10Time For Heroes
The third single from The Libertines' 2002 debut album 'Up The Bracket', 'Time For Heroes' soon became its calling card ahead of the arguably more frenetically lapel-grabbing likes of 'What A Waster' and 'I Get Long'. Why? It encapsulated the grotty, on-edge romanticism that defined Pete Doherty and Carl Barat's band greater than any other of their songs – the poetic twists of "stylish kids in the riot" and "truncheons and shields... oh how I cherish you my love" now serving as tear-jerking snippets of what made the band so great. (JF) How I Wrote ‘Time For Heroes' Pete Doherty “I wrote 'Time for Heroes' after the May Day protest in 2001. At the time it was one of the most exciting days of my life. Everyone said, 'Oh, it was rubbish, we got penned in at Oxford Circus,' but we didn't. Quite a lot of people got penned in, but some of us made a break for it, and that was a great feeling. It was quite a peaceful protest up until the police attacked. But I like the fact that when the police kicked off, and it wasn't justified, a lot of people stood their ground. And it felt quite good to be fighting for a cause. I felt like there were so many things wrong, and I didn't know where to channel it, and for that moment it felt like I was with a lot of people who believed in the same thing, and we were all channeling it together."
9Bitter Sweet Symphony
Just when the world was crying out for a genuine protest song, we got one of the greatest ever. "You're a slave to money then you die," is Dickie Ashcroft's cruel payoff as he howls his way through his sermon of frustrated lament. Sounding at once beaten and yet furiously optimistic (that'll be Andrew Oldham's strings then), 'Bitter Sweet Symphony' is one of the saddest rabble-rousers of the 90's. (MW)
How I Wrote ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ Richard Ashcroft “It's just a question of putting the truth back into music. There's a battle going on in this country at the moment and it'll lead to a real change because people are demanding that it happens. As we get nearer to the end of the century they'll demand to hear stuff that's from the fucking heart and nothing else will do. We've had a century where shit has been fed to us, and in the next century people will realise that it's time for a fucking change. And the bigger The Verve get, the quicker it's gonna come...”
On ‘Back To Black’ Amy Winehouse (aided by Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson) tied the sound of the past (“jukebox” as Winehouse called it) to the present with effortlessness. ‘Rehab’ was all Ronettes sass and Motown horns but at its heart was the memory of a very real conversation about Winehouse’s post-heartbreak addition and how best to deal with it. In life and in the song, her management wanted her to seek help, but the singer would have rather sought the advice of the masters: Ray Charles and Donnie Hathaway. The result was ripped from the mind, body, and gut, but played out like sweetness personified. (PE) How I Wrote ‘Rehab’ Amy Winehouse "I was walking down the street with Mark Ronson, who produced my last album. I just sang the hook out loud as a joke. It was quite silly really… I sang the whole line exactly as it turned out on the record! Mark laughed and asked me who wrote it because he liked it. I told him that I'd just made it up but that it was true and he encouraged me to turn it into a song, which took me five minutes. It wasn't hard. It was about what my old management company [run by former Spice Girls manager Simon Fuller] wanted me to do."
