The show in many ways is a visual representation of the song, and this episode ("Checking In") ends with a man moving into the hotel under duress. The song plays as he starts the process, and when he gets to his room, the episode ends, punctuated by the line, "You can check out any time you'd like, but you can never leave."

This was not the first time the song has been used in a TV series, but rights are granted judiciously. Other TV uses include:

The X-Files - "Beyond the Sea" (1994)
Absolutely Fabulous - "Poor" (1994)
The Sopranos - "Mr. Ruggerio's Neighborhood" (2001)
Entourage - "Adios, Amigos" (2007)
The League - "The Bachelor Draft" (2013)

Testifying on Russian influence over American affairs before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 27, 2017, businessman William Browder invoked this song, saying, "There's no such thing as a former intelligence officer in Russia. It's like the Hotel California. You can check out any time you like, but never leave."

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14. Your Song - Elton John

 

This was Elton's first single to chart. Before he hit it big, he worked as a songwriter and studio musician, and for a time was the warm-up act for Three Dog Night, who recorded this song on their 1970 album It Ain't Easy (they had previously recorded Elton's "Lady Samantha"). When it looked like Elton might finally make it in the States with his own version of "Your Song," Three Dog Night chose not to release it as a single in an effort to give this young upstart a chance to make it on his own.

Elton's version was released on his second album, but the single did not come out until seven months later, when it was released to promote his tour. Elton issued his third album, Tumbleweed Connection, before the single came out, and by this time he was established enough to have his own hit, thanks in large part to a triumphant run at the Troubadour in Los Angeles in August 1970.

This was one of the first songs John wrote with Bernie Taupin. They met after a record company gave John some of Taupin's lyrics to work with. Eventually, they both moved into John's parents' house, where they started working together.

The song was written in 1967, when Bernie Taupin was 17 ("hence the extraordinarily virginal sentiments," he has said). Elton has said that this song is not about anyone in particular, so Taupin has refused to reveal the identity of the person - if such person exists - who inspired this song. He explained in a 1989 interview with Music Connection: "It's like the perennial ballad 'Your Song,' which has got to be one of the most naïve and childish lyrics in the entire repertoire of music, but I think the reason it still stands up is because it was real at the time. That was exactly what I was feeling. I was 17 years old and it was coming from someone whose outlook on love or experience with love was totally new and naïve.

Now I could never write that song again or emulate it because the songs I write now that talk about love coming from people my age usually deal with broken marriages and where the children go. You have to write from where you are at a particular point in time, and 'Your Song' is exactly where I was coming from back then."

Bernie Taupin wrote the words for this song over breakfast at Elton's parents' house, where he was staying. The original lyrics have coffee stains on them.

"The original lyric was written very rapidly on the kitchen table of Elton's mother's apartment in Northwood Hills in the suburbs of London, if I recall, on a particularly grubby piece of exercise paper," said Taupin.

Elton wrote the music in about 20 minutes, as he often did with Taupin's lyrics in their early days.

 

This helped alter the music landscape in the early '70s. After it came out, singer/songwriters like James Taylor and Carole King had a lot of success with heartfelt songs featuring a prominent vocal and a soft piano or guitar.

Regarding the place of this song in the Taupin/John canon, Bernie Taupin said: "This one is the one I recall like it was yesterday. The rest of them I'm a little shaky on. In retrospect, and I've said it on several occasions, I see this song as a bookend and its counterpart would be a song like 'Sacrifice.' 'Your Song' being a song about absolute naiveté in love while 'Sacrifice' is the complete opposite, the story of someone who's seen and done it all, as far as love's concerned, and come out the other end scarred but realistic about certain aspects of the real world."

This attracted the attention of some heavy hitters in the music industry. Arranger Paul Buckmaster and producer Gus Dudgeon both signed on to work with Elton after hearing this. They played a big part in crafting his songs over the next several years.

Elton appeared on US TV for the first time performing this on The Andy Williams Show. He was shy and dressed very plain, which changed a few years later when he became known for his outrageous costumes and flamboyant personality.

Elton's 1975 song "We All Fall In Love Sometimes" is about the writing of this song.

After hearing this, John Lennon said Elton was "The first new thing that's happened since we (The Beatles) happened." They ended up becoming good friends.

