Céline Dion - "My heart will go on"

"My heart will go on" is of course very well-known for being the theme song to the highly popular 1997 movie "Titanic".
The song was written by Will Jennings (American songwriter that wrote many other successful songs, including the lyrics to "Tears in heaven" by Eric Clapton) and James Horner (American composer of film scores). Although James Cameron, the director of "Titanic", did not want a song played over the end credits of the film, Jennings and Horner went ahead and recorded the song with Céline Dion regardless. It is said that Cameron was so taken with Dion's voice that he changed his mind about the song and indeed, the song does play over the end credits.
Dion has admitted that when she first heard the song, she didn't want to record it. It was her husband (René Angélil), who convinced her to record it.
It should be pointed out that the recording heard on radio and Dion's albums is the demo for the song. Horner, Dion and Sony Music decided to keep the demo as the official recording because Dion's voice was perfect.
Being a huge hit song, "My heart will go on" appears on numerous Céline Dion albums...
Available on the following albums : "Let's Talk About Love", "All The Way... A Decade of Song", live version on "A New Day... Live in Las Vegas". It can also be found, of course, on the "Titanic soundtrack"


Eels - "Selective memory"

"If I lay my head down I will see you in my dream" : E (vocals) effects a childlike falsetto to sing the first lines of this very calm song that officially closes Eels' 3rd album, before a hidden track ("Grace Kelly blues") kicks up the tempo and ends the album on a different vibe.
E wrote the song in the middle of the night in his kitchen.
During the recording, E played on the same piano Neil Young used on his classic album "After the Goldrush".
Interestingly, E sampled a piece of this song (the strings part) to create a whole new song called "Fresh feeling" that appeared on Eels' fourth album "Souljacker".
Available on the album "Daisies Of The Galaxy"


Radiohead - "Fake plastic trees"

Thom Yorke (vocals) : "The product of a joke that wasn't really a joke and a very lonely drunken evening and, well, a breakdown of sorts. It was also a very nice melody that I had absolutely no idea what to do with".
The band had just been to see Jeff Buckley play a set (John Leckie, producer : "Thom realised that you could sing like he did, in falsetto, without sounding drippy") and when they got back into the studio, Thom recorded the vocals in two takes and broke down in tears. Yorke : "That was one of the worst days for me. I spent the first five or six hours at the studio just throwing a wobbly. I shouted at everyone and then John Leckie sent everybody else away. He sat me down and I did a the vocals for the track". Ed O'Brien (guitars) confirms : "This took a while to record only because it was better Thom just singing it with an acoustic guitar".
On a purely practical level, Leckie had achieved exactly what he needed: “A simple acoustic guitar–and-voice track, so we would at least have something we could put the strings onto the next day. Indeed, the day after the vocals were recorded, Caroline Lavelle and Johnny Mathias were supposed to come over and record their cello and violin parts. Leckie said to Jonny Greenwood (guitars) : "We'd better have something for them to play". So he just sat down there and then and scored it, creating a somber arrangement overnight, much in the style of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” which was composed in the 1930s. Greenwood (guitars) : "Writing the string parts was my studio highlight, in a megalomaniac kinda way".
Next, the song was fleshed out with overdubs of Hammond organ, bass and drums to gradually build the intensity behind Yorke’s anguished, world-weary lyrics.
The track also benefited from a happy accident when mixer Paul Kolderie got to work on the tapes. The distorted guitars that lurch unexpectedly into the middle of the final verse were originally planned for the start of the verse, but Kolderie missed his cue. Yorke : "It was a mistake, but we kept it".
Radiohead had a track they were happy with, but the American record company, expecting the album to be full of "Creep"-like hits insisted that Radiohead use a Bob Clearmountain mix of "Fake plastic trees". Yorke said: "No way. All the ghost-like keyboard sounds and weird strings were completely gutted out of his mix, like he'd gone in with a razor blade and chopped it all up. It was horrible".
In the end, what you get is a song written about/against the world of mass marketing and mass consumption, but that also appears on the Clueless soundtrack. Yorke : "It makes perfect sense to me. It's a song about going shopping".
Available on the album "The Bends"


Ash - "Kung fu"

"We wanted to write a really crap Ramones song and it was meant to be the b-side but it turned out too good" (Tim Wheeler, vocals and guitars).

