Yngwie Malmsteen - "Vengeance"

It’s a song that appeared on an album that guitar shredder Yngwie Malmsteen released in 1995. Malmsteen : "I had that riff for a while. I remember I put some funky parts in the middle of the song. I thought that was cool. I also thought the pedal-tone licks were so cool. I remember coming up with the riff while relaxing in a lounge room and playing guitar. I don't remember it well as a whole song".
As for the vocal melody in this song and more generally, Malmsteen often comes up with them "while driving my car, because I'm usually listening to pre-production CDs in the car".

Interestingly, Malmsteen has a peculiar general musical process : "Once I record a song, I don't listen to it again. I move on to the next album. My relationship with the music is different from the people who buy the albums. I'm always moving on".

Available on the album "Magnum Opus"


Status Quo - "Under the influence"

Although they are mainly known (outside of the UK) for their 1986 hit "In the army now", Status Quo put out their first album as early as 1968, and are still releasing new material to this day (the last offering being 2004’s "XS All Areas"). They released an album in 1999 called "Under The Influence" that contains a song of the same name.

Francis Rossi (vocals and guitars ; the slightly baldy one on the picture) talks about how the song came about, over two separate periods of time : "We had the tune and, in fact, part of the melody, the chorus - or the idea of that melody in the chorus - I remember playing on the piano when I was probably 15, maybe 16. I was playing around on the piano at my parents’ house and I had that "de de de derr da der da deerr" melody". Many years later : "And then, when Bernard [Frost, session vocalist for Status Quo between 1976 and 1982 and with whom Rossi wrote many Quo songs] and I were doing our writing stint, we got into that melody. This song came up in tempo and up in tempo..."

As for the lyrics, Rossi again : "The lyrics... l was having some dreams. Lots of very sensuous dreams about twos and threes and various women - and really panicking in my sleep thinking I'd actually been unfaithful to my wife. And I thought "Oh, no - I've done it ! I`ve done that", and I swore I'd never do it, then I'd wake and think, Oh, I haven't! But some of the dreams were so vivid. I could feel bits on the end of my dome-ious, you know? So the line 'I found a new amigo to help me to get my reality right' is obviously the wife..." Hence the influence he is under ?

Available on the album “Under The Influence”


Bob Marley - "No woman, no cry"

"No woman, no cry" was a song written by Bob Marley but the songwriter credits indicate "V. Ford" : this is Vincent Ford, who ran a soup kitchen in Trenchtown, the ghetto of Kingston, Jamaica, who helped Marley out when he was very poor. One theory had Marley setting Ford's words to music; another reckons that by letting his friend claim the songwriting credit, Marley sidestepped various legal and contractual difficulties. But most probably it was an act of philanthropy, Marley just wanting Ford to have the royalties so as the checks received by Ford would ensure the survival and continual running of his soup kitchen.

The song was made famous by Bob Marley and the Wailers' 1975 album "Live!", which featured this song as performed in concert at the London Lyceum. It was also on the album "Natty Dread", but this original version was nothing like the live performance. It was shorter and sped-up, with little of the energy Marley brought to it in concert.

Here’s how Dominic King describes the song : "In each chorus the title is sung first in the minor, the melody following the root notes, then restated in the major, the tune rising to the fourth, bringing a sense of hope that problems can be overcome. Memorable phrases such as "government yard in Trenchtown" spice up the lyric, and the atmosphere leaps when the extra refrain "everything’s gonna be alright" explodes unexpectedly out of the second verse".

Available on the album "Live!"; Alternative version available on the album "Natty Dread"


Lamb - "Open up" & "Hearts and flowers"

Lamb is a trip hop duo composed of Louise Rhodes (vocals) and Andy Barlow (everything else, basically). The two songs are a good example of compromise.

Rhodes doesn't really appreciate "Open up".
Rhodes : "My least favourite track on the album. Andy campaigned for it to be included. He likes the "round-the-campfire" vibe in the middle section. But it just doesn't move me".
Barlow : "I think it's got this real "round-the-campfire-bottle-of-red-wine-inside-you" jigginess about it. The track was originally created for "What Sound" [Lamb's third album] but never made it so I had it floating round on my iPod for ages".

As for the other song, "Hearts and flowers", it's just about... the opposite !
Rhodes : "I love the space and stillness of this song. It reminds me of "Feela" on our [self titled] first album and it felt like a lovely closing track".
Barlow : "It's my least favourite tune on the album. It feels like it's been botched together and just doesn't do anything for me. We wrote it in Barcelona and it was the only thing that stayed around after a week of writing. I had this idea that Barcelona would be brilliant for creativity. We stayed in this gorgeous million pound apartment in one of the cultural capitals of the world and it just didn't click".

