The Police - "Every breath you take"

Recently ranked 79th in Radio 2's Songs Of The Century it allegedly still earns Sting about a 1000 bucks daily from US airplay alone.
While the song sounds like a sedate and seemingly harmonious love ballad (some people even used it as their wedding song), it was actually written during the collapse of Sting's marriage ; the lyrics describe not well-meaning love but the motivations of a stalker, who is watching "every breath you take/every move you make". Many saw it as a possessive reaction to the split.
The lyrics to the song are very simple and it is on repeated listens that the mood becomes more sinister as you realise that this love is of an obsessive nature. Michael Stipe of REM particularly enjoyed this underlying subtext : "It was beautiful and creepy. So I wanted to write a song (Losing My Religion) that was better" [you are the judge].
The simplicity of the lyrics is also reflected in the uncomplicated melody, and apparently a synth-driven instrumental was dropped for not fitting in with the song's overall tone.
The simplest of chord sequences (in essence C/Aminor/F/G), forms the basis of this song. But the subtleties begin with the hypnotic Michael Nyman-like guitar riff, weaving in extras like added ninths, and echoing the obsessive lyric. The first bridge ("Oh can’t you see ...") is largely driven by Sting’s vocal, but it's the second ("Since you’ve gone ...") which is more innovative, and really seals the song’s originality.
The song is an example of compound AABA form. Steve Huey of allmusic.com says: "Guitarist Andy Summers picks a nearly identical arpeggio pattern on each chord he plays, and Sting's bass line keeps a steady eighth-note pulse without much rhythmic variation."
The middle of the song was finished last. They didn't know what to do with it until Sting sat at a piano and started hitting the same key over and over. That became the basis for the missing section.

The recording process created a great deal of tension in the studio. Sting was very particular about his song and would not let the other members of The Police (Andy Summers and Stuart Copeland) do much with it. Sting had to fight to get the song onto the album. He knew this would be the band's biggest hit when he wrote it but The Police broke up after this album.
The song's hook was the basis for Puff Daddy's collaborative tribute to slain rapper The Notorious B.I.G., entitled "I'll Be Missin' You". Sting was credited on the record, however Andy Summers, who provided the distinctive guitar riff, received money from the sample being used but didn't receive a writing credit. The song was performed with Sting himself at the Grammy Awards. As with many of Puff Daddy's releases, his song was criticized for a perceived over-reliance on the original.
Available on the album "Synchronicity"


Deep Purple - "Smoke on the water"

The song is about a fire in the Casino at Montreux, Switzerland. The band was going to record "Machine Head" there (and had rented a mobile recording studio), but someone (during the concert) fired a flare gun at the ceiling which set the place on fire. The "smoke on the water" that became the title of the song referred to the smoke from the fire spreading over Lake Geneva from the burning casino as the members of Deep Purple watched the fire from their hotel across the lake.
Left with an expensive mobile recording unit and no place to record, the band was forced to scout the town for another place to set up. One promising venue was a local theatre called The Pavilion, in an effort to capture a reverberative sound; but soon after the band had loaded in and started working/recording, the nearby neighbors took offense at the noise, and the band was able to lay down backing tracks for only one song before the local police shut them down.
Finally, after about a week of searching, the band rented out the nearly-empty Montreux Grand Hotel and converted its hallways and stairwells into a makeshift recording studio, where they laid down most of the tracks for what would become their most successful album.
Ironically, the only song from Machine Head not recorded in the Grand Hotel was "Smoke on the Water" itself ; the basic tracks for the song had been the only things recorded during the aborted session in the Grand Hotel.
The song is known for and recognizable by its central theme, a crunching four-tone minor key blues progression (I-III-IV with a passing flat V) that is perhaps the single most famous riff in heavy metal music history. The riff is properly played without a pick, using two fingers to pluck two adjecent strings held in a IV interval. The riff, played on electric guitar by Ritchie Blackmore, is immediately joined by drums and contrapuntal electric bass and organ parts before the start of Ian Gillan's vocal. Despite the heaviness of the guitar part, constant movement and interplay within the supporting parts keeps the feel of the song from becoming leaden. The song's structure takes a contrasting verse-chorus form, with the driving verse sections building musical tension while the soaring chorus releases it.
The band did not think this would be a hit [!] and rarely played it live. It took off when they released it as a US single over a year after the album came out.
Available on the album "Machine Head" (hence the name of the 90's metal band)


ABBA - "Dancing queen"

This was written by Abba members Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson. They were inspired by Queen Silvia, who married King Gustaf XVI of Sweden in 1976. Abba performed this at a televised tribute to the couple the day before they were married.

The song preceded and contributed to the huge popularity of disco music in the late seventies. Although it does not contain many of the most common key characteristics of disco music, it has come to be considered as one of the best examples of this genre. This is somewhat ironic as its relatively slow tempo and syncopated rhythm make it quite difficult to dance to.