Both Elton John and Bernie Taupin agree that this is one of their best efforts. Said Taupin: "I think 'Your Song' is a gem. Our classic, I'm not sure. I'll let others decide that. But it's like an old friend, it means so many things on equally as many levels. It's certainly proved its worth, and I've heard it sung a million times. It's like a good dog, it's always there."

Elton performs this at all his concerts. He once said of this song: "I don't think I've written a love song as good since." He has called it "A perfect song," and says that the older he gets, the more the lyrics resonate with him.

This was originally released as the B-side of "Take Me To The Pilot."

In 1987, John released a live version as a single from his album Live In Australia. It didn't chart, but the next single from the album, "Candle In The Wind," did.

Billy Joel performed this with Elton at the 2001 "Concert For New York" to benefit victims of the World Trade Center attacks. It was not included on the CD of the show.

This was used in the movie Welcome Home, and also in a commercial for Rimmel Cosmetics.

This plays a major role in the 2001 movie Moulin Rouge. It is sung by Ewan McGregor when he presents it as a poem to Nicole Kidman.

This was featured in an episode of The Simpsons when Apu gave his wife a present every day of the week leading up to Valentine's Day. This made Homer and the other men of Springfield very upset, and when they heard that Elton John was coming to town, they kidnapped him, thinking he (Elton) was there for Apu. Elton performed this song at the end of the episode with the lyric "This one's from Apu" in place of "This one's for you."

 

Elton performed this at the "Concert For Diana" on July 1, 2007. It was the first song in the program. >>

Elton re-recorded the song with Italian tenor Alessandro Safina for the Sports Relief charity in 2002. This new version reached #4 in the UK singles chart, out-peaking its original chart position of #7.

Elton claims that he doesn't ask Bernie Taupin what his lyrics are about. He told Rolling Stone: "I always thought 'Your Song' was written about one of his girlfriends, and when I asked him that, he just said, 'No it wasn't!' He gets fairly defensive."

Elton John had played keyboards on several of the Hollies' tracks, including their hit song "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," and the English band had hoped to record this song themselves. "We knew Reg because he was a staff writer with a music publisher we used. He was writing songs well before he became famous," recalled their guitarist/vocalist Tony Hicks to The Daily Mail June 15, 2013. "One was 'Your Song.' I thought it would be a good one for the Hollies, and asked the publisher for permission to record it. He told me Elton had recorded it himself and it was due to be released in the US. He said, 'But it probably won't happen for him, so wait until it's all over.'"

At that time Elton had yet to break into the charts. "Well, it did happen - 'Your Song' became Elton's first big hit," added Hicks, "and one that's unfailingly identified with him. But it so easily could have been Our Song."

The soul singer Billy Paul recorded this and released his version as the B-side of his 1972 #1 hit "Me And Mrs. Jones." According to Elton, he didn't know Paul recorded it until he bought the single and loaded it into his jukebox.

Eight years after Ellie Goulding covered the tune for a John Lewis Christmas advert, the UK department store chain used Elton John's original version for another seasonal campaign. This time the commercial starts with Elton playing the iconic strains of "Your Song" on his piano before proceeding to look back at his rise from north London schoolboy to rock legend.

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Stairway To Heaven - Led Zeppelin

 

The most famous rock song of all time, "Stairway To Heaven" wasn't a chart hit because it was never released as a single to the general public. Radio stations received promotional singles which quickly became collector's items.

On Tuesday November 13, 2007, Led Zeppelin's entire back catalogue was made available as legal digital downloads, making all of their tracks eligible for the UK singles chart. As a result, at the end of that week the original version of "Stairway To Heaven" arrived in the UK singles charts for the first time. Previously, three covers had charted: the multinational studio band Far Corporation reached #8 with their version in 1985, then reggae tribute act Dread Zeppelin crawled to #62 in 1991 and finally Rolf Harris' reworking outdid the other two, peaking at #7 in 1993.

Robert Plant spent much of the '70s answering questions about the lyrics he wrote for "Stairway." When asked why the song was so popular, he said it could be its "abstraction," adding, "Depending on what day it is, I still interpret the song a different way - and I wrote the lyrics."

The lyrics take some pretty wild turns, but the beginning of the song is about a woman who accumulates money, only to find out the hard way her life had no meaning and will not get her into heaven. This is the only part Plant would really explain, as he said it was "a woman getting everything she wanted without giving anything back."

