15 Studio Accidents That Helped Make Huge Hits

The best songs from the worst circumstances.

The quest for perfection in the recording studio is a noble, but often futile effort. Especially in the pre-digital era of music, it was nearly impossible to erase all the inevitable slip ups that happen when laying down a track. But some artists (or producers) had the foresight and good sense of humor to let the accidents remain, leaving listeners with a sense of being in the studio with the band, not to mention thousands of audio easter eggs to find. Forgotten lyrics, dropped drum sticks, resultant expletives–here are 15 bloopers, oddities, and other unintended sounds that made it on the track, and make it all the better.

  • “Roxanne” by The Police (1978)

    Embedded from www.youtube.com.

    When to listen: 0:04

    Sting was feeling tired in the studio the day The Police were recording “Roxanne.” He decided to take a load off on an upright piano next to the mic, thinking the lid was closed. It wasn’t. You can hear the discordant sound at the very beginning of the track, followed by laughter. The good-humored fellas left it in.

  • “Creep” by  Radiohead (1992)

    Embedded from www.youtube.com.

    When to listen: 0:58 and 2:00

    It’s now well-known that Radiohead pretty much hates their smash hit “Creep” (they hardly ever play it live anymore.) The first to express a distaste for the song was guitarist Jonny Greenwood. In a 1993 Chicago Sun-Times article (which advertises $8 tickets to see the band), Greenwood says he strummed those three dead chords that introduce the chorus because he thought the song was too quiet. Other sources go on to say he was trying to outright sabotage the song. In any case, they made it in, and they make the song.

  • “Mack the Knife” by Ella Fitzgerald (1960)

    Embedded from www.youtube.com.

    When to listen: 1:41

    Ella Fitzgerald was a pro. Who else could win two Grammys for a live performance in which she forgot the lyrics to most of the song? At 1:41 Ella completely loses track of the words for the three whole remaining minutes of “Mack the Knife.” But she doesn’t miss a beat, improvising flawlessly and with good humor. She even scats and does a dead-on Louis Armstrong impersonation. The crowd goes wild at the end. We tip our hat to whomever decided to release the track as is.

  • “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” by Green Day (1997)

    Embedded from www.youtube.com.

    When to listen: 0:04

    Those familiar with the album version will know that Billie Joe Armstrong has two false starts on the song before letting out a frustrated “fuck!” at 0:04.

  • “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones (1969)

    Embedded from www.youtube.com.

    When to listen: 3:02

    The Rolling Stones didn’t know Merry Clayton, nor she the Stones, but the two came together late one night to record “Gimme Shelter.” Her heart-wrenching vocals make the song a classic. Listen at around the 3-minute mark for the band’s “Woooh!” in reaction to her performance.

  • “Rescue Me” by Fontella Bass (1965)

    Embedded from www.youtube.com.

    When to listen: 2:24, 2:44

    Fontella Bass blanked on the lyrics while recording “Rescue Me,” but ”[b]ack then, you didn’t stop while the tape was running, and I remembered from the church what to do if you forget the words,” she told the New York Times in 1989. You can hear her improvised humming toward the end of the song, and it sure sounds good to us.

  • “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (1956)

    Embedded from www.youtube.com.

    When to listen: throughout

    This one’s not a mistake in the traditional sense. Originally intended to be a love ballad, the guttural screams of this more aggressive rendition as we know it from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins may be due to his reported imbibing (AKA getting blackout) prior to the recording session. Hey, it worked.

  • “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974)

    Embedded from www.youtube.com.

    When to listen: 4:10

    There may be another happy accident beside the well-known request by Ronnie Van Zant for a studio engineer to “turn it up!” at the start of this southern rock anthem. Some reports say that at the start of the instrumental break, Van Zant says, “Montgomery’s got the answer,” but rumor has it his bandmates were gobbling up a box of his doughnuts while he was busy laying down the vocals, prompting him to lament, “my doughnuts, god damn!” We hope it’s the latter.

  • “Eclipse” by Pink Floyd (1973)

    Embedded from www.youtube.com.

    When to listen: 1:57

    We’ve all come to know “Eclipse” as the grand finale of Dark Side of the Moon, but at least in some versions–it’s a very faint orchestral version of The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride.” It’s unclear whether this anomaly is audible on the original DSotM vinyl pressing, or just remastered versions. Were they re-recording over tapes? Was it audio spillover from another session at the studio? Just an inside joke? There’s seems to be no official explanation.

  • “Hey Jude” by The Beatles (1968)

    Embedded from www.youtube.com.

    When to listen: 2:57

    If you listen very closely, you’ll hear someone say “fucking hell!” Which Beatle and for what reason is still debated, but most accounts say it’s Paul’s reaction to messing up a note on the piano.

  • “Happy Jack” by The Who (1966)

    Embedded from www.youtube.com.

    When to listen: 2:04

    At the end of the song, listen for Pete Townshend saying “I saw you!” to Keith Moon. Moon wasn’t allowed in the studio when the band was recording vocals, but he’d snuck in.

  • “Here Today” by The Beach Boys (1966)

    Embedded from www.youtube.com.

    When to listen: 2:02

    There’s a whole lot of chatter on this Pet Sounds track. Clearest of all is at 2:02 when Brian Wilson shouts, “top, please!”–his request for an engineer to rewind the tape. During the instrumental break, at around 1:52, there is some sort of conversation, supposedly between Bruce Johnston and a photographer about cameras.

  • “I Saw Her Again” by The Mamas and the Papas (1966)

    Embedded from www.youtube.com.

    When to listen: 2:42

    Recording engineer Bones Howe cleared this one up in an interview for The Wrecking Crew documentary: he punched in the vocals too early, causing the band to sing the chorus too soon. They went back and fixed it, but the playback still included the faulty start. Producer Lou Adler loved the double “I saw her,” and was wise enough to include the mistake.

  • “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen (1963)

    Embedded from www.youtube.com.

    When to listen: 0:56

    Love it though we do, it’s not surprising that The Kingsmen’s cover of the famous “Louie Louie” was recorded in one take. The lyrics were so indiscernible (they say because the mic was situated too high, and the lead singer Joe Ely had braces), the FBI launched an investigation to determine whether they were obscene. They weren’t, but you can hear the drummer scream “fuck!” at 0:56, reportedly after dropping his sticks.

[Photo: Getty Images]