Creating a track should be one of the easiest things in the world for veterans of the music world. If there’s a robust idea for a song, the magic should quickly translate from their fingers to the final recording that audiences hear on the record. However, the journey from the idea to the final mix can be absolutely torturous if the band isn’t ready. Acts including Def Leppard to Radiohead have worked tooth and nail to get some of their most beloved songs right.
As each of the tracks listed below are complicated creations, the final version was arduous to finally get right. Problems range from not having the right vibe in the room to making something that was practically out of the band’s expertise. Even though some of these efforts may have been dramatic departures for the respective artists involved, it’s easy to hear all of the heart and soul that they put into realising their vision, spending long takes to layer everything together to make it perfect.
Then again, problematic reasons also could include issues aside from just getting the song onto the tape. Outside of nailing the take correctly, some of these songs also are the result of band dysfunction, as everyone desperately tried to make music together despite their own personal hang-ups.
Music is always about a team effort, and these songs were the stuff of nightmares when those in the room couldn’t get on the same page. While the final project might be phenomenal, don’t ask this selection of artists to do it again any time soon.
10 classic rock songs that were impossible to record:
‘All My Life’ – Foo Fighters
Nearly half of the Foo Fighters’ discography revolves around Dave Grohl and the gang coming together to have an exciting time. Even though Grohl may have taken some time to bloom as a songwriter after Nirvana, it doesn’t usually take him long to complete the songwriting process. However, there are more people in this band than just Grohl and ‘All My Life’ is a song that they had to record almost two separate times until they were happy with it.
Before the sessions for One By One started, Grohl was already fairly distant from the rest of the band, taking a break to work on Queens of the Stone Age on Songs for the Deaf. When he came back, the initial sessions for the record were absolutely miserable, with no one on the same page and Taylor Hawkins feeling a little bit resentful of Grohl playing with other bands. After getting into an argument before a festival, the band decided that it would be best to leave the petty drama behind and finish the record.
The only problem was the record they were working on wasn’t up to their high standards, leading them to completely scrap the sessions they originally had carried out and record the final version of ‘All My Life’ in a few hours in Grohl’s basement in Virginia.
‘Animal’ – Def Leppard
Def Leppard were mortified when they discovered Mutt Lange wasn’t available to produce Hysteria. During the previous few years, Lange had turned himself into the unofficial sixth member of the band, and his attention to detail is what made songs like ‘Photograph’ leap off the speakers back in the day.
The sessions seemed to stall almost immediately for ‘Animal’, with their replacement producer Jim Steinman not having the same relationship that the band got with Lange. Since Pyromania was laboured over for years trying to get the perfect take, Steinman’s hands-off approach didn’t work with the rest of the band, including one occasion where he thought they got a take when the guitars were out of tune.
After spending a great deal of money to get Steinman out of the deal, things seemed to change after drummer Rick Allen tragically lost an arm in an accident, leading to Lange coming back in properly to finish the record. It was going to be a long journey to match the intensity of their last record, but the raw sounds of ‘Animal’ screaming out of the speakers was exactly the kind of thing that Leppard fans had been waiting for.
‘Walk This Way’ – Aerosmith
Long before the days of MTV, Aerosmith had to get their music out to fans the old-fashioned way. This was before the days of music videos playing over and over again in living rooms and bands cutting their teeth on the road, playing to whoever would have them and leaving a trail of destruction wherever they went. Aerosmith’s trademark brand of boogie may have been captured on Toys in the Attic, but it took them many sessions before their first big hit fell into place.
After coming up with the riff of ‘Walk This Way’ during a soundcheck, Joe Perry’s tight sense of rhythm made it almost impossible for the band to find the right lyrics to put over everything. After Steven Tyler decided to put a more percussive slant on the verses, he kept coming up short on what the chorus should be, until the band ducked out of the studio one night to see Young Frankenstein.