Led Zeppelin started planning "Stairway" in early 1970 when they decided to create a new, epic song to replace "Dazed And Confused" as the centerpiece of their concerts. Jimmy Page would work on the song in an 8-track studio he had installed in his boathouse, trying out different sections on guitar. By April, he was telling journalists that their new song might be 15-minutes long, and described it as something that would "build towards a climax" with John Bonham's drums not coming in for some time. In October 1970, after about 18 months of near constant touring, the song took shape. Page and Plant explained that they started working on it at a 250-year-old Welsh cottage called Bron-yr-Aur, where they wrote the songs for Led Zeppelin III. Page sometimes told a story of the pair sitting by a fire at the cabin as they composed it, a tale that gives the song a mystical origin story, as there could have been spirits at play within those walls.

Page told a different story under oath: When he was called to the stand in 2016 as part of a plagiarism trial over this song, he said that he wrote the music on his own and first played it for his bandmates at Headley Grange in Liphook Road, Headley, Hampshire, where they recorded it using a mobile studio owned by The Rolling Stones. Plant corroborated the story in his testimony.

Headley Grange may not be as enchanting as Bron-yr-Aur, but the place had some character: It was a huge, old, dusty mansion with no electricity but great acoustics. Bands would go there to get some privacy and focus on songwriting, as the biggest distractions were the sheep and other wildlife.

Robert Plant recalled writing the lyrics in a flash of inspiration. Said Plant: "I was holding a pencil and paper, and for some reason I was in a very bad mood. Then all of a sudden my hand was writing out the words, 'There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold/And she's buying a stairway to heaven.' I just sat there and looked at the words and then I almost leapt out of my seat."

Plant's implication that something else was moving his pencil for him led to speculation that it was Satan who was dictating the words, and along with the backward messages and Page's Aleister Crowley connection, there was enough evidence for many listeners that the devil had some role in creating this song.

This is rumored to contain backward satanic messages, as if Led Zeppelin sold their souls to the devil in exchange for "Stairway To Heaven." Supporting this theory is the fact that Jimmy Page bought Aleister Crowley's house in Scotland, known as Boleskine House. In his books, Crowley advocated that his followers learn to read and speak backwards.

Robert Plant addressed the issue in an interview with Musician magazine: "'Stairway To Heaven' was written with every best intention, and as far as reversing tapes and putting messages on the end, that's not my idea of making music. It's really sad. The first time I heard it was early in the morning when I was living at home, and I heard it on a news program. I was absolutely drained all day. I walked around, and I couldn't actually believe, I couldn't take people seriously who could come up with sketches like that. There are a lot of people who are making money there, and if that's the way they need to do it, then do it without my lyrics. I cherish them far too much."

 

This runs 8:03, but still became one of the most-played songs on American radio, proving that people wouldn't tune out just because a song was long. It was a perfect fit for FM radio, which was a newer format challenging the established AM with better sound quality and more variety. "Stairway" fit nicely into what was called the "Album Oriented Rock" (AOR) format, and later became a staple of Classic Rock. By most measures, it is the most-played song in the history of American FM radio. It has also sold more sheet music than any other rock song - about 10,000 to 15,000 copies a year, and more than one million total.

Jimmy Page has a strong affinity for this song, and felt Robert Plant's lyrics were his best yet. He had him write all of Zeppelin's lyrics from then on.

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine (March 13, 1975) Cameron Crowe asked Jimmy Page how important "Stairway To Heaven" was to him. Page replied: "To me, I thought 'Stairway' crystallized the essence of the band. It had everything there and showed the band at its best... as a band, as a unit. Not talking about solos or anything, it had everything there. We were careful never to release it as a single. It was a milestone for us. Every musician wants to do something of lasting quality, something which will hold up for a long time and I guess we did it with 'Stairway.' Townshend probably thought that he got it with Tommy. I don't know whether I have the ability to come up with more. I have to do a lot of hard work before I can get anywhere near those stages of consistent, total brilliance."

This was the only song whose lyrics were printed on the album's inner sleeve.

Many novice guitarists try to learn this song, and most end up messing it up. In the movie Wayne's World, it is banned in the guitar shop where Wayne (Mike Myers) starts playing it. If you saw the movie in theaters, you heard Wayne play the first few notes of the song before being scolded and pointed to a sign that says "NO Stairway To Heaven" (Wayne: "No Stairway. Denied."). Because of legal issues - apparently even a few notes of "Stairway To Heaven" have to be cleared, and good luck with that - the video and TV releases of the movie were changed so Wayne plays something incomprehensible. This novice guitar Stairway cliché later showed up on an episode of South Park when the character Towelie tries to play the song in a talent show and screws it up.