Kung Fu was written in 5 minutes on boxing day 1994 in Belfast and recorded in 2 minutes and 15 seconds the next day in Wales. Ash were indeed on their way to record another track when Wheeler wrote it : they were at the airport waiting to fly out to record with Owen Morris (then famous for having produced Oasis's "Morning Glory" album).

Strangely enough, "Kung fu" was recorded using the Verve’s equipment (probably because Owen Morris was also their producer).

The sleeve for the "Kung fu" single pictures footballer Eric Cantona’s infamous kick on a spectator that occurred in January 1995. In an away match against Crystal Palace F.C., Cantona (then playing for Manchester United) launched a kung-fu style kick against a spectator after being sent off by the referee.
The sleeve gave Ash good publicity. The kick gave Cantona 120 hours of community service after an appeal court overturned a 2 week prison sentence for assault.

Available on the album "1977"


Weezer - "Hash pipe"

"Hash pipe" was Weezer's first release in many years and the first single on the album that brought the light back on Rivers Cumo's band.

After the lack of success of "Pinkerton" (Weezer's 2nd album), Rivers Cuomo (vocals) moved back to Los Angeles, and painted his new appartment in black. He decided to write a song per day, with the lyrics being the last part and especially being impersonal. Cuomo spent most of his time at home, experimenting new (and rather bizarre) songwriting techniques". Cuomo : "Everyday, I set my alarm at 6 in the morning, and took Ritaline [= medecine] and a shot of tequila". "Hash pipe" was written one morning, a couple of minutes after this ritual, with Cuomo sitting alone in the courtyard with his guitar.

MTV wanted Weezer to change the title to "Half Pipe" for the video so they could appeal to the skateboard crowd and avoid the drug reference. Weezer... refused.

Available on what is known as "The Green Album"


Guns N' Roses - "Sweet child o' mine"

Duff McKagan (bass) : “‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ was written in five minutes. It was kind of a joke, because we thought, ‘What is this song? It’s gonna be nothing — it’ll be filler on the record’”.
But then, the introduction's infamous D-flat based riff has since been voted #1 riff of all-time by the readers of Total Guitar magazine. Funny therefore to learn where it came from...

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 Rose (vocals) loved it and had him keep playing it. Slash (guitars) : “The other guys would come over [to his home], and one time I was fucking around with this stupid little riff. Izzy (Stradlin, guitars) was there, and he was playing chords behind it. Axl said something like, ‘Hold the fucking phones! That’s amazing!’ It turned into this song, ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine,’ and I hated it for years. Even writing and rehearsing to make it a complete song was like pulling teeth. For me, at the time, it was a very sappy ballad”.

Rose used a poem he had written about his then-girlfriend, Erin Everly, for the lyrics and some inspiration from his record collection for his vocals. He reportedly 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.

On the recording, Slash : “‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ was easy to record, but because we were not so professional back in the day, it was the one song where we didn’t count the song in, because it’s a guitar intro. It took me all afternoon to time it out and be at the right place when the drums came in — this was before ProTools and all of that.”

It took a while, but Slash eventually developed a grudging affection for the song “Hearing it now it brings back a flood of memories. Around 1991 it would cause such a reaction that just playing the first stupid notes used to evoke hysteria, so I started to appreciate it”.
Available on the album "Appetite For Destruction"


Coldplay - "A message"

Chris Martin (vocals) : "My favorite song, it's the simplest. It arrived with 10 days of recording left so it was very exciting to do. It took a day and a half to record".
A couple of weeks before, Martin had handed copies of the unfinished album to several of his close friends (including Ash singer Tim Wheeler) and, after listening to it, they all came back with the same analysis : this album is going to be great, but it's missing something : a simple song.
That's how "A message" came about soon after. Martin was at home, at two in the morning, talking about the album with his partner Gwyneth Paltrow, and she suggested he try to write that other song. Martin lost his temper but then decided he was going to do it. Martin : "I went downstairs and sat with the guitar, and in five minutes it came. It was the first song I've ever written with no clothes on".
[Lets' hope it'll be worth it !]
Available on the forthcoming album "X & Y"


The Doors - "Light my fire"

