The Smashing Pumpkins - "33"

“33” was the fifth and final single from the Smashing Pumpkins’ third album, “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”, but it also was the first song written by Billy Corgan (vocals and guitars) for that double album.

Corgan : “A simple song in a country tuning, ‘33’ was the first song I wrote when I came home from all the Siamese Dream touring [“Siamese Dream” being the title of the Smashing Pumpkins 2nd album]. I took three days off, and this was literally the first thing that came out of my hands when I sat down. The 'cha-cha-cha' sound is my drum machine through a flanger, and what you hear is the same one right off the demo because I couldn't remember how to recreate it. The stringly sounds are part Vocoder, plus five slide guitars tuned to one note each to create the chords.”
“When I wrote that song I was just moving into my house, I had just gotten married, and in some ways the song talks about me entering a new phase in my life. But it also talks about how I don't really necessarily trust that part of my life. Obviously it has more relevance now that I'm divorced and I'm out of my house... The song has a different poignancy for me now, both because I foreshadowed the future and I was also hopeful that that sort of future was going to work out.”

“33” was the first single released after the firing of Jimmy Chamberlin (drums) and death of Jonathan Melvoin (keyboard player on tour). It is said that the song was released instead of another song called “Muzzle” because there aren’t any drums on “33”, whereas “Muzzle” features great drums by the sacked drummer…

As to why the song is called “33”, Corgan : “I had a friend read my tarot cards and the person said that ‘When you're 33 years old,’ -this is when I was 27, - your life is going to completely change’. I actually had hoped to write three songs: ‘33’, ‘66’, and ‘99’, but I never wrote ‘66’ and ‘99’.”

Available on the double album “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”


The Subways - "Young for eternity"

On songwriting, Billy Lunn, the young (19 years old) singer from up and coming band The Subways : "It usually differs as to how the songs come about. I mean, they come to me rather than me picking up a guitar and just stringing out ideas. I wrote a song at work on the back of a delivery receipt and it's now the title track for our album , so it's just generally life being put into music through me and the guitar". That song is the title track for their first album, "Young For Eternity".

More details on how he wrote the lyrics to the song : "I was working in a hotel at the time and I had to write out receipts, because I used to collect all of the dirty sheets from the hotel rooms, and pack them away - and the lyrics just came. I turned over a receipt that I was meant to be handing in, and wrote the lyrics and stuffed it in my pocket, and I got the sack because of it".

Available on the album "Young For Eternity"


Cat Power - "I don't blame you"

Cat Power"s usual songwriting process : "Usually what happens is, I'll play it [the piece of music] four times early on and be like, is this something I don't want to remember? If it's something I want to remember, I have to play it four more times because I have to remember it. Because in the time it takes for me to look under my bed to find the tape recorder, I lose all the lyrics and the music. My music is really easy because there isn't much change in it most of the time. The words are the journey for me; the visual stuff that I have to remember. It's usually an image and I'll remember. When I press record, whatever makes it on the tape, that is where the song gets saved. Then I'll put it under the thing [the bed] and a couple months later I'll be like, what is this ? And then I'll remember. The trick is remembering it and making yourself, the next night or later that night or a couple hours later, testing yourself without the cassette if the song still resonates with you. The ones that come out are the ones I remember, so, there's a lot of them that are like, no, no, no, no, no".

Cat Power's peculiar writing and recording process for "I don’t blame you": "I sat there while everybody was playing pool, ping-pong, and getting stoned while we were mixing and transferring tape. I was in there singing that song. We'd all been drinking all night or whatever. I was remembering somebody and I was just sitting there. I must have played it 20 times. I got so completely delirious that when Adam [Kasper, producer] walked in he was laughing at me. Usually I don't sing when anyone walks around. I was just staring at him and laughing and singing. I was like, [singing] 'Adam, why don't you and press record ?'" And that's it.

Available on the album “You Are Free”


Dire Straits - "Money for nothing"

Mark Knopfler (vocals & guitars) wrote "Money for Nothing" after overhearing delivery men in a New York department store complain about their jobs while watching MTV. He wrote the song in the store sitting at a kitchen display they had set up. Many of the lyrics were things they actually said. Mark Knopfler : "The lead character in the song is a guy who works in the hardware department in a television/custom kitchen/refrigerator/microwave appliance store. He's singing the song. I had to ask for a pen and paper while I sat down in this mock kitchen display - which was in the front window of this kitchen electrical and appliance store - and tried to write the tune. In the back of the store, all the TVs were tuned into MTV".

The song was notable for a cameo appearance by Sting singing the song's introduction and backing chorus, a borrowing of the cable network's slogan "I want my MTV" (The line "I want my MTV" was the basis of the cable network's promotional campaign and they often played clips of musicians saying and screaming the line between videos). The songwriting credits are shared between Knopfler and Sting, though Sting has stated that his only contribution was the "I want my MTV" line, which was sung in partial parody of his own song "Don't stand so close to me", originally recorded by The Police. Sting did not want a songwriting credit for this, but his record company did because they would earn royalties from it.