Zeppelin bass player John Paul Jones decided not to use a bass on this because it sounded like a folk song. Instead, he added a string section, keyboards and flutes. He also played wooden recorders that were used on the intro. Bonham's drums do not come in until 4:18.

Robert Plant is a great admirer of all things mystic, the old English legends and lore and the writings of the Celts. He was immersed in the books Magic Arts in Celtic Britain by Lewis Spence and The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. The Tolkien inspiration can be heard in the phrase, "In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees," which could be a reference to the smoke rings blown by the wizard Gandalf. There is also a correlation between the lady in the song and the character from the book, Lady Galadriel, the Queen of Elves who lives in the golden forest of Lothlorien. In the book, all that glittered around her was in fact gold, as the leaves of the trees in the forest of Lothlorien were golden. >>

Of the many cover versions of "Stairway," two in particular have earned praise from the members of Led Zeppelin: Dolly Parton's version on her 2002 album Halos and Horns, and a 2012 performance at the Kennedy Center by Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart as part of a concert honoring Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. Backed on drums by Jason Bonham (John's son) and accompanied by a gospel choir, the Wilson sisters transfixed the crowd. Plant, Page and Jones, watching from the balcony, all got emotional as the song progressed. They personally thanked the Wilson sisters later that night. This version was released as a single and exploded on YouTube, racking up over 100 million views.

Ann and Nancy were well equipped to cover the song: Nancy's intricate fingerpicking style suited the delicate intro perfectly, and Ann could belt out Robert Plant vocals with singular conviction. She covered "Immigrant Song" on her 2007 debut solo album.

Some other covers of note are by U2, Jimmy Castor, Frank Zappa, The Foo Fighters, Dave Matthews Band, Sisters of Mercy, Zakk Wylde, Elkie Brooks, Pardon Me Boys, White Flag, Jana, Great White, Stanley Jordan, Far Corporation, Dixie Power Trio, Justin Hayward, Leningrad Cowboys, Dread Zeppelin, Tiny Tim, piano virtuoso Richard Abel, and Monte Montgomery.

Many critics trashed this song when it came out: Lester Bangs described it as "a thicket of misbegotten mush," and the British music magazine Sounds said it induced "first boredom and then catatonia."

So, while many fans consider it one of the greatest rock songs ever made, "Stairway To Heaven" and Zeppelin as a whole also got a lot of vehement criticism. They were viewed as shallow, pretentious, and representative of the kind of excess that offended the anti-materialistic consciousness so much of the era's music and music press stood against (ostensibly, at least). In 1988, Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant told Q that he understood the criticisms: "If you absolutely hated 'Stairway to Heaven,' no one can blame you for that because it was so pompous."

Led Zeppelin played this for the first time in Belfast on March 5, 1971 - Northern Ireland was a war zone at the time and there was rioting in nearby streets. John Paul Jones said in an audio documentary that when they played it, the audience was not that impressed. They wanted to hear something they knew - like "Whole Lotta Love."

The song got a better reception when the band started the US leg of their tour. In an excerpt from Led Zeppelin; The Definitive Biography by Ritchie Yorke, Jimmy Page said of playing the song at an August 1971 show at the Los Angeles Forum: "I'm not saying the whole audience gave us a standing ovation - but there was this sizable standing ovation there. And I thought, 'This is incredible because no one's heard this number yet. This is the first time hearing it!' It obviously touched them, so I knew there was something with that one." >>

Jimmy Page considers this a masterpiece, but Robert Plant does not share his fondness for the song. Plant has referred to it as a "wedding song" and insists that his favorite Led Zeppelin song is "Kashmir." After the band broke up, Plant refused to sing it except on rare occasions, including Live Aid.

Clarifying his position in a 2018 interview with Dan Rather, Plant said: "It belongs to a particular time. If I had been involved in the instrumentation I would feel that it's a magnificent piece of music that has its own character and personality. It even speeds up in a similar way to some pieces of more highbrow music. But my contribution was to write lyrics and to sing a song about fate and something very British, almost abstract, but coming out of the mind of a 23-year-old guy. It landed in the years of the era of 23-year-old guys."

