Behind the Hits

The following is an article from Uncle John's Supremely Satisfying Bathroom Reader Ever wonder what inspired some of your favorite songs? Here are a few inside stories about popular tunes.

Screamin' Jay Hawkins

The Song: "I Put a Spell on You" (1956) The Story: Hawkins' signature tune was originally intended as a ballad, but it came out as the haunted howling of a jilted lover. Listeners may have guessed (correctly) that the singer had been drinking when he laid down the vocals, and according to Hawkins, "Every member of the band was drunk." Even the recording engineer and the A&R man, Arnold Maxin, was plastered. It was Maxin who effectively changed the song from a torch song to a frenzied rant by supplying the band with several cases of Italian Swiss Colony Muscatel. "We partied and we partied," Jay recalled, "and somewhere along the road I blanked out. When he regained consciousness, he had a hit record on his hands but no recollection of how he made it.

The Tornados

The Song: "Telstar" (1962) The Story: This landmark recording featured the very first use of a synthesizer and was one of the bestselling musical instrumentals of all time. The song was recorded in a makeshift studio in producer Joe Meek's apartment: the mixing board was in the living room; the musician performed in the bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen. Meek came up with the tune, but couldn't read or write music, so he hummed the melody on demo tapes and then played it back to the band. The fact that they were able to discern any tune at all from the tone-deaf Meek's fractured, off-key humming is a testament to their musical talent. Bad luck: The song became a huge #1 hit, but a French film composer sued Meek for plagiarism. Meek lost the suit, which cost him millions of dollars in lost royalties.

Serge Gainsbourg

The Song: "Je T'Aime … Moi Non Plus (I Love You … Nor Do I)" (1969) The Story: There were several "heavy breathing" songs during the sixties, but none more notorious than this one. Originally written as a love song to sex kitten Brigitte Bardot, Serge rerecorded it in 1969 with his new lover, actress Jane Birkin. It features Birkin panting and moaning, "Je t'aime, oui je t'aime" ("I love you, yes I love you!"), and Serge reciting unromantic lyrics like, "Between your kidneys, I come and go." Moral authorities were outraged; the Pope even excommunicated the record executive who'd released it in Italy. But despite being banned everywhere, the single was a huge international hit. In the United States, the vocals were completely erased and it was issued as an instrumental

The Ramones

The Song: "Blitzkrieg Bop" (1976) The Story: Sometimes you don't need to be on the record charts to have a hit. This early punk-rock anthem is played during almost every pro football, baseball, and basketball game. Sports fan shout out its chorus of "Hey ho, let's go!" as a rallying cry. But most stadium spectators probably don't realize that the band originally wrote the song as a celebration of gang rumbles, but with lyrics like "Shoot ‘em in the back now," it fits right into today's professional sports scene.

Patsy Cline

The Song: "I Fall to Pieces" (1961) The Story: Few singers conveyed emotion the way Cline did, and this anguished ode to the pain of an ended love affair sounded like she'd torn her own heart out during the recording session. Truth was, she hated the tune and didn't want anything to do with it, but her record label was desperate for a hit and tricked her into believing she would be dropped if she didn't record it. It became her first #1 single and stayed on the charts for an amazing 39 weeks. Oddly enough, Cline found out it was a hit after she'd literally fallen to pieces herself. Songwriter Hank Cochran recalls, "Patsy had been in a bad car wreck. It almost killed her. She was in the hospital with her head wrapped with bandages. I told her, ‘You got yourself a pop hit, girl.' I think she thought I was just fooling around. When she finally got good enough to look at the numbers, she just laid back and said, ‘Damn!'"


The Song: "Loser" The Story: One day, Beck was fooling around at producer Karl Stephenson's house. Beck started playing slide guitar, and Stephenson began recording. As Stephenson added a Public Enemy-style beat and a sample from Dr. John's "I Walk on Gilded Splinters," Beck attempted to freestyle rap - something he had never done before. Frustrated by his inability to rap, Beck began criticizing his own performance: "Soy un perdedor") ("I'm a loser" in Spanish). Beck wanted to scrap it, but Stephenson thought it was catchy. Stephenson was right - "Loser" made Beck a star.