Sting’s part was conceived after the basic tracks for the song were cut. As Neil Dorfsman (engineer) explains : "That was a happy accident. Sting was down in Montserrat while we were doing that song. He had come by to visit and had dinner with us one night, and I think after that Mark and I kind of looked at each other and thought, 'Let's get him on this record.' I'm not sure to this day if Mark had the 'I want my MTV' line written already or wrote it for Sting to be in the melody of [Sting's Police song] 'Don't stand so close to me'".
Knopfler's distinctive, crunchy guitar tone on the main body of the song was another accident. Dorfsman : "I would go out in the studio while Mark would play, and I'd have a couple of mics up on his amplifier ; the guys in the control room would be listening, and I'd move the mics around until it sounded pretty good to them in there. I'd usually use two mics, and I was positioning one and moving the other. It was sort of in a weird spot where you'd never put a microphone and everybody on the talkback said 'Stop! Come here and listen to this !' There was some weird phasing thing happening. I don't know what it was. But it sounded great and we did six or seven takes right away because I wasn't sure we'd ever get that exact tone again. I wrote it all down, but when we tried to better it in New York a month later, we never came close".
Also Dorfsman : "We did a lot of keyboard overdubbing on that song in particular ; we spent a lot of time on the sound and the part. I remember telling Guy Fletcher (keyboards) to treat that whole extended intro section as if it was a science fiction scene and there was a monster coming alive. Eventually we got something that approximated the idea I had. Mark was always looking for sounds that weren't stock, and was into buying keyboards that other people weren't using."

The video was the first to be aired on MTV Europe when the network started on August 1, 1987 (6 years after MTV US). The music video for the song featured early computer animation illustrating the lyrics. The video was one of the first uses of computer-animated human characters and was considered groundbreaking at the time of its release. The characters were supposed to have more detail, like buttons on their shirts, but they used up the budget and had to leave it as is.

Available on the album "Brothers In Arms"


Procol Harum - "A whiter shade of pale"

There is SO much to say about this song (examples : it's the first Procol Harum song ever but it wasn't originally included on their first album ; the song was influenced by Bach's Suite Number 3 in D Major Air On The G String, as played by Jacques Loussier on a TV advertisement ; the idea for the title came when one of the band members overheard a girl at a party being described as having turned into "a whiter shade of pale" ; before the song was officially released, it was arranged to be played on the pirate Radio London because band members wanted to hear what it sounded like on the radio ; etc...) that I'll give a link to a very complete page : http://www.procolharum.com/awsop.htm

Song available on the album "Procol Harum" also known as "A Whiter Shade Of Pale"


Ween - "Exactly where I'm at"

Aaron “Gene Ween” Freeman and Mickey “Dean Ween” Melchiondo seem to master any genre of music (hard rock, country & western, psychedelic pop) as proven by the many albums they have put out over the last 15 years. But they are also known for their sense of humor which has brought them to deliberately write an incomplete song, and place it at the start of an album more or less because it can't go anywhere else...

Gene Ween [about the song "Exactly where I'm at"] : "That song is kind of incomplete. You’ll notice it just has the two verses, and the drum kit comes in, and that’s it. With that song, we thought it would sound really cool if it just really kicked in. We were going for like an E.L.O. thing, with a sweeping effect. We just built it up. I wrote the song on acoustic guitar and there’s nothing going on in it [!]. We decided to do everything that was done to that song in the studio. We put a Leslie effect on my voice for the first line, [in] the second line it gets a little clearer, and the third line is crystal clear, and everything has kicked in. We just had fun wasting out at the end with like Robert Fripp stuff".

Dean Ween : "We chose it as the opener just because of the opening line pretty much. There was no other place on the album for it to go. It starts with the line "let’s begin with the past in front / and all the things that you really don’t care about now". It just seemed obvious that it was the best place to put it. It’s real anthemic. Gene came to the studio and didn’t really have anything for it. It’s not much of a "song" song, we broke it down into sections and went for a really psychedelic thing with it".

Available on the album "White Pepper"


Garbage - "Why do you love me"

"Why do you love me" is Garbage's comeback song, the first single off their last album entitled "Bleed Like Me".

This song is an example of how Garbage songs, according to their own words, don't come together until they're almost finished. Shirley Manson (vocals & guitars) : "We were mastering the song and we ended up editing the heavy guitar riff onto the front of the song, it wasn't there initially. Once we did that, all of a sudden, the record company said 'It sounds fantastic, this is definitely the first single'. We’d always loved that song but nobody had really noticed it. Once they said this was the first single, we were psyched, because it's a very strange single to go out with. It's got that strange middle break, where everything disappears and the whole personality of the song changes. I'm happy they supported that. Record companies usually go for the conservative, obvious 'hit', which of course, as we all know, is the kiss of death".

Before the start of their (since then partly cancelled) world tour, Steve Marker (guitars & bass & samples & loops) couldn't wait to play it live and couldn't wait to see Butch Vig (drums & loops & noise & efx) play the whole song at that speed ! Vig was indeed "dreading playing it live because it's 160 BPM and has all this syncopation and I'm not [wasn't] in shape to do that. I will once we've started rehearsals".

Available on the album "Bleed Like Me"