This was the last song the remaining members of Led Zeppelin performed when they reunited for Live Aid in 1985. Bob Geldof organized the event, and did his best to get many famous bands to play even if they had broken up. Unlike The Who, Geldof had an easy time convincing Plant, Page, and Jones to play the show. They played the Philadelphia stage with Tony Thompson and Phil Collins sitting in on drums.

The acoustic, fingerpicking intro is very similar to the song "Taurus" from the band Spirit, who toured with Led Zeppelin when they first played the US. "Taurus" is a guitar instrumental written by the group's guitarist, Randy California, and included on their debut album in 1968. It was part of the band's set and Jimmy Page admitted that he owned the album.

Randy California never took any legal action against Led Zeppelin or sought compensation from them. A mercurial man who drowned in 1997 at age 45, he was described by his bandmate Mark Andes as "kind of a pathetic, tortured genius."

The "Stairway" connection is just a small piece of the Spirit story. California was a guitar prodigy who at age 15 joined Jimi Hendrix in the group Jimmy James And The Blue Flames. Three months later, Hendrix went to England. He wanted to take California with him, but Randy's age made it impossible.

Randy played with future Steely Dan founder Walter Becker in the Long Island band Tangerine Puppets, then moved to Los Angeles, where he formed Spirit with three friends and his stepfather, Ed Cassidy, who played drums. They got some gigs at the Whisky a Go Go, and Lou Adler signed them to his label, Ode Records. Their first album was a modest success that mustered one minor hit: "Mechanical World." Written by band members Mark Andes and Jay Ferguson, it stalled at #123 US. California set out to write a hit for their second album, The Family That Plays Together (1969), and came up with "I Got A Line On You," which made #25.

It would be their biggest hit. The band declined an invitation to Woodstock and fractured in 1972, with California's already volatile mental health ravaged by drug use. The band reunited from time to time, but never got their due. By the time of California's death, few remembered "Taurus" and its connection to "Stairway To Heaven," but in 1999, Songfacts went online and the discussion was revived.

In 2002, a former music journalist named Michael Skidmore came into control of California's estate, and 2014 he began proceedings against Led Zeppelin. In 2016, Jimmy Page testified in the case and said that the first time he heard of the controversy when a few years earlier when his son-in-law told him that a debate had been brewing online. Page insisted he had never heard "Taurus" before, and that it was "totally alien" to him.

The jury didn't buy the argument that Page never heard "Taurus," but still ruled in favor of Led Zeppelin, deciding that the chord progression in "Taurus" was common to many other songs dating back decades, and therefore, in the public domain. In 2018, the case was sent back to trial on appeal, but the ruling was upheld two years later. Here's a timeline of the case.

Pat Boone released an unlikely cover on his album In a In a Metal Mood. Boone wanted to see how it would turn out as a jazz waltz, and opened and closed the song with soft flute playing. In a subtle reference to his Christian faith, Boone changed the line "All in one is all and all" to "Three in one is all and all" - a reference to the Christian Trinity (the Father, Son, Holy Spirit).

Before recording the song, he scanned it for devilish references. "I kept looking for allusions to witchcraft or drugs," he said in a Songfacts interview. "And even though there were strange images, like 'in the hedgerows' and all these things, there were no specific mentions of Jimmy Page's involvement in witchcraft or anything like that."

Another notable cover was by an Australian performer called Rolf Harris, who used a wobbleboard (piece of quite floppy wood, held at both sides, arched slightly and wobbled so the arch would continually invert) and changed the line "And it makes me wonder" to "Does it make you wonder." >>

In the '90s, Australian TV host Andrew Denton had a show on which various artists were asked to perform their version of this song. Their versions were released on an album called The Money or the Gun: Stairways to Heaven. Artists performing it included Australian Doors Show, The Beatnix, Kate Ceberano and the Ministry of Fun, Robyne Dunn, Etcetera Theatre Company, The Fargone Beauties, Sandra Hahn and Michael Turkic, Rolf Harris, Pardon Me Boys, Neil Pepper, The Rock Lobsters, Leonard Teale, Toys Went Berserk, Vegimite Reggae, The Whipper Snappers, and John Paul Young. In reply to Rolf Harris' version, Page and Plant performed his song "Sun Arise" at the end of another Denton TV show. >>

In January 1990, this song was added to the Muzak playlist in a solo harp version. Unlike the original, the Muzak version, arranged and recorded to provide an "uplifting, productive atmosphere" and "counteract the worker-fatigue curve in the office environment," did not do so well, as even this sanitized version drew a lot of attention to the song, thus undermining the intention of the Muzak programming. >>

The band performed this at the Atlantic Records 40th anniversary concert in 1988 with Jason Bonham sitting in on drums for his late father. Plant did not want to play it, but was convinced at the last minute. It was sloppy and Plant forgot some of the words. This was not the case when Jason joined them again in 2007 for a benefit show to raise money for the Ahmet Ertegun education fund. They performed this song and 15 others, earning rave reviews from fans and critics.

