Aerosmith - "Sweet emotion"

A bass-driven song...
Tom Hamilton (bass) : "The bass riff came first. I wrote that line and realized I should think of some guitar parts for it if I was ever going to get a chance to present it to the band. I didn't think I ever would. But it was at the end of the recording and Jack [Douglas, producer of the album] said, 'Tomorrow's jam day, if anybody's got a stray riff hanging around'. So I spent the day showing everybody and we took it from there. Steven [Tyler, vocals] had the idea of taking that intro riff, which became the chorus bass line under the "Sweet emotion" part, and transposing it into the key of E, and making it a really heavy Zeppelin-esque thing".
Brad Whitford (guitars) : "We kind of bastardized that lick from [Jeff Beck's] "Rice Pudding." [i.e., the transitional guitar riff that comes between verses and leads into choruses]".
Hamilton : That part came from all the times that we listened to [Beck's] "Rough and Ready" album".
Tyler : [to Joe Perry, lead guitars] "Remember, we didn't know how to end it ? We got into a big fight. Cocaine was all over the place. It was late and we were at the end of our rope. Finally I said, 'Just fuckin' play a drum fill and we'll go into...[sings outro riff]'. And we did it. It was such a magic moment".
Perry : "We knew it would be killer live - a show stopper. So then the f*ckin' record company got it and said, 'What can we maul to get this on the radio ?' The single version of "Sweet Emotion" is pretty chopped up. They edited it down to just the melodic element. But that's how it was done back then".
Available on the album "Toys in the attic"


Suzanne Vega - "Luka"

Suzanne Vega : "In some parts of the world. I'm "The Luka Chick", as Beavis and Butt-head put it. And that's okay. I was glad it was that song that made a big noise in the world because I think it was a good song, and an unusual song to become popular. I would much rather have it be that than some little love song - I'm not likely to write them, anyway - or something more stupid".
For Suzanne Vega, the creative process often begins with a chord progression and a rhythm. Vega : "I like chords that are augmented or diminished, and sometimes I build around a minor. 'Luka' was the one exception : It begins on a major chord and has a major-chord feeling all the way through. Usually when I first start writing the words, there's a piece missing, like a bridge or part of a chorus. 'Luka' definitely began with the chords an the rhythm, and then the words fit the song. It is based on a person that I didn't know very well. I'd only seen him once or twice, but I knew his name was Luka, and I based it on his character. I don't think he was an abused child the way the child is abused in the song, so it was a mixture between fact and fiction. It never says that he's abused, but if you look at the words, he says everything that a kid would say who is being abused but won't come out and say it. I don't write about myself, but from the part of me that's the same in everyone."
The reason why Vega uses short words when writing her lyrics is not as one would imagine : "I prefer short words to long ones, because I find that's the quickest way to get someone's attention. If you say, 'My name is Luka/ I live on the second floor,' you're drawn into this picture because it's such specific, concrete information and the language is so simple. But the funny thing was that two years ago I found out that I was an asthmatic - I had never before been diagnosed as having asthma. When I mentioned this to my drummer, he laughed and said he figured that was a reason why I had such short phrases ! I have short words, short phrases, and I don't stand around holding the note or using any vibrato, because I can't - I have no breath. So I guess it's all developed in a way that suits my style. I mean it sounds kind of pathetic, but it isn't, really : it's just making the best of your own limitations, which is kind of what a style is. Developing a style means finding out where your limits are and making the best of them."
Available on the album "Solitude standing"


Robbie Williams - "Angels"

Take That were obviously never going to be an easy act to follow.
Robbie Williams' first two singles had done pretty well, but the next two singles started a disturbing downward trend. It was at this point that his managers suggested the fifth songwriting collaborator in 18 months – a certain Guy Chambers. Rumour has it that Williams agreed mainly because his mum's boyfriend had 'quite liked' the mediocre pop outfit The Lemon Trees that Chambers had been in.
Whatever the reason, the pair hit it off straightaway and in the first session impressively wrote four songs. Even more remarkable was that "Angels" was the first song they tackled and apparently wrote it in under 30 minutes. Contrary to popular belief, Chambers wasn't responsible for the majority of the song and the credit is equally due : "in the main he was responsible for the lyrics and melody, and I did the music. It was very equal. Rob knew exactly what he wanted to say, and how he wanted to say it."
As important as the success of the single was the fact that he also ceased to be 'that fat dancer from Take That' (as Gallagher brothers from Oasis called him) and finally got the recognition he felt he deserved. Many Britpop fans felt that "Angels" was an attempt to cash in on the then huge Britpop craze by writing a mainstream song in a similar style.
Read how reviewer Dominic King described the musicality of the song and its impact on William's career : "This booted football fan Robbie Williams into the Premier Division. First the big move - a root triad leaps boldly to the ninth on "and through it all". Then some fancy footwork - on the last syllable of "protection" the ninth hangs suspended over the relative minor. A series of fluid passing notes lead us onto the winning score - the George Harrisonesque guitar solo kicking off on the dominant minor. Goooooaaaalllll !"
"Angels" is constantly played on pub jukeboxes. A review of it said that it "taps into the sentimental old git in all of us".
Available on the album "Life through a lens"


Leonard Cohen - "Suzanne"

Contrary to popular belief, the song "Suzanne", one of Leonard Cohen's best-known songs, takes its title from the name of Suzanne Vaillancourt, the wife of a friend, and not from the name of his own wife.