Its introduction of piano and hummed vocals is one of the most identifiable sections of ABBA's music. Another unusual aspect of the song is that it begins with its chorus.
Available on the album "Arrival"


The Rolling Stones - "(I can't get no) Satisfaction"

As with many Rolling Stones songs, the key hook is the guitar riff : a fuzz-toned, insistent series of ascending and descending notes. One night in 1965, Keith Richards (guitars) woke up in his hotel room with a guitar riff and the lyric "Can't get no satisfaction" in his head. He turned on his tape recorder, grabbed his guitar, and banged out the opening riff of (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, and went back to sleep. In the morning he listened to the tape. As he recalls, "It was 2 minutes of 'Satisfaction' and 40 minutes of me snoring”.
Later, Richards brought it to the studio where the Stones were recording. Mick Jagger (vocals) took an immediate liking to the riff, unlike Richards, who was worried it sounded too much like Martha & The Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street" [which, BTW, isn’t that obvious].

The group approached the verse with a series of increasingly urgent, tense harmonizations on the words "and I try" before exploding into the chorus: a cathartic release of all the frustration that has been building throughout the song, the opening riff reappearing in full force as Jagger half-screams the title in a manner that compels the listener to sing-shout along. The chorus then turns into a stream-of-consciousness catalog of complaints about the irritations of modern life, touring, the media, and getting laid. It returns again to the basic shout-hook before all instruments drop out, save a crunching drumbeat. Note how much of the track's texture is set by strumming acoustic guitars; also dig how on the fade-out, Jagger suddenly dips into a lower register for a few lines before shouting at the top of his range, increasing the tension yet further. The Rolling Stones, perhaps, did not realize just how potent the track was at first.

To create the final effect heard on the release, Richards ran his guitar's sound through a Gibson Maestro fuzzbox which he had just received. He thought it would sustain the sound of the guitar to assist a horn section he had planned for "Satisfaction", but the effect was not the one he desired. Reluctant to include the sound on the release, he suggested avoiding further use of the fuzzbox. The other Stones thought the distortion effect created was great and eventually won out over Richards. As for Gibson, it was the first fuzzbox effect that the makers had made, and due to the popularity of the song they'd sold out of them by the end of that year.

Jack Nitzsche worked with The Stones on this, playing piano and helping produce it. He also played the tambourine part because he thought Jagger's attempt lacked soul [!]. Nitzsche was at that time a successful producer.

The song's publishing rights, oddly enough, do not belong to any members of the Rolling Stones. In 1965, they signed a deal with an American lawyer named Allen Klein and let him make some creative accounting maneuvers to avoid steep British taxes. He ended up controlling most of their money, and in order to get out of their contract, The Stones signed over the publishing rights to all the songs they wrote up to 1969.

Richards later described his first opinion of the song : “It was just a riff. I woke up in the middle of the night, put it down on a cassette. I thought it was great then. Went to sleep and when I woke up, it appeared to be as useful as any other album track. The words I'd written for that riff were “I can't get no satisfaction”. But it could just as well have been 'Auntie Millie's Caught Her Left Tit in the Mangle'.
As for the Stones’ sound, Richards claims he can hear Satisfaction's riff in half the songs the Stones have done: "I'm almost to the point now, after writing songs for so many years, that there is only one song – it's just the variations you come up with."

John Lennon once said that "the best songs are the ones that come to you in the middle of the night and you have to get up and write them down, so you can go back to sleep". Ironically, despite him having dreamt up the riff that created the hit (much like Paul McCartney dreamt up the tune for "Yesterday"), much of Richards' ideas for "Satisfaction" were eventually dropped, including the horn section he had wanted.
Available on the album "Out of our heads"


Eminem - "Stan"

[Lifted from the April 2005 issue of Q Magazine]

Eminem : "I attract some fucking weirdos. I've had people trying to kiss my hand, dudes crying and shit". It was precisely these sort of experiences that would provide the inspiration for the most pivotal song of Eminem's career : the tale of a stalker who bombards his idol with a series of increasingly twisted letters before killing himself and his girlfriend.

In 1998, Brooklyn hip hop producer Mark James saw a trailer for a romantic comedy called "Sliding Doors", featuring a snippet of a lifting love song called "Thank you", by then unknown British singer Dido. James : "They only played the first verse, but it made an impression". James built a framework of beats around a sample of the song's opening lines and sent it to Eminem's manager. Eminem : "I got a tape with the music for what would become "Stan" on it. I heard it and I said I need this". Rather than a love song, though, Eminem interpreted "Thank you" in a completely different light. Eminem : "When I heard the words, I was like 'This is an obsessed fan'. Dido's lyrics instantly put me there. It was one of the few songs where I mapped everything out. I knew it what it was all about from the stars".

Work began on Eminem's second album, "The Marshall Mathers LP", in 1999. The pressure was on to deliver a big-hitting follow-up to his 4 million debut album, "The Slim Shady LP". The mood was focused, only the rapper, the manager Paul Rosenberg and a few studio hands were present. "Stan" was one of the first songs Eminem recorded. Mike Elizondo (bass) : We recorded "Stan" in one afternoon. It wasn't until he [Eminem] played it back that I realized what he'd created. I can't think of anyone else who could do that and it not be corny".

Back in London, Dido was unaware the part her original song, "Thank you", was playing in hip hop history. Dido : "I got a letter out of the blue. It said 'We like your album and we've used this track. Hope you don't mind and hope you like it'". Dido was obviously the biggest beneficiary of "Stan"'s success : her appearance on the song gave her debut album, "No Angel", a new lease of life and went on to sell over 8 million copies.

Available on the album "The Marshall Mathers LP"