Zeppelin's longest ever performance of this song was their last gig in Berlin in 1980. It clocked in around 15 minutes long. >>

Gordon Roy of Wishaw, Scotland, had all of the lyrics to this song tattooed on his back. He did it as a tribute to a friend who died in a car accident.

In the late '90s, the radio trade magazine Monday Morning Replay reported that "Stairway" was still played 4,203 times a year by the 67 largest AOR (album-oriented rock) radio stations in the US. ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, refuses to release exact figures on how many times it has been played since its release, but figure that on each AOR station in America, the song was played five times a day during its first three months of existence; twice a day for the next nine months; once a day for the next four years; and two to three times a week for the next 15 years. There are roughly 600 AOR and Classic Rock stations in the US, which means that "Stairway" has been broadcast a minimum of 2,874 times. At 8 minutes per spin, roughly 23 million minutes - almost 44 years - have been devoted to the song. So far.

On January 23, 1991, under the direction of owner and general manager John Sebastian, the radio station KLSK (104.1 FM) in Albuquerque, New Mexico played this song over and over for 24 hours, confounding listeners who weren't used to hearing Led Zeppelin on the station. The song played over 200 times, with many listeners tuning in to find out when it would end. It turned out to be publicity stunt, as the station was switching to a Classic Rock format.

Explaining his guitar setup for the solo, Jimmy Page told Guitar Player magazine in 1977: "I was using the Supro amp for the first album, and I still use it. The 'Stairway to Heaven' solo was done when I pulled out the Telecaster, which I hadn't used for a long time, plugged it into the Supro, and away it went again. That's a different sound entirely from the rest of the first album. It was a good, versatile setup."

The Foo Fighters did a mock cover of this song, and their version was to say that nobody should try to cover the song because they will screw it up. Dave Grohl intentionally carried the intro on way too long, asked his drummer and audience for lyrics, and when it came time for the guitar solo, he sang Jimmy Page's part. This was done purely as a joke, and to tell people not to cover the song, as Grohl is a huge Zeppelin fan, and lists Zeppelin's John Bonham as a major influence. >>

Rolling Stone magazine asked Jimmy Page how much of the guitar solo was composed before he recorded it. He replied: "It wasn't structured at all [laughs]. I had a start. I knew where and how I was going to begin. And I just did it. There was an amplifier [in the studio] that I was trying out. It sounded good, so I thought, "OK, take a deep breath, and play." I did three takes and chose one of them. They were all different. The solo sounds constructed - and it is, sort of, but purely of the moment. For me, a solo is something where you just fly, but within the context of the song."

Mary J. Blige recorded this in 2010 backed by Travis Barker, Randy Jackson, Steve Vai and Orianthi. Blige told MTV: "Once you get lost in the rock-and-roll moment of it, all you can do is scream to the top of your lungs or go as low as you need to go. It's not a head thing - it's a spirit thing." She added: "I am a Led Zeppelin fan. I've listened to their music since I was a child, and it's always moved me, especially 'Stairway To Heaven.' I make songs my own by going deep inside myself and translating them to 'what would Mary do.'" The song is included as a bonus track on the UK re-issue of her album Stronger With Each Tear and made available for download. Blige performed the song on the April 21, 2010 episode of American Idol. >>

In solo work or with other groups, Jimmy Page would not let anyone but Robert Plant sing this, but he did play it as an instrumental on occasion.

The ending of this song is distinctive in that is closes out with just Robert Plant's voice. According to Jimmy Page, he wrote a guitar part to end the song, but decided to leave it off since the vocal at the end had such an impact.

Jimmy Page often called "In The Light" from Physical Graffiti a follow-up to this song.

Regarding the composition of the track, Jimmy Page told Rolling Stone: "I was trying things at home, shunting this piece up with that piece. I had the idea of the verses, the link into the solo and the last part. It was this idea of something that would keep building and building."