7Over And Over
So good it was released twice – and it was voted single of the year back in 2006 by NME staffers. “The single seemed to have a strange life of its own where people kept returning to it,” Alexis Taylor said of the track. And from student unions to clubs across the globe, you simply couldn’t escape this overly repetitive, so-annoying-it-couldn’t-leave-your-head song. Which is probably why it stuck with us for so long and earned a spot in the top ten. (RS)
How We Wrote 'Over And Over' Alexis Taylor This song was voted song of the year back in 2006 by NME - how does it feel to now have it be in the Top Ten of this list? "It feels great. It’s really nice that people at NME are still into that track. It was great when it was picked before, and I guess, I haven’t really thought about whether people were still paying it attention. But it’s nice that the song’s lasted and still has an impact. I feel really pleased." Do you agree that this was your best song of the past 15 years? Or would you have picked another one? "I feel like I know that that’s the song that’s had the most impact for a lot of people. For whatever reason, that’s the one that’s really caught people’s imagination, so that makes sense to me. But I think something like ‘One Life Stand’ from our last record, I’m a bit more, currently, proud of as a song. But I feel like ‘Over And Over’ is something we were really excited about when we were making it, but we didn’t have any expectations that it would also go on to have a life of its own and keep getting played." How would you sum up the meaning of the song? "It’s just simple. It’s about the joy of repetition. It’s about minimalism and repetitive grooves, and trying to sing something that makes sense of why something as simple as repetition can be really powerful. The music was the first thing, then the lyrics came afterwards, to try and explain what was going on and what was exciting with the groove we’d come up with." Talk us through the process of writing and recording the song. "Joe was quite influenced by listening to some DFA productions around that time, and he started making a percussion groove and played that to me and Felix, and this was quite a rare occasion at the time where a track was made by me, Felix and Joe together, rather than just me and Joe, because that’s how we used to do things. "Felix came up with the bassline for the track, which is a sort of distortion on it. And I came up with the keyboard parts and words for the song. I was feeling that the music was very powerful sounding, and I wanted to get down in lyrics that some of the previous things we had done had been described as chilled out, and chill-out music is something that I really hate." "I was trying to say something a bit more confident in the words, and this explained that that wasn’t what we were about. It just came together from playing over this groove that Joe had begun, and then we kind of went into the funny chanting section, with all the different countdowns of lyrics – that was because I wanted to do something like a Devo track, that might have a strange time signature, but still works. There’s one of their tracks called ‘Timing X’, and it has a really odd time signature that’s really exciting to play at a club. So we wanted to do something like that, where we just shift rhythm of the track, and people don’t really know what’s going on. It’s disorientating." What do you think it is about 'Over And Over' that makes it so good? "I think it’s the fact that it’s quite simple. Just saying “over and over”, it seems to be a catchy chorus. And at the same time, it’s got those lyrics about a monkey with a miniature cymbal, which to me, I was just mis-remebering a Royal Trax credit on one of their albums, where said they had musicians playing, but there was also this toy monkey with a miniature drum or something with one of the percussion tracks. And that, to me, summed up something that was enjoying repetition without having to do any kind of variation, because it’s just a machine doing it. So, based on how that line stands out, I guess it’s quite unusual. It’s the simplicity of the main chorus and the strength of the groove, plus maybe that unusual line is what makes it stand out for people." Are you sick of playing it live, or do you still love it? "I really like playing it live. It’s taken on a different shape over the years – we always play it differently. It’s fun to play. I’m always into playing that one. I think a few years back, we got a bit fed up with it from doing it all the time. But I really, really like it now. It’s very different from some of our other music. It’s accidentally got this kind of anthemic quality, and we don’t really like things like that. So the fact that it goes down so well with audiences makes it fun to keep playing it." If you could go back and tweak the song at all, would you? "There’s one bit where I’m singing two different lines over the top of each other, because we were too lazy to go back and fix it. I might change that. But I don’t think I would really be bothered to change it. You kind of get used to the things that you’ve made, and they feel like they were made by a different person. It just feels like a young group that made it. It’s a good song to me."
