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David Bowie once said: "A mistake is a mistake, even if you repeat it. But when you make it a third time, that's style." | Photo: Etienne Girardet
David Bowie once said: "A mistake is a mistake, even if you repeat it. But when you make it a third time, that's style." | Photo: Etienne Girardet
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TOP 5 Mistakes in Famous Songs

What can be considered a mistake on a recording? A wrong chord? A vocal that comes in a beat too early? The slamming of the drumsticks against the wall? Or even an argument during the recording session? Believe it or not, all of these studio blunders were not only recorded but even preserved in famous songs. In fact, David Bowie once said: "A mistake is a mistake, even if you repeat it. But when you make it a third time, that's style." Let's take a look at the top 5 mistakes in famous songs today.

1. Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here 

One of the most famous songs in rock history contains a flaw beautifully audible right at the beginning of the song. It was recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London, and around the 43rd second, Gilmour can be heard not only drinking but also coughing very distinctly between the lead guitar motif. Legend says Gilmour couldn't hold it in because of his heavy smoking. When he heard the final recording, he was so disappointed that he quit smoking the next day. However, the cough at the beginning of the song has remained there to this day.

On the other hand, the violin melody by Stéphane Grappelli, a popular jazz violinist at the time, was almost removed in the final mix, although it can be heard around 5:21 of the track. Grappelli was just collaborating with Yehudi Menuhin and the two violinists were recording on the ground floor of Abbey Road. Gilmour thus suggested a bit of "country fiddle" at the end of the song and invited them to participate. Menuhin declined, Grapelli's contribution was marginalised – and Gilmour's cough remained.

2. Nirvana – Polly

This track was number six on their iconic album Nevermind, released in September 1991. It contains a dark account of the kidnapping, rape and torture of a 14-year-old girl returning home from a punk rock concert in 1987. Kurt's extraordinary artistic authenticity is reflected in the fact that the text is written from the point of view of the perpetrator and not the victim.

Cobain recorded the song on a five-string Stella guitar, which he said he had bought at a pawn shop for $20. "I didn't bother changing the strings," Cobain told Jeff Gilbert in a 1992 interview with Guitar World. "It barely stays in tune. In fact, I have to use duct tape to hold the tuning keys in place." According to producer Butch Vig, the guitar strings were "so old they didn't have any tone to them."

But the out-of-tune guitar with the hundred-year-old strings isn't the mistake in the recording, is it? In fact, Cobain accidentally sang the first two words of the third verse "Polly said" too early (1:55), during the instrumental bass interlude, but the band decided to keep it. However, earlier versions of the song also feature the phrase in the same place, including the original home demo and most live versions prior to the release of Nevermind. So was this a mistake, or was it intentional?

3. The Police – Roxanne

I can hear you humming the chorus of a song written by singer and bassist Sting in 1978. For the record, did you know that the lyrics were written from the perspective of a man who falls in love with a prostitute? But let's not look for fault there.

During the recording, Sting accidentally sat on the piano in the studio, causing a typical atonal harmony (00:03). Sting laughs about the accident (00:08). Everything was preserved on the recording of the song. The band also admits to this in the album's liner notes, where Sting is credited with playing "butt piano".

4. The Kingsmen – Louie Louie

Originally a rhythm and blues track released by Richard Berry in 1957. But it's best known for the Kingsmen's version from 1963, which became a big hit. To make matters more complicated, the musical theme is heavily inspired by the Afro-Cuban dance track "El Loco Cha Cha," popularised by bandleader René Touzet. Isn't that fascinating? Combining different styles and inspirations has always been a part of making music. Well, the journey to popularity can be a tricky one. Same melody, rhythm and chords, but different lyrics and instrumentation – and you have a hit.

Aside from being the most recorded rock song in the world with an estimated somewhere between 1,600 and 2,000 cover versions, "Louie Louie" also has an interesting backstory involving mistakes made during the recording of The Kingsmen version (it was all recorded at once, live, and of course without additional editing).

At around 00:56 you can clearly hear the exclamation "f*ck!", which comes from the drummer who is dissatisfied with his playing (he didn't hit the small drum the way he imagined). Later in the song, the same drummer covers the back of the guitarist who forgot to repeat a riff. So instead of a riff, there is a drum break and the band goes on.

5. The Beach Boys – Here Today

From the 1966 album Pet Sounds, this Beach Boys track warns listeners of the inevitable disappointment and heartache when the narrator turns out to be the ex-boyfriend of the protagonist's newfound love. The song has an unusual formal structure, with the bass serving as the lead instrument, and features a crazy progressive-classical instrumental passage (01:48-02:26).

On the original release of the track, you can hear someone in the studio talking during the instrumental passage. Bruce Johnston is saying something about the camera of the photographer in the studio. Brian Wilson then yells "No talking!" at Johnston, who didn't know they were recording. At the end of the instrumental section, Wilson yells: "Top, please!", which was originally a cue to the technician to rewind the tape to the beginning of the song for a new take of vocals. However, the chatter and even the shouting eventually remained on the original release.

Tagy TOP 5 Pink Floyd Nirvana the kingsmen the police Sting beach boys

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Marek Bero
Bass Gym 101 books, touring & session bass player, football tactics aficionado.