Andy Johns, sound engineer on Led Zeppelin IV, told Guitare & Claviers magazine (January 1994) about the recording session for "Stairway To Heaven": "This song arrived completed. The arrangements had been done before the band entered the studio. We recorded the main tracks upstairs, in Island, with Jimmy on acoustic guitar, John Paul on a Hohner electric upright piano, and Bonham behind his kit. I tried to have a left hand sound coming out of the Hohner piano, in order to have something to re-record afterwards. As soon as we added the bass parts and Page started recording the overdubs, we could already tell it would be awesome. I knew it was a really special track and I was proud to take part in it. I didn't have the least idea, however, that it would become a f--king hymn for three generations of kids!" >>

During an interview with Rolling Stone in 1975, Page told journalist Cameron Crowe that the one artist who might be capable of achieving the artistic excellence of "Stairway To Heaven" was Joni Mitchell. He specifically mentioned Mitchell's song "Both Sides Now."

There have been two other completely different songs called "Stairway To Heaven" to chart in America. First in 1960 by Neil Sedaka (#9), and then in 1996 by Pure Soul with The O'Jays (#79).

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16. The Twist - Chubby Checker

 

 

This was written by Hank Ballard, who originally recorded it in 1959 with his group The Midnighters. Ballard, who died in 2003, was an influential R&B musician who blended rock, country and gospel in the '50s and '60s.

Ballard got the idea for the song by watching The Midnighters on stage. To Hank, the group often moved onstage like they were "trying to put a cigarette out." In a sense, they were twisting. Thus, the title of the song.

Hank Ballard & The Midnighters tried to get a Twist craze going with their original version of the song, doing the dance at their shows as they toured America (their dance was a little different, with band members lifting a leg to twist). It caught on in Philadelphia and in Baltimore, but was far from the national craze Chubby Checker created when he covered the song.

Ballard's original version was the B-side to "Teardrops On Your Letter," a song that was covered by many country musicians. "The Twist" went over very well live and Ballard thought it was a hit, but his record company (King Records) thought "Teardrops On My Letter" would do better (it made #87). In Baltimore a deejay named Buddy Deane had a TV dance party show (The Buddy Deane Show) and played the song. The kids' reaction was excellent and Buddy recommended the song to Dick Clark, who had his own show in Philadelphia, American Bandstand. Clark loved the song but was wary of Ballard, who was known for raunchy songs like "Sexy Ways" and "Work With Me Annie." Clark, who was a media mogul with interests in record labels and artists, went looking for his own artist to break the song. He held auditions, and found a young man named Earnest Evans, a chicken plucker who liked to sing on the job. He was a great impersonator and kept everyone at the chicken plant laughing as he'd do his impersonations of the popular stars of that time like Fats Domino, Elvis, The Coasters and the Chipmunks.

Because of payola laws, Clark was technically prohibited from having financial dealings with record companies, but he had a good relationship with the Philly label Cameo-Parkway, which took care of recording and releasing the new version. Studio musicians at Cameo-Parkway, along with Evans on vocals, duplicated the Ballard version of "The Twist," which they did almost exactly: Same key, same tempo, and Evans sounded just like Hank Ballard. Clark was going to release the record but wanted Ernest to think up a stage name. Clark's wife suggested that he use a take off on Fats Domino: Fats=Chubby Domino=Checker. Ernest Evans became Chubby Checker, and after performing the song on American Bandstand, it was his version that raced up the charts. The cover was so convincing that when Hank Ballard first heard the song on the radio he thought it was him - "They cloned it" were Hank's words. Ballard was not bitter toward Checker or Clark when his version was left behind, especially since Ballard's record company had no faith in the song. Since he was the songwriter, Ballard earned massive royalties when Checker's version became a huge hit. Clark also helped out Ballard by promoting his song "Finger Poppin' Time," which rose to #7 around the same time "The Twist" was happening.

This started a dance craze that got so popular because it was so easy to do. Even the severely rhythm-challenged could do The Twist (Chubby Checker explained it as "like putting out a cigarette with both feet and coming out of a shower and wiping your bottom with a towel to the beat"). This helped bridge a generation gap, since both kids and adults could do it.

The Twist was also a dance where the participants didn't touch each other, which became a new trend, especially with disco dancing.

Chubby Checker hit #1 in the US with this song on September 19, 1960. That same week, the original version by Hank Ballard & The Midnighters reached its peak chart position of #28.