Both songs available on the album "Between Darkness and Wonder"


Blur - "Out of time"

"Out of time" was Blur's first release for three years, but more importantly the band's first release without guitarist Graham Coxon. It was the lead single from their seventh album Think Tank.

The song is a bass-driven ballad with minimal drums and only acoustic guitar, inspired by the time the band spent in Morocco. The strings are Moroccan Andalucian strings (as opposed to Spanish ones). Damon Albarn (vocals) : "They’re from the Berber tradition, which has very strong connections with the Moorish tradition in Southern Spain. We met quite a few people when we were out there. We ended up meeting these musicians who were unbelievably good and we didn’t give them a directive, just sort of set them up and let them get on with it and before we even said ‘here’s where it starts and it ends’, they’d done this pass. Which was partially them just tuning up, just warming up and playing little passages that didn’t appear when they were doing it. When we played back, it was all virtually in place, we had to do a very little bit of shifting and it was a magical moment".

The British newspaper NME said the song was about the departing guitarist. Alex James (bass) indirectly answers : "It was done quite early on in the proceedings and it was more or less the first batch of recordings we did".

The song was accompanied by an anti-war music video, directed by John Hardwick, depicting life aboard a United States aircraft carrier. Director John Hardwick : "Like the song, the video is a tender piece of work about distance and loss. It aims to distil the song's beauty into a new and unexpected place".

Available on the album that was almost called "Darklife" (reference to a previous album called "Parklife") but is actually called "Think Tank"


Supergrass - "Eon"

"Eon" is a song from Supergrass' 3rd album (self titled but also known as "the X-ray album" due to its cover). It's a song in the vein of the 2nd album, with a repeated descending sustained twin sequence of guitar notes, gradually building in intensity.

Gaz Coombes (vocals & guitars) : "It's an old demo I had a long time ago, these two sections of music. It's a piece of music rather than a song with a chorus. It's pretty similar to the original demo, but we all wrote the vocals and lyrics". Indeed, there is not just one songwriter in the band : "We all write songs, all four of us, so a lot of songs come together like that".

As for the enigmatic title, Gaz explains : "It was called 'Eno' for a few months but it's not exactly an ode to Brian Eno, so we changed it"...

Available on "the X-ray album"


OutKast - "Hey ya!"

"Hey ya!" is a song released by OutKast in 2003 but it was actually written by André 3000 only, André 3000 being one half of the OutKast duo (the other one is named Big Boi). The song is taken from "his" half of the double album OutKast put out (each member contributed one of the two albums : Andre 3000’s was called The Love Below and Big Boi’s was called Speakerboxxx).

André wrote the first version of the song around 1999, and it almost made it onto their 2000 album Stankonia. At the time the song was called "Thank God for mom and dad". He started working on it again in 2002, doing lots of experimentation along the way (like the bizarre 11/4 time signature).

André himself played every instrument in the song except bass (played by Aaron Mills from the funk band Cameo), including the vocal tracks. The guitar chords were the first ones he learned. In his own words, they were inspired by "the Ramones, the Buzzcocks, the Smiths". As for the vocals, he did each line over and over, and by the time it was edited together, it sounded like other people were singing with him.
The girls who respond to Andre when he says "Hey Ladies..." are actually just one person. A woman working in the studio (engineer Rabeka Tuinei) was recorded saying "Yeah" and her voice was layered to sound like many.

The song was finished just in time to be released as the first single from the album. The record company was going to put out "She lives in my lap" when André called and told them "Hey ya!" was finished and should be released first.

The video was inspired by The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 : The Beatles came to America and created a frenzy. During the show, the audience was filled with screaming girls who went crazy for the group. For the Outkast video, they made it as if an American band invaded England, played a TV show there, and created the same type of frenzy.

This is not the only similarity with The Beatles. Indeed, OutKast's following single "The way you move" (by Big Boi) knocked "Hey ya!" off the top of the charts in the US, the first time a band had one song replace another of its songs since The Beatles did it in 1964 at the height of Beatlemania.

Available on the double album "Spearboxxx/The Love Below"


Foo Fighters - "Friend of a friend"

The song "Friend of a friend", while appearing on the Foo Fighter's latest album In Your Honor, is actually one of Dave Grohl (vocals and guitars) 's oldest songs.

