“On that opening riff I used enormous force on the strings. I always did that and still do. I’m looking at my hands now, and they look like Mike Tyson’s. They’re pretty beat up. I’m not a hard hitter on the strings— more of a striker. It’s not the force as much as it is the whip action. I’m almost releasing the power before my fingers actually meet the strings. I’m a pretty big string-breaker, since I like to whip them pretty hard.” - KEITH RICHARDS on “Street Fighting Man”.
“Back in the States, I wrote additional songs, and in early ’71 I went into A&M Studios in Hollywood to record ‘BLUE’. ‘CAREY’, like the rest of the album, is petty sparse, instrumentally, and we recorded it behind locked doors. If someone came in, I’d burst into tears. I was in great psychological pain while recording all of “BLUE”. It took me several years to get over how I felt. On “CAREY”, I played the dulcimer and Stephen (Stills) played bass.” -- JONI MITCHELL on “Carey”.
“But a transition was needed entering the instrumental section, so I suggested a drum fill to introduce the higher-octave guitar parts. The section itself had four guitar parts playing harmonies in two octaves. Toward the end, Dickey [Betts] overdubbed a slide guitar solo by placing the guitar flat and playing it like a lap steel.” — LES DUDEK (guitarist) in THE ALLMAN BROTHERS on “Ramblin’ Man”.
“The theremin’s eerie sound begged for more experimentation. To get my guitar to sound surreal, I detuned it and pulled on the strings for a far-out effect. I was playing a Sunburst 1958 Les Paul Standard guitar that I bought from [James Gang guitarist] Joe Walsh in San Francisco when we were out there on tour. The Standard had this tonal versatility, allowing me to get a blistering high pitch. Robert’s vocal was just as extreme. He was gaining confidence during the session and gave it everything he had. His vocals, like my solos, were about performance. He was pushing to see what he could get out of himself. We were performing for each other, almost competitively. — JIMMY PAGE on “Whole Lotta Love”.
45 chapters with detailed discussions of how a popular, significant song came into being: the first idea, the songwriter’s intention, first efforts, sharing the idea, starting to create it musically, finding the right musicians, scheduling studio time, laying down tracks (as many as 4 of them), adding effects, editing, more editing, publishing, and more.
Fascinating reading about songs and artists we’ve liked for up to 70 years. I’m a total novice and I loved the technical descriptions, because I could learn a little.
Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Elvis Costello, Debbie Harry, Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder, Linda Ronstadt, Rod Stewart, the Kinks, Smokey Robinson, Loretta Lynn, John Fogerty, Merle Haggard, Joni Mitchell, the Clash, Jimmy Cliff, Gladys Knight, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Donald Fagen, Walter Becker, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Stipe, Bonnie Raitt and many more.
1: Lawdy Miss Clawdy
2: K.C. Loving (Kansas City)
4: Please Mr. Postman
5: Runaround Sue
6: Chapel of Love
7: You Really Got Me
8: You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
9: My Girl
10: Reach Out I’ll Be There
11: Darling Be Home Soon
12: Light My Fire
13: White Rabbit
15: Different Drum
16: (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay
17: Fist City
18. Street Fighting Man
19: Stand By Your Man
20: Magic Carpet Ride
21: Proud Mary
22: Oh Happy Day
23: Suspicious Minds
24: Whole Lotta Love
25: Mercedes Benz
26: Moonlight Mile
27: Maggie May
29: Respect Yourself
30: The Harder They Come
31: Midnight Train to Georgia
32: Ramblin’ Man
33: Rock the Boat
34: Walk This Way
35: Love’s in Need of Love Today
36: Deacon Blues
37: (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes
38: Heart of Glass
39: Another Brick in the Wall
40: London Calling
41: Brother John/Iko Iko
42: Big City
43: Time After Time
44: Nick of Time
45: Losing My Religion
Keith Richards on “Street Fighting Man”
I love the songwriting process, but I really don’t like writing by myself. I love the bounce of one person’s ideas off the other. Mick wrote down a ton of lines. Then we tore the lines into strips and moved them around. Reams of pages were flying around–and some of them wound up burned [laughs]. Eventually they took shape and we laid down the vocal tracks.
Joni Mitchell on “Carey”
I had my dulcimer with me from the States. I used it to write “Carey” over a period of weeks in different locations in and around Matala as a birthday present for Cary. My lyric, “Oh Carey get out your cane” referred to a cane Cary carried with him all the time. He was a bit of a scene-stealer, and the cane was a theatrical prop for him.
Elvis Costello on “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”
As the train pulled out of Runcorn, I began to write. The idea for “Red Shoes” came to me fully formed, with the song’s summarizing chorus line—”the angels wanna wear my red shoes”—appearing first. So in the minutes that followed, I worked backward from the chorus line on the rest of the lyrics. I could write snappy lines like “Oh I used to be disgusted / and now I try to be amused” in my sleep, but it perplexed me a little to be suddenly writing this song about mortality at only 22. . . . When the train arrived at Lime Street 10 minutes later, the song’s words were finished and the music was in my head. I have no idea where the song’s inspiration came from. There wasn’t much to see out the train windows. And I didn’t own red shoes.
Stevie Wonder on “Love’s in Need of Love Today”
It’s about creating a marriage of all the instruments and vocals, bringing them together to make a statement . . . Whether it’s the Beatles, Sly Stone, Prince, or Ed Sheeran, you start with an idea or vision and bring what you hear in your mind to reality. When I’m doing this, I become all the different musicians and approach the song from each musician’s understanding.
Grace Slick on “White Rabbit”
" 'White Rabbit' is a very good song. I'm not a genius, but I don't suck. My only complaint is that the lyrics could have been stronger. More people should have been annoyed. "
Debbie Harry on “Heart of Glass”
Chris [Stein] and I both came from an art background, and we were familiar with existentialism, surrealism, abstractionism, and so on. The feeling I wanted to get across was, “Live and let live,” like this is what happened and now it’s not happening, you know? I threw in the “Ooo-ooo, ohhh-oh” fill when we started performing the song at CBGB. It was a 1960s “girl group” thing. Chris and I both loved R&B.