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17. Live Forever - Oasis

 

Noel Gallagher started writing this song when he was a roadie for The Inspiral Carpets. It helped convince his brother Liam to let him join his band, Oasis.

The melody is based on The Rolling Stones' "Shine A Light" from Exile on Main St. The part Noel took was from the chorus: "May the good Lord Shine a Light on you." Noel wrote it in his flat in Manchester using the melody from the song. He took it to the band and they rehearsed it once and played it that night at a gig. >>

This is one of the most enduring songs in Britain, but it was never a hit in America. Oasis never came close to matching their UK success in the States.

The lyrics are partly a tribute to Gallagher's mother. She was an avid gardener, and her garden is mentioned in the song.

Some of the video was shot in New York's Central Park.

 

This was voted Oasis's best song in a poll taken on the band's official website. >>

On the cover of the CD single is John Lennon's childhood home, 251 Menlove Avenue. It was bought by Yoko Ono who donated it to the National Trust. >>

According to Q magazine, the opening couplet, "Maybe I don't really want to know/ How your garden grows" was inspired by Gallagher's childhood memories of waiting around, bored, on his parents' allotment.

Liam Gallagher told Q magazine October 2008 that this is his favorite Oasis song. He explained: "I think the words still mean something powerful. You talk about Oasis capturing a spirit, and I think that song is how a lot of people feel when they're down on their luck. I think I first heard it in the Boardwalk in Manchester when our kid (Noel Gallagher) was trying it out. Even when we're starting it now I always feel like we're going to perform our best version of it. It makes me think of me mam. And it's the song that makes me feel I have the best job in the band. I may not have written it but I get to sing it. It's weird cos it's outlasted other tunes."

Noel Gallagher seems to be pretty proud of this tune. He told Q magazine in 2011: "With every song that I write, I compare it to The Beatles. I've got semi-close once or twice, with 'Live Forever,' for example... the solo on that is one of the greatest things in rock music."

Co-producer Owen Morris also mixed Definitely Maybe. He recalled to Q magazine: "When Noel's solo on Live Forever goes high on the second half, all I could think of was Slash in leather keks with a wind machine on the Grand Canyon. So I muted it and thought I was making it cooler. I had a message from Noel not to cut it in half on the final mix."

This was recorded in Clear Studios at Manchester, England. >>

Noel Gallagher told NME May 11, 2013 how this was inspired by a Nirvana B-side. "It was written in the middle of grunge," he explained, "and Nirvana had a tune called 'I Hate Myself And I Want To Die.' I was like, 'I'm not f--king having that,' Kids don't need to hear that nonsense. Here was a guy who had everything and was miserable about it. We had f--k all, and I still thought getting up in the morning was the greatest f--king ever."

Noel took a shot at his brother's high-pitched vocals on this song during his commentary for the 2010 box set, Time Flies. "Yeah, matey boy soon gave up singing the falsetto bit after that," recalled the Oasis guitarist. "I think he thought he was a bit gay, though there's nothing wrong with being gay, obviously."

Noel Gallagher said during a Reddit AMA that he never had a life goal until he penned this song. "Where I came from, and the times that I grew up in, it was best not to have any ambitions. It was quite a bleak time," he said. "I never had a life goal until I wrote 'Live Forever.' And then when I wrote 'Live Forever,' I wanted to be in the biggest band in the world."

In an interview with Daniel Rachel (The Art of Noise: Conversations with Great Songwriters), Noel said the line "the brains I had went to my head" was inspired by the antics he and his friend would get into that nobody else could understand, like driving all night in the rain to go to discos, get drunk, and sleep in bus shelters. "It was like a thing between me and him; they don't get it, we get it," he said.

"Live Forever" was voted the best British song ever in a 2018 Radio X poll. The epic track pipped Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and Oasis' own tune "Don't Look Back In Anger" to claim the title.

The other Oasis songs in the list included:

#6 "Wonderwall"

#7 "Slide Away"

#9 "Champagne Supernova."

Noel Gallagher wrote the song on The Stone Roses' guitarist John Squire's Gretsch G6122 Chet Atkins Country Gentleman Electric Guitar. One of the band's roadies lived at producer Mark Coyle's house and it ended up at Gallagher's home. "I'd listened to enough music to know that was a classic," he told Mojo magazine.

Noel Gallagher presented a fully composed "Live Forever" to the band for the first time in early 1993 during rehearsals. The band was in awe of it. Guitarist Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs told him, "You've not just written that song. That's from somewhere else."

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