Grohl wrote the song in 1990, basing it on his initial impressions of Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic after joining Nirvana. He recalls : "I think it was written right when I moved up to Seattle. I wrote that song about those people that I’d just met. I didn't know them. I was living with Kurt in a little apartment. I’d just moved in and started playing in their band. I was kind of lonely. I'm from Virginia and my family and friends were back there. I was in Seattle with this dark cold winter. There was nothing to do, it was kind of depressing. So I just started writing some songs. I'd written songs before, for Scream [his previous band], and in my friend's basement on a 4-track but this was actually the first song I wrote just on an acoustic guitar".

Grohl even recorded and released a version around that time. Grohl : "I recorded the song on this 4 track while Kurt was sleeping and then played it to a friend when I got home in Virginia and recorded it on an 8 track. And then another friend of mine heard it and she had a record company called Simple Machines in Washington DC. She heard several other songs and asked me if I wanted to release a tape on her label. So I did and the song came out on that release, in 1991 or 1992". The song was released as part of a series called the "Pocketwatch series" and under the pseudonym "Late!", because he thought it’d be funny to "get on stage every night and say 'Hi we’re Late'".

The song was also recorded under the Foo Fighters' name, in 1997, during a BBC session. It appeared on a free tape given away with the NME.

As to why "Friend of a friend" is included on the latest Foo album, Grohl explains : "When we were making the acoustic record, a lot of people thought it would be just vocals and an acoustic guitar, whereas a lot of the songs got built up into this big orchestral things and there was something about this intimate vocal-guitar vibe that can be really powerful too. So after finishing the record, we thought maybe we need one more of those songs with just vocals and an acoustic guitar. I was writing songs, but they were rock songs, not acoustic songs. And then I remembered that song, and I thought it made sense since it's the first acoustic song I'd ever written and it had its place on the album. The few people that I played it for were really touched by it, so I thought 'Great, let’s put it on'. The version on In Your Honor is very similar to the original recording (a little more polished), with Grohl simply accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.

Available on the acoustic disc of the double album "In Your Honor"


Queen - "Bohemian rhapsody"

"Bohemian rhapsody" (or "Bo rhap" as it is often called) consistently features in Best Song Ever polls and is one of those songs for which the title does not appear anywhere within the words.
Upon its release in November 1975, Queen's fourth album, entitled "A Night At The Opera" was being billed as "the most expensive ever made". After lengthy rehearsals, the four months recording sessions took place at no fewer than six studios - Sarm, Roundhouse Olympic, Rockfield, Scorpio and Lansdowne. Freddie Mercury (vocals) : "We had all the freedom we wanted, and we were able to go to greater extremes. We wanted to experiment with sound. Sometimes we used three studios simultaneously". The experiment was quite obvious with "Bohemian rhapsody", that featured elements of ballad, opera and rock.

Some band members said that Freddie had worked out the entire song in his head and basically just directed the band through the song, first playing a backing track of piano, bass and drums. Roy Thomas Barker (producer) : "Freddie was sitting in his apartment, and he had an idea for the song. He didn't have it all quite worked out, but the basic framework was there. Then he stopped and said, 'Now dears, this is where the opera section comes in!' And I thought, 'Oh my God!'" According to Baker, the song's operatic section was originally intended only to be a brief interlude. But Mercury saw it somewhat differently. "He'd walk in and say, 'We'll just stick some 'Galileos' in here'! It got longer and longer, and we kept adding blank tape. Every day we'd think we were done, and then Freddie would come in say 'I've added a few more 'Galileos' here, dear'!" Mercury himself later admitted that "'Bohemian rhapsody' took bloody ages to record".
The song took almost three weeks to record with the operatic section alone taking seven days to complete. The backing track came together quickly, but the band and their producer spent days overdubbing the vocals in the studio using a 24 track tape machine. By the time they were done, about 120 vocal tracks were layered together. Mercury : "That middle section got longer and longer and longer … We were all in hysterics when it was being recorded. It was quite a mammoth task … between the three of us we recreated a 160 to 200 piece choir effect … we had to sit there going 'no, no, no, no, no, no, no!' about 150 times."

Here's how Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org/) very accurately describes the song from beginning to end : "The song begins with an a cappella introduction, which are all Mercury doubletracked. This is followed by a ballad, which is again mostly Mercury's vocals. The guitar enters during the second verse, with Brian May [guitars] playing a series of harmonies. After the lyric "shivers down my spine", May created a 'shiver' sound by playing the strings behind the bridge of his guitar. At the end of the second verse, the first guitar solo appears. This was created by May, and it is melodically different from the verses as he didn't like a guitar solo to be just the melody repeated. Now begins a pseudo-operatic midsection. This features interplay between Mercury and a solo piano. The choir effect was created by having Mercury, May and Taylor sing separate low, mid and high sections three times. The band used the bell effect for lyrics "Magnifico" and "Let him go." Also on "Let him go", Taylor singing the top section carries his note on further after the rest of the 'choir' have stopped singing. This operatic section leads to an aggressive hard rock section with a guitar riff that was written by Mercury. After double tracked vocals by Mercury over the top of the guitar, there are three guitar runs, that May described as something he had to "battle with" when performing the song live, but he pulled it off. The song then returns to the ballad style. As the lyrics "ooh yeah, ooh yeah" are sung, a guitar is played in the background to give the effect of trumpets. This was done by playing the guitar through an amp designed by Deacon. The song progressively becomes quieter until finally closing with the barely audible sound of a gong. The sections may appear separate, but there are numerous lyrical and musical motifs that they share. For instance, there are melodic motifs that occur in the ballad which foreshadow parts of the operatic section". Wikipedia also mentions that the introduction to the song is based on the chorus of a piece by Mercury's former band, Ibex.
When it was complete, Queen felt "Bohemian rhapsody" rested firmly on the right side of the ludicrous. May : "We're not into over-the-top productions for the sake of it, but because it highlights the music. That's the object in our eyes". Over-the-top or not, EMI weren't initially impressed with "Bo rhap". Requests were made to cut the middle section of the song. It was argued that radio stations would not play the song, as it was twice the normal length of a single and other record labels would object to it getting double the airplay. The middle section was not cut out, but the actual length was reduced to 5:55 (instead of 7:00) for release as a single. The record company leaked the song to a London radio station in order to build anticipation for the album. DJ Kenny Everett played it a reported fourteen times during his two weekend shows on Capital Radio. The DJ was a friend of the band. When asked if Mercury had ever divulged the song's meaning to him, he revealed the stark truth: "Freddie once told me that 'Bohemian rhapsody' was just 'random, rhyming nonsense'!"

On stage, "Bohemian rhapsody" presented Queen with a problem. The middle section couldn't be reproduced live. Similar dilemmas with "Sgt. Pepper" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" had prompted the Beatles to give up touring altogether, but, for Queen, technology was available to lend a hand. When "Bo rhap" was performed on the following tour, pre-recorded tapes were played during the operatic interlude (and were also used as the band's introduction), while the band vacated the stage, later to return for the song's finale.

Having challenged the three-minute pop rule by releasing a single nearly twice the normal length, Queen went on to set another precedent with the film clip used to promote it. It was the first music video in the sense that it was shot in video instead of film. John Deacon (bass) : "People used to have clips before, but they were all shot on film. "Bohemian rhapsody" was shot on video in about four hours." May : "Everyone thought the film was a huge production. But it was really easy to do, and since then we've spent a lot of time on films which probably aren't as good, and certainly didn't get the exposure." The video was based on their album cover, with the 4 band members looking up into the shadows, and it started a trend in the UK of making videos for songs to air in place of live performances (in this case, it is because the song was particularly difficult to play live).

"Bohemian rhapsody" topped the charts for nine weeks when it was released in 1975, and went on to achieve legendary status when the British Phonographic Industry bestowed the Britannia Award for "The Best British Pop Single Of The Last 25 Years" in 1977.
After Mercury's death in 1991, the song was reissued and again reached No. 1, this time for five weeks. In UK, the proceeds went to the Terrence Higgins Trust, which Mercury supported. In the US, proceeds went to the Magic Johnson AIDS Foundation (Johnson and Mercury being 2 of the first celebrities to get AIDS).
The song also enjoyed renewed popularity in 1992 as part of the soundtrack to the film "Wayne's World". A new video was released, intercutting excerpts from the film with footage from the original Queen video.

Ironically, the song that knocked "Bohemian rhapsody" off the #1 chart position in the UK, in 1975, was "Mama mia" by Abba : the words "Mama mia" are repeated in this in the line "Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go."

Available on the album "A Night At The Opera". It can also be found, of course, on any Queen best of.


Kathryn Williams - "Soul to feet"

"Soul to feet" is the first single taken from Kathryn Williams’ second album, album for which she was rewarded with the Mercury Prize in 2001. Williams : "I started writing that song after I'd done a gig and there'd been a couple of A&R men come up to meet me. They'd come all the way up from London and then spent most of the time talking at the bar. I started writing it in my head that night [!] and when I went over the next day I played them that song".

As for Williams’ general songwriting process : “If I've got a melody that I think is good, I have to write it down then".

Available on the album "Little Black Numbers"