5 Mind-Blowing True Stories Behind Famous Songs
Rock stars are all but required by federal law to be weird and out there. It's not just part of the act, either -- being creative usually just means a person's brain is broken in an interesting way. You need to be able to think outside the proverbial box.
For example, you have tunes like the following, where the secret ingredient was pure insanity.
Axl Rose Records Himself Having Sex for "Rocket Queen"
Axl Rose is known for two things: utter perfectionism and batshit insanity. The former is the reason he spent 15 years and $13 million to complete an album that, ultimately, only he and his dog cared about. The latter explains such acts of silliness as punching out fans who commit the cardinal sin of taking pictures, walking out on a show after their co-headliner set himself on fire, regularly showing up hours late for concerts with no good explanation whatsoever, and threatening to kill himself unless his girlfriend married him.
But what happens when the two sides of Axl's head come together? Well, you get "Rocket Queen." The closing track on the Appetite for Destruction album sounded OK enough, but Axl felt the mid-song breakdown needed a little something extra. Most people would have suggested something musical, it being a song and all. Did Axl call for a drum fill? A second guitar solo? Nope. He decided to insert sex sounds, and we're not talking about recording a snippet of some random porn movie.
"Hey, Steve, remember that favor you owe me?"
No, Axl decided to bang a real woman in the studio, for sound-effects purposes. He found a willing woman -- Adriana Smith, the girlfriend of Steven Adler (the band's drummer). Apparently, Adler had just cheated on her, so her version of revenge was to bang the lead singer, with an engineer looking on and recording the whole thing.
And Axl didn't even get her excited. No, he had a backup harmonica player do that. Axl allowed him to strip down with Smith and get her wet and willing, and only then did he step in and perform the ultimate cockblock, saying, "I'm sorry, but I'm gonna fuck this girl now. It's for the record. We're putting it on the record." Because, to Axl Rose, a day without utter douchebaggery is like a day without sunshine.
Hear those moans starting at the 2:40 mark? That's Adriana Smith. Her vocal acrobatics extend throughout the entire break and into the chorus, which makes it seem like Axl was singing the damn song while attempting to "take her down to Paradise City" with "his boner." Sadly, for all of her hard work, Smith didn't even get a songwriting credit. She did, however, develop a drug and alcohol habit, due to all the "extreme shame and guilt and stuff." We can't help but wonder what they did when it came time to play the song live on stage -- we're guessing they just had Izzy make moaning sounds into the mic.
"No, leave the cigarette in. It'll make it sound like there's some oral going on."
The Beach Boys Plagiarize Charles Manson
For such a legendary band, the Beach Boys sure do enjoy their plagiarism. But while their defrauding of Chuck Berry resulted in a mere lawsuit and forfeiture of royalties, another act of blatant song lifting could well have gotten one of them killed. We're talking about the time the band ripped off Charles Manson.
Drummer Dennis Wilson was driving around one night in 1968 when he happened across a couple of smoking-hot hitchhikers. Being a sex-crazed rock star, of course he brought them home. Then he left to go record, because how much trouble could a couple of total strangers, alone in your house, possibly get into?
"Goddammit. This is the fifth cult you've brought home this week!"
Turns out these hitchhikers were members of the Manson Family, which you may have heard about in passing. About a dozen of them invited themselves to Wilson's home, including ol' Chuck himself. But Wilson was cool with it, since many of them were hot, and he and Manson ended up striking up a fast friendship. Yep, this infamous, murderous cult leader was best buds with a dude from that band that sang about cars and surfing.
That's Wilson on the left. Manson on the right ... are we sure they didn't switch places at some point?
Manson had learned to play guitar during his various stints in prison (good luck on bringing a blunt instrument to jail these days) and shared some of his songs with Wilson. The Beach Boy liked the material very much -- so much that he took one tune, called "Cease to Exist," and decided to cover it. Well, not so much "cover" as "change the name, rewrite a few lines, and claim full credit." Pure semantics, really.
Luckily, he waited until Manson was good and imprisoned before blatantly stealing his stuff. See, he had also promised Manson that he would secure him a recording contract. When Wilson failed to do so, a miffed Manson started to show potential for a very murdery future. After realizing that Manson was not even close to right in the head, Wilson skipped town. Manson responded by sending him a bullet with a cryptic warning. Being Manson, this warning likely made no sense whatsoever, but was still spooky as shit.
"I hear pineapples."
After Manson proved to be a very naughty boy indeed, the Beach Boys were safe to record their plagiarized version of his song, releasing it as "Never Learn Not to Love." As the B-side to their "Bluebirds Over the Mountain" single, it reached No. 61 on the U.S. pop charts, as well as No. 33 in the U.K. Other than the part where he isn't credited, Charles Manson is technically a pop star with a Top 40 hit. Shockingly, the Beach Boys have never gotten sued for this one.
Otis Redding Dies Before He Can Finish "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay"
For a guy renowned for his soulful energy on songs like "Respect" and "Satisfaction," it's almost ironic that Otis Redding's biggest claim to fame is "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," a gentle song about sitting around and doing jack shit. It's so mellow that for the last bit of the song, Redding just starts whistling. You might have thought that it was great symbolism, showcasing how at peace he is, just relaxing and watching ships instead of continuing with this "singing" bullshit.
But the whistling wasn't supposed to be there -- it's meaningless filler. Redding's usual modus operandi was to ad lib at the end of his songs, and he wanted to do the same with "Dock." So his guitarist recorded 10 instrumental bars, allowing Otis to go on about love or sandwiches or whatever else was on his mind that day.
"Otis, we've talked about this. You can't keep turning every single into your personal grocery list."
So what was on his mind? Nothing, apparently. He stepped up to the mic and couldn't think of a damn thing to say. So, he started whistling instead. It sounded nice and all, but Redding really wanted actual words there. He was out of time, however, since he had TV and concerts to do. So, he figured he would just think up something and come back later to finish the track.
"Hey, how about we record me banging the drummer's girlfriend?"
Sadly, he never got to -- two days later, he was killed in a plane crash.
Shortly afterward, Stax Records put the song out the way he'd left it, whistle and all. It jumped all the way to No. 1, becoming the first posthumous record to do so. The beautiful whistling played a large role in this, leaving us to wonder what Redding could possibly have sung that would've been better.
"Microphones are the best ... um, better than I ever ... guessed ..."
The Beatles Slapped Their First Album Together in a Day
The Beatles' second single, "Please Please Me," was a huge breakthrough hit. Normally, that's cause for celebratory coke lines off the soft belly of a kitten. At least we think that's how rock stars party.
However, the Fab Four's producer, George Martin, had other ideas. Pop music is notoriously fickle; if they were going to get a sales boost from the single, they needed to react right the hell now. This meant recording an album right the hell now, and releasing it right the hell now. So at 10 a.m. on February 11, 1963, sessions began for the Please Please Me album, and ended at 7:45 that night. An entire 14-song album was recorded in one goddamn day. While their lead singer was sick.
"Hey, remember this look. We might use that in a few years."
John Lennon had just come down with a particularly bad cold, which meant his voice had gone from "gloriously melodic" to "howler monkey falling into farm machinery." Sure, they could've waited a week or so for Lennon to recover, but they were just so sure that in another week the whole world would have gotten over this "Beatles" thing.
So, they worked around it, which gave birth to the now-famous screamed vocals on "Twist and Shout." Martin had saved that song for the end, because it was particularly throat-shredding, and he was concerned that Lennon wouldn't be able to get through it. Considering that Lennon had resorted to gargling with milk and sang the entire song with his face and body clenched like he was shitting a porcupine, Martin might have been onto something:
And here's the same song performed live, after Lennon's larynx stopped wanting to crawl out of his mouth and throttle him for what he was doing to it:
The studio version was the one and only usable take; after Lennon howled it out, he was completely spent. Still, after a mere 10 hours and tons of physical suffering, the Beatles' first album was in the can, and they were free to cash in on the whole flavor-of-the-moment Beatles fad.
Ross Robinson's Psychotic Recording Methods
Think of the worst boss you've ever had. The one who bullied you, mocked you, forced you to work at your lowest, mentally and emotionally, and reduced you to tears because all your hard work just wasn't good enough. Screw that guy, right? Well, they've got nothing on rock music's Bad Boss. Meet Ross Robinson, a multi-platinum producer widely known as "The Godfather of Nu-Metal," for which you can either thank him or curse him.
Robinson's production techniques are akin to Dexter's detective skills. He's certainly qualified, but too deranged to truly deserve the job. His resume is littered with terrifying tales of how he's achieved perfect takes from his artists. Just ask Korn, if they can still speak through all the sobbing. See, Korn's songs tend to be punctuated by a lot of tortured screaming about how shitty lead singer Jonathan Davis' life is. So, Robinson figured the key to success was triggering this emotional imbalance. For a recent album, Robinson brought in Davis' wife and had Davis perform a song about lying to her and hurting her, right to her face.
"OK, good. Now, here, eat her cat."
And that's just how he works -- he'll learn the stories behind Davis' lyrics and ride him relentlessly about them. If Davis sings about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child, Robinson will force him to relive it, over and over again, until the song is just right. So, when Davis breaks down in tears during "Daddy" or "Holding All These Lies," it's not studio trickery. Robinson purposefully reduced him to that blubbering mess.
He rode Davis so hard that the singer damn near killed himself. Davis would later describe the sessions as "sheer fucking torture and hell," and even his psychiatrist wanted Robinson to back off.
"What, your pussy psychiatrist wants you to be a pussy, too? You gonna cry for me, pussy?"
Robinson's depraved style doesn't begin and end with Korn, though. How about the time he made a member of Slipknot perform backing vocals immediately after the poor guy found out his beloved grandfather had died? Apparently, Robinson considered this a "bold move," but refusal on Mr. Slipknot's part might have meant getting random shit chucked at him, like goddamn open flames.
Yes, Robinson will totally throw fire at you if he doesn't like what you're doing. Just ask the Cure, who Robinson completely snapped at after several lackluster takes. He went full R. Lee Ermey on their gothic asses, swearing at them, insulting their legacy, throwing about a hundred lit candles around the studio, and laughing maniacally at the keyboardist's tears and tantrums. As Robinson put it, "Sometimes musicians need to feel certain things to emote, and a lot of times, that thing will come out with a little coercing. So sometimes it comes in the form of an object being thrown at their head while they're tracking."
Hey, as long as the records keep selling, people will keep hiring him to do it.
"Hey, computer, remember when Steve Jobs died?"
Aaron Short is a film student. He has a blog here. Join Sam on Facebook and follow him on Twitter, and he might tell you about his pot of gold.
For more musical history, check out 6 Classic Songs That Were Supposed to Be Jokes and 5 Famous Hidden Song Meanings (That Are Total B.S.).
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The Rap Video That Is Clearly About Stalking Kim Kardashian.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn what "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" really means.
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