When Robby Krieger (guitars) became a member of the band, The Doors started rehearsing on a daily basis, getting tighter and closer, developing what they later called a 'oneness'.
Everything came together at a rehearsal early in the New Year 1966, at Robby's parents' place. The evening before, Jim Morrison (vocals) had suggested that everyone write a song that night using universal imagery. Morrison's song was "The end", which would eventually be his epitaph ("This is the end my only friend"). Krieger also had a song, which was worked on first, as it seemed easier to arrange. The chord progression was inspired by John Coltrane's "My Favourite Things". Everyone tried out things. Ray Manczarek (organ) composed an intro and used a carnival organ sound. John Densmore (drums) struck a 3/4 jazz tempo on his brushes, and Morrison started singing the first verse of Krieger's "Light my fire". Just as they were getting going, Morrison looked up from Krieger's notepaper and asked : "Where's the rest of it ?". Krieger told him that he had got stuck after the first verse. Morrison thought for a moment and just invented the second verse as he stood there. Everyone came together in the chorus, blasting out the last lines : "Try to set the night on... fi-yerrrrrrrrrrr".

Apparently, during that rehearsal, Morrison said that he thought that they should divide evenly all the money the band made, including the songwriting money. Since Morrison was the main songwriter, it was a generous offer, although as he pointed out himself, all the band was sharing in the arranging.
The Doors' record company thought "Light my fire" was too long to get radio play, so the guitar solos were edited down for the single to make it considerably shorter. Many stations played the 6:50 album version anyway. Since the single was a shortened version, fans had to buy the album to get the extended mix, which helped spur sales of the album.
The producers of The Ed Sullivan Show asked the band to change the line "Girl we couldn't get much higher" for their appearance in 1967. Morrison said he would, but sung it anyway. Afterwards, he told Sullivan that he was nervous and simply forgot to change the line. This didn't fly, and The Doors were never invited back.
"Light my fire" was the last song Morrison performed live. It was a show at The Warehouse in New Orleans.
Available on the self-titled album "The Doors"


Chuck Berry - "Johnny B. Goode"

Johnny B. Goode wasn't actually released as a single and was never a hit. Chart hit or not, the song is firmly ensconced in music history and its legacy lives on today.
The song is the rock and roll version of the American dream - a poor country boy from the backwoods has dreams of becoming a star by hard work and his skill at playing the guitar. The line, "That little country boy could play" was originally "That little colored boy can play", but Chuck Berry knew he had to change it if he wanted the song played on the radio. Berry got the word "Goode" from the street where he grew up, Goode Street in St. Louis. In his autobiography, Berry recalls "‘Johnny’ in the song is more or less myself although I wrote it intending it to be a song for Johnnie Johnson". Chuck met Johnnie Johnson, a pianist and composer, in 1952 when he joined the Sir John Trio. The two continued to work together for twenty years, writing a number of songs including "Maybellene". Johnnie remembers Chuck working on Johnny B Goode but had no idea it was meant to be about him.
Berry created the driving train-like rhythm of "Johnny B Goode" by speeding up a standard twelve-bar blues figure, played on the bottom three strings of the guitar. It became the classic rock'n’roll guitar rhythm, appearing on tracks from the Rolling Stones to Status Quo. Berry’s other great innovation is his own adaptation of the Elmore James attacking slide intro. By combining urban blues with the early electric jazz guitar figures of Charlie Christian and the rhythms and humour of the 40s jump-blues of Louis Jordan and Big Joe Turner he created an irresistible blend of danceable rock.
Note that the word "go" is repeated in the song 45 times !
More sadly, in 2000, Johnnie Johnson sued Berry, claiming that he never got credit for helping write many of Berry's hits, including this one. The case was dismissed in 2002, with the judge ruling that too much time passed between the writing of the songs and the lawsuit.
Available on the album "Chuck Berry On Top"


The Waterboys - "The whole of the moon"

The Waterboys were a British group formed in London in 1981 by Mike Scott (guitar/vocals) and Anthony Thistlewaite (multi-instrumentalist). They later added Karl Wallinger (guitar) Steve Wickham (fiddle) and Kevin Wilkinson (drums).
Scott has often said that the character that inspired the song is a composite of many people. Some have said it was about Prince though Scott has denied this. He once mentioned that the author C.S. Lewis was "in there somewhere". In fact, the result was a tribute to some artists he admired, including Prince the writer C.S. Lewis.
More interestingly, Scott sketched out the song in a New York hotel after his girlfriend asked him if it was hard to write a song.
The year after "The whole of the moon" was released, Wallinger left the band to form World Party, who had a #27 US hit with "Ship Of Fools".
Available on the album "This Is The Sea"