6Fell In Love With A Girl
This was the one minute and 50 seconds that properly introduced Jack and Meg to the world, its frenzied assault on the senses convincing all but the most idiotic that the red and white-loving duo were the real deal. A snotty whirlwind of spat out vocals and hurricane tempo, it was an uncompromising opening salvo that even Joss Stone's horrendous lounge cover couldn't ruin. (AW) On hearing the song on the radio for the first time: Jack White: "I just laughed. I mean, it would be Staind, P.O.D., then us and then Incubus. Half of your brain is going, What is going on? Why are we even involved with this? This is pointless. The other half is full of people going, No, this is new, a quote revolution in music unquote, and something is going to change now, because of you guys and the Strokes and the Hives, and music is going to come back to more realism." On the music video: Director Michael Gondry: "As soon I heard the album, I loved the energy and kept playing ['Fell in Love With a Girl'] over and over. There's something charming and naive about their use of black, red and white imagery. I made a parallel between that and the basicness of the color of Lego blocks." Meg White: "One day [Gondry] came to a restaurant and he had Jack's head in Lego." Jack White: "You couldn't argue with that. When someone brings a Lego sculpture of your head to dinner and says this is what the video's going to be, you pretty much say, 'That's it, go ahead.'"
How about this for serendipity? ‘Mr Brightside’ was the very first song The Killers wrote together, at their very first rehearsal session (you can hear the original 2001 demo version on YouTube). Imagine that: within hours of entering the practice studio you’re playing this: a song so melodically perfect, so surging, and so urgent, it will soundtrack end-of-the-night, scream-the-words carnage for decades to come (it’s also the most Scrobbled track in the history of Last.fm).
But this is more than just boozy indie-night fare: it’s the lyrical riptide of paranoia that makes it, as Brandon Flowers details the gut-twisting horrors of jealousy (“I just can’t look, it’s killing me”). But it’s all OK, because destiny is calling him… (LL) How we wrote 'Mr. Brightside' Ronnie Vannucci (drums) How does it feel to have your song voted in at No. 5? "It feels really good. I’d like to thank God, and my mother and my father, and coach. I couldn’t have done this without coach. He really helped us through." What’s the song about? "The song is basically about one being totally content and fearless and happy, and then having it totally be the antithesis in a blink of an eye - all of the sudden being the opposite of that because of someone." Do you agree that this is The Killers' best track, or would you have gone with a different song? "I think I would have picked ‘When You Were Young’ – I have more of an intrinsic connection to that one. But I still love [‘Mr. Brightside’]. That one’s still fun to play live." What do you think it is about this song that people like so much? "I think it’s the vulnerability of what the song is saying. I think so many people have been there. It’s almost ten years old. I think when it was first introduced, it had that vulnerability in the lyrics. I think people could connect with it and sink their teeth into it. I’ve heard that from a couple people before, and it seems like the common theme. It seems so unafraid and simple." What can you tell us about the writing and recording process of the song? "That song was pretty much done before I had even joined the band. However, when I joined, we did make some changes to it, and when we recorded it we made some changes again. It’s been so long that I forget what the embryo version of it was, but I think we kind of added some dynamic changes and made it breathe a little more, whereas before it was kind of linear and same the whole way through. "But the process was basically, at that time we were making a demo of it at this guy’s house, and that demo version turned out to be the version that was on the record. The idea was that we’d go to this guy’s house, record the demos on the weekends, we’d take the recordings to get gigs. The guy said he’d record us for free in his studio, and he’d help us shop the record, and if it got picked up. At first we all wanted to re-record it and make it better, but everybody was kind of into the song." If you could go back and change the recording now, would you? What would you do differently? I don’t know [what we would have changed]. I think everybody wanted to re-do their parts again. I think we actually did re-do the bass and the drums, then we re-did some keys and some vocal parts here and there. But even then, we wanted to re-do some more, but we were like ‘Fuck it, let’s just leave it alone. It is what it is. Next album.’ It’s been a long time since I’ve actually heard the recorded version. It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about the recording of it actually – this is really jogging my memory.