During the scene where Igor tells everyone to “walk this way”, Tyler finally found the right way to put everything together, stringing together a tale of sex in the most wholesome way that someone like Steven Tyler could. Their blues boogie was already accounted for here, but ‘Walk This Way’ was when they began to lean further into their sleaziness.
‘Nude’ – Radiohead
When going into making a record, not every song will land a spot on the track listing. Radiohead have always been a band who are prolific with ideas, and if Amnesiac is any indication, there are plenty of songs that are fantastic that get relegated to the B-sides or get left on the cutting room floor. While all of the tracks from OK Computer have been given their just due these days, there’s one song that had to wait an entire decade to get into its final form.
Starting off as a simple strummed ballad in the vein of ‘True Love Waits’, ‘Nude’ kept going through different arrangements before the band felt that it wouldn’t really fit on OK Computer. When it came time to spread their wings a little bit on In Rainbows, the band decided to revisit what they had been working on back in the day, starting with a fairly minimalistic approach to ‘Nude’.
While they eventually ran into the same problems that they were having the first time around, things started to make sense once Colin Greenwood replaced his original bass line, always pushing the track along a little bit more and giving a proper bed for Thom Yorke to lay his falsetto. Compared to the version that was tested back in ‘97, the final version of ‘Nude’ is a much more delicate beast than before. It’s simultaneously the least threatening song they’ve made and the most gorgeous track Yorke has ever written.
Radiohead – Nude
‘Refugee’ – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Tom Petty didn’t need any more drama going into creating Damn the Torpedoes. After not exactly setting the world on fire with his first handful of releases, Petty knew he had something that was bound to explode, only for his record label to rinse him for all he’s worth by taking his songwriting royalties. He may have been in court by day, but the rest of the Heartbreakers ended up going to studio boot camp during their twilight hours.
Working with veteran producer Jimmy Iovine, the vision was to get every track as perfect as possible, recording songs like ‘Don’t Do Me Like That’ in no time. Whenever they got to ‘Refugee’ though, everything seemed to hit a wall, from Stan Lynch speeding up from behind the drum kit to the entire song sounding soft compared to the rest of the album. According to some of the band members, Iovine originally asked them to do over 150 takes of the song, remembering the studio had thousands of master tapes of nothing but that one song.
While they eventually got the final version, there was never a moment when they considered stringing two takes together, always wanting to get the performance atmosphere out of the band. Rock and roll may be a fun job for the uninitiated, but what these guys had to go through seems like one notch below being in the musical army.
All of Definitely Maybe – Oasis
The Gallagher brothers put a burden on their shoulders right out of the gate with their debut record. With the release of Definitely Maybe, they were going to need to live up to the hype or eat their words. Noel might have known they had a certain magic, but the road to actually get there was going to be a living nightmare.
While the final version of ‘Supersonic’ came together from one inspired session, the rest of Definitely Maybe had to be recorded three separate times, assembling takes from every single session they made. Although there was merit to every single session, nothing really captured what they were able to do live, always sounding much softer than what they were expecting. After letting their sound technician Mark Coyle listen to what they had recorded so far, producer Owen Morris was brought in to work out the tracks, putting together a brick walling technique that made every single line sound like it was just on the brink of clipping every time it came on.
It may have sounded soft at the time, but the way Morris assembled the tracks clicked with Oasis’ psychedelic vibe, turning ‘Columbia’ into a much more focused jam and bringing out Liam’s vocals on ‘Rock N Roll Star’ and ‘Slide Away’. It may still be a punk-based album, but there’s a lot more attention to detail behind all of those layers of distortion.
‘Mother’ – Pink Floyd
No member of Pink Floyd enjoyed making The Wall. Outside of Roger Waters’ grand vision for his rock opera, the rest of the band got into major disagreements in the studio, with David Gilmour clashing with Waters and Richard Wright even being fired halfway through production before getting rehired as a session musician. Waters had a clear vision for this project, and nothing was going to stand in his way of getting just the right sound.