David Bowie

The Song: "Fame" The Story: In 1975, as Bowie and his band were playing around in the studio with a riff that guitarist Carlos Alomar had come up with, former Beatle John Lennon dropped in. When they played the riff for Lennon, he immediately picked up a guitar, walked to the corner of the room and started playing along muttering to himself, "Aim … aim!" When he said, "Fame!" the song started to come together. Bowie ran off to write some lyrics while the band worked out the music. Bowie gave writing credit to Lennon, saying: "It wouldn't have happened if John hadn't been there."

The Byrds

The Song: "The Ballad of Easy Rider" The Story: In an effort to convince Bob Dylan to write the theme song for Easy Rider, Peter Fonda gave him a private screening of the movie. Dylan didn't like the movie and wouldn't write the song. But he scribbled the words "The river flows, it flows to the sea, wherever the river flows, that's where I want to be" on a napkin and told Fonda: "Give this to McGuinn," referring to Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Fonda gave McGuinn the napkin, and McGuinn immediately finished the song. But when Dylan learned that he had gotten songwriting credit, he called McGuinn and chewed him out, saying he didn't want to be associated with it in any way. Dylan co-wrote the song, but McGuinn got all the credit.


The Song: "Walk This Way" The Story: Guitarist Joe Perry and bassist Tom Hamilton were exhausted from rehearsing the new riff they had written, so they took a break to see a movie - Young Frankenstein. Says Hamilton, "There's that part in the movie where Igor says ‘Walk this way,' and the other guy walks the same way with the hump and everything. We thought it was the funniest thing we'd ever seen." After the movie, they told singer Steven Tyler that the name of the song had to be "Walk This Way." Tyler rushed out and scribbled the lyrics to the song on the walls of the studio's stairway, and the band recorded the song right then.

Darlene Love / The Crystals

The Song: "He's a Rebel" The Story: Phil Spector wanted to record "He's a Rebel," but the publisher told him it was taken - another producer, Snuff Garrett was preparing to record it with singer Vikki Carr. Spector ran out in a panic and dragged vocalist Darlene Love and a bunch of musicians into the studio to cut the song. That evening, Garrett was preparing to record the song when his studio guitarist walked in. He glanced at the music and exclaimed, "Hey, man, I just played this!" Garrett asked "Where?" "In Studio C," the guiatarist replied. By the time Garrett got to the studio to see what was going on, Spector had already put the finishing touches on his version - the version that became the hit.

The Rolling Stones

The Song: "Jumpin' Jack Flash" The Story: One rainy winter morning, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were in Richards' living room when Jagger suddenly jumped up, frightened by a stomping noise. Richards explained, "Oh, that's just Jack, the gardener. That's jumpin' Jack." The two laughed and Richards began fooling around on the guitar, singing, "Jumpin' Jack." Inspired by the lightning, Jagger added "Flash!"
The article above, titled What the #!&%?, is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Supremely Satisfying Bathroom Reader. Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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No story about Joe Meek is complete without mentioning his death or his paranoia. In 1967 he first shot his landlady with a shotgun and then killed himself on the eight-year anniversary of Buddy Holly's death.
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For the record, in the sentence:
"Je vais et je viens, entre tes reins", "rein" is not necessarily kidneys in french but any part of the lower back...
The lyrics are actually quite sexy and just metaphoric enough to be played on the radio at prime time. A jewel of the French language.

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Oh man, I remember my friends and I doing the Igor walk during the chorus when dancing to Walk This Way! That song and Young Frankenstein were too contemporaneous (and too huge) NOT to associate them, but I had no idea they were really related.

Remember, it's pronounced EYE-gor.
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