And though, as Cohen says, "The song was begun [in 1966], and the chord and picking pattern were developed before a woman's name entered the song. I knew it was a song about Montreal : it seemed to come out of that landscape that I loved very much in Montreal, which was the harbour, and the waterfront, and the sailors' church there, called Notre Dame de Bon Secour, which stood out over the river, and I knew that there're ships going by, I knew that there was a harbour, I knew that there was Our Lady of the Harbour, which was the virgin on the church which stretched out her arms towards the seamen, and you can climb up to the tower and look out over the river, so the song came from that vision, from that view of the river. I knew there was a song there".

A woman only fit in the picture after that. Cohen : "At a certain point, I bumped into Suzanne Vaillancourt, who was the wife of a friend of mine, they were a stunning couple around Montreal at the time. There was no... well, there was thought, but there was no possibility, one would not allow oneself to think of toiling at the seduction of Armand Vaillancourt's wife. He was a friend. I bumped into her one evening, and she invited me down to her place near the river. She had a loft, at a time when lofts were... the word wasn't used. She had a space in a warehouse down there, and she invited me down, and I went with her, and she served me Constant Comment tea, which has little bits of oranges in it. And the boats were going by, and I touched her perfect body with my mind, because there was no other opportunity. There was no other way that you could touch her perfect body under those circumstances. So she provided the name in the song".

Cohen worked months and months on the song for matters of intensity. Cohen : "I was still able to juggle stuff: a life, a woman, a dream, other ambitions, other tangents. At a certain point I realized I only had one ball in my hand, and that was The Song".

Before "Suzanne" was released under Cohen's own name, Judy Collins recorded her poignant version of the song that introduced it to the world. Cohen met the folk singer and later sang "Suzanne" down the phone to her and she immediately promised to record it, which she did (124 covers of the song have since been listed). Cohen : "The publishing rights were taken away from me but it is probably appropriate that I don't own this song. I have heard some people singing it on a ship in the Caspian Sea."

About Cohen's relationship with John Simon (producer of the album "Songs Of Leonard Cohen") : "We had a falling out over the song Suzanne. He wanted a heavy piano syncopated and maybe drums and I didn't want drums on any of my songs, so that was a bone of contention. Also, he was ready to substitute this heavy chordal structure under the song to give it forward movement and I didn't like that".

And as for Suzanne ? The young woman is still alive. She was kind of pissed off at Cohen because she felt he should have cut her in on the profits, but Cohen lost the rights of the song anyway.
Available on the album "Songs of Leonard Cohen"


David Bowie - "Battle for Britain"

David started playing guitar in the mid sixties. The first grown-up thing he ever learned to play on guitar was shown to him by Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin guitarist) when he was a session man. Bowie : "I was doing a session with one of the many bands that I had then. He showed me this riff - alternating F# barre chord to open E string, G chord to open E riff. I thought it was so cool ! I played it over and over. There's a certain enthusiasm of that moment when you learn to play something that never gets lost. It's become the core of who I am and what I do. Whenever I want to bring back that enthusiasm, I dust off that lick".
Bowie definitely wanted to get that enthusiasm back in the second half of the 90's. Bowie : "I used that same riff on "Battle For Britain", one of the first riffs I ever learned. It was just opening up that E string. That's made me so aware of keeping the E's open and taking the chords through it. And it was because of Page".
Available on the album "Earthling"


Michael Jackson - "Beat it"

Michael Jackson does not read or write music. During his composing process, he sings the melody and vocally imitates the bassline, strings and other parts into a tape recorder. Jackson : "The process is creating a vocal rythm to a click track, which is a sound, a time beat. And I do mouth sounds to that beat. These sounds can be looped according to how you sample it in the computer again and again. This is the foundation for the entire track, everything plays off this. It's the rythm, like the beatbox rythm. Every song I've writtent since I was very little I've done that way and I still do it that way". At times, he sings the sounds directly to the musicians, and when they accurately reproduce his ideas, this is recorded. The tape is then turned to others who transcribe the notes onto staff sheets.
Jackson came up with "Beat it" when his producer, Quincy Jones, encouraged him to write something like "My Sharona", which was a huge hit for The Knack in 1979. Eddie Van Halen played the guitar solo ; he did it as a favor for Quincy Jones. Van Halen wrote the solo by himself and not according to melodies popping out of Jackson's head, though he was not paid for his effort.
Available on the album "Thriller"