Listening to the song ‘Mother’, it’s always a little bit strange trying to nail down the main beat, always fluctuating and creating a twisted world for the story to unfold. Then again, this was a beat a bit complicated by prog rock standards, and Nick Mason never could click with the rest of the band when trying to nail down the track the first time. Since this was a double album experience, the band had a deadline, and there was no way that they were going to lose more money because Mason couldn’t play it.
Instead of simplifying the verses, Waters ended up asking Mason to step down, drafting in a session drummer to play the track until they got a take of the song that actually fit with the weird rhythm. This ruling attitude only got worse on the road, with Waters having plans for an entire stage production and trying to push the boundaries of what could be done at a rock show. The Wall might be one of the highlights of Pink Floyd’s career, but it could also be called Roger Waters’s first solo album as well.
‘Gold Dust Woman’ – Fleetwood Mac
The entire recording process of Rumours could be an entry by itself. Apart from the separations happening left and right, every member of Fleetwood Mac had to put their heart and soul into everything on tape, repeating some songs incessantly until they got the right take. As Stevie Nicks went to record the final vocals for ‘Gold Dust Woman’, she was going to perform, sick or otherwise.
When Nicks was supposed to lay down vocals, her overindulgence led to her having a hoarse voice on the day of recording. After staying at the studio throughout, Nicks had to make sure the atmosphere was right for the song to breathe, nailing it in just a handful of takes after a few hours of rest and candles lighting the studio.
While she might have been in agony while making the song, Mick Fleetwood remembered it being one of the best vocals she had ever laid down, channelling the same spirit of the witch she used on ‘Rhiannon’. After song after song of spiteful drama, this leaves off the album on one last solemn note.
‘The Number of the Beast’ – Iron Maiden
Around the turn of the 1980s, Iron Maiden struck gold by bringing Bruce Dickinson into the mix behind the microphone. There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with Paul Di’Anno, but it would have been a musical tragedy if the ‘Human Air Raid Siren’ never took his rightful place in the group. Even when he’s screaming out in agony, though, Dickinson somehow managed to stay on pitch on his first record with the group.
For a song about coming across a satanic cult, the title track of Number of the Beast is a fairly light song musically, being set in a major key and going for intensity than anything sinister. The real blood-soaked part of the song really comes down to the intro of the track, with Dickinson letting out a tortured scream after he talks about this cult twisting his mind and sending him to despair.
Although the band was floored with Dickinson the first time he sang it, the intensity of the track could never be captured again. Even if this scream was going more for the shock factor than anything musical, Dickinson is still holding out a pitch throughout the entire scream, almost as if Pavarotti got possessed by the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz. Metal was all about screaming back in the day, but the entire scene felt a little different once this song was released. Move over, Rob Halford, there was a new maniac in town.
‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ – The Beatles
Every single song that The Beatles came up with on Revolver felt like a whole new creative endeavour than what we were used to. Finally taking a break from the road and turning themselves into studio lab rats, the traditional love songs that the band were known for back in the day were replaced with songs that were a little more sophisticated, from George Harrison going down the rabbit hole of Indian music to John Lennon and Paul McCartney telling complicated stories with influences from garage rock, classical music, and everything in between.
There was experimentation on every track here, but ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ is the sound of everything they were doing rolled into one. Opening with a drone from one of Harrison’s Indian instruments, the final track on the record is more of a mission statement than a song, with Lennon feeding his voice through an organ speaker and the backing track being assembled from loops that the band were working with backwards guitar and chopped up sounds that practically sound like seagulls.
Although Ringo Starr is reliable as ever in the backseat, the real marvel of the tune is its progressiveness, which pushed the boundaries of what a pop band could do. If someone were to ask George Martin, though, this was a technical marvel that could only be done once, saying that it would have been absolutely impossible for the band to go back and re-record it exactly as it was back in the day.