Yeah, so it rips off Tom Petty's 'American Girl' like there's no tomorrow. It only uses about three chords. But I don't care about any of that. What 'Last Nite' did more than any other song from 2001 was prove that guitars could still be king, that the sound of some dude with greasy hair singing nonsensical guff about spaceships could come across like the most important thing you will ever hear. I'm listening to it now and it still sounds like the most important call to arms since forever. (MW) On The Making Of 'Last Nite' Nikolai Fraiture: “I do remember we had an alternate take, which I think is on a single, where Julian sings about Albert. The geeks can go digging that up somewhere in the archives.” Steve Ralbovsky, A&R at RCA: “Six months prior the naysayers were saying, ‘This won’t play next to Linkin Park and Puddle Of Mudd. They perceived ‘Last Nite’ to be this lo-fi thing and UK hype wasn’t helping at all. But we got the key programmers out to the shows and they realised The Strokes were selling out 3800-seater shows in their territories without a stitch of radio play.”
It’s got the line we all know and love: “Shake it like a Polaroid picture.” This bizarre crackpot of a number will forever be remembered as the song that made Polaroids cool again (even though OutKast inadvertently gave us all bad information, seeing as shaking your Polaroids actually damages your pictures). But we’ll excuse the photography faux pas in an otherwise eccentrically excellent top tune of the noughties. (RS)
How We Recorded 'Hey Ya!' On the meaning of the song: 'Hey Ya!' is pretty much about the state of relationships in the 2000s. It's about some people who stay together in relationships because of tradition, because somebody told them, 'You guys are supposed to stay together.' But you pretty much end up being unhappy for the rest of your life. So 'Hey Ya!' is really about saying, 'Fuck it. Live life, you know?' (Andre 3000, OutKast) On Andre 3000's singing abilities: [Andre 3000] would do 30 or 40 takes of each line. I would say, 'All right, I better put that one aside, that was a great performance.' And then he would come and listen to them and the one he would like would be the one I was about to erase. After a while working with him I said, 'I'm not even gonna try to read him.' ...I didn't think he was a singer. You know of Andre and Outkast for rapping. I had the reaction the public probably had later. (Pete Novak, Recording Engineer) On the writing of the song: [Andre] had the bulk of it already conceptualized in his head. It all happened quite fast. We recorded the skeleton part, with the intro and the first verse and hook, all in one night. He would spend so much time trying to get the right sound out of every snare drum, bass or whatever. He really, really listens to everything intently, coming up with ways to make the song better. His attention to detail is the biggest thing. Every element of it is thought through. And it had to be cooked just right. I've never seen him write anything down, lyrically. What he likes to do is drive around and live it and think about it. And he comes in and says, 'Ready.' I can't remember him ever coming in to do vocals unprepared. (John Frye, Recording Engineer) From MTV.com
Win Butler’s never shied away from telling the truth to those kids he’s so obsessed with. He looks out for them. While others would let them sleepwalk blindly through life, here he’s urging them to be alert, to see and think for themselves, while the rest of the band while the rest of the band shout down his inconvenient truths with a chorus of “Lies! Lies!”.
BUT THE KIDS HAVE TO KNOW THEY’RE BEING FIBBED TO and Win will not rest. The relentlessly hammering piano, the headlong staccato rush of this song weirdly combines anger, exhilaration, wistfulness, fear and romance into the most perfect hissy-fit of god knows what. It’s pretty sexy as well – “Come on baby in our dreams/We can live our misbehaviours… Come on hie your lovers underneath the covers”. Christ knows, still, what it’s really all about, but it sounds so urgent you’ll want to stay awake till the end to find out. (EM) How We Wrote 'Rebellion (Lies)' Win Butler and Régine Chassagne On people's apathy about rebellion: Win: "90 per cent of what people are forced to listen to in a day is someone trying to force them to buy something that they don't need. At a certain point, you've got to say, "Shut the fuck up." It's like someone poking you in the face all the time. You can just ignore it and try to go about your life in a certain way or say, "Stop fucking hitting me." "You have to say, "Stop! Stop! Stop hitting me. Stop pushing me." I think for me that's rebellion. People should rebel against us: "Oh, we're fucking better than Arcade Fire, we're not going to use guitars, we're going to use some weird sampling program and make music that's better than those assholes." You know what I mean? That's really important." On the lyrics referencing nameless authorities: Régine: "I guess who "they" are depends on when and where we’re playing." Win: "I kind of feel like the Pied Piper when I sing that song. Playing the song and trying to get all these kids to follow me down the street and into a river! Johnny Rotten always complained that as soon as the punk thing happened everyone just got a leather jacket and put safety pins in their clothes. "He was like, “That’s not fucking punk, that’s the opposite of punk. It’s your dress code.” As soon as something becomes codified, you do it because you think that it’s cool because everyone else does it. To me, the spirit of punk wasn’t spitting on people and cutting yourself – it was much more about thinking. It was just trying to think for yourself."
Where were you when you first heard it? I'll never forget. April 30, 1997, a Wednesday night: the first exclusive play on Radio 1's Evening Session. I'd expected 'The Bends' part two. What I heard instead was bizarre and breathtaking: six and a half minutes of spiralling melodies, twisted-metal dissonance, robot voices, and a desolate choral coda featuring the line, "The dust and the screaming, the vomit, the vomit."
The song left me spellbound, exhilarated, slightly baffled... but pretty certain I'd just experienced An Event - something colossal and unprecedented. I immediately called up a friend to try and make sense of what we'd just heard. What I definitely didn't do was snort tea through my nose and go, 'Ha ha! The dust and screaming! That's hilarious!"
It's puzzling, then, that Radiohead have always insisted that 'Paranoid Android' - the solemn, sprawling lead single from their 4.5 million-selling third album 'OK Computer' - was all a bit of a giggle. Far from penning a universal hymn of woe, Thom Yorke claims he picked the title as a self-mocking "joke", and says the lyrics are "not personal at all."
Bassist Colin Greenwood remembers the writing process being "a laugh", the result of "getting wasted together". When the band came to actually play the song live, according to guitarist Ed O' Brien the whole thing was "completely hilarious" and had them "pissing ourselves as we played". Anyone would think they'd written 'My Humps', not one of the towering rock songs of the 20th Century.
And yet... they protest too much. I have a theory. I think that Radiohead knew they'd written an era-defining masterwork, but - in a very British way - felt embarrassed by the grandeur of their creation, and ever since then have bashfully tried to make light of it. They're not fooling anyone.
See, 'Paranoid Android' may do many things, but it doesn't exactly get you firing up the ROFL-copter. There's a reason why it has never been used as a goofy soundbed on The Planet's Funniest Animals. Anyone with ears and a brain can tell that this is a song about the horror of modernity. Thom Yorke surveys the whole grand sweep of humanity and finds he's disgusted by all of it. We've all been there, especially while watching The Xtra Factor with Dermot O'Leary.
The more pretentious among us might point out that 'Paranoid Android''s fragmentary structure, epic scale and overarching mood of bleak horror recalls TS Eliot's The Waste Land, a poem that Thom Yorke and Colin Greenwood once performed aloud at school (and according to Colin, Thom was “totally” into it).
So, is 'Paranoid Android' a 90s equivalent of The Waste Land – a modernist masterpiece with distortion pedals? If you want to get pointy-headed about it, yes, I think that's exactly what Radiohead were aiming for. And you know what? They absolutely succeeded.
Besides, this idea that ‘Paranoid Android’ was intended as a joke - a sozzled attempt to rewrite Queen’s 'Bohemian Rhapsody' - doesn't quite tally with Yorke's own account of how he wrote the lyrics. They came to him at 5am following a hateful night out amongst coked-up music biz types in Los Angeles.
“I was trying to sleep when I literally heard these voices that wouldn't leave me alone,” he recalled in 1997. “Basically ‘Paranoid Android’ is just about chaos, chaos, utter fucking chaos."
When pressed to reveal more about the “kicking squealing Gucci little” piggies who inspired the song, Yorke described them as “inhuman… you do often see demons in people’s eyes. They’re like fucking devils…. Everyone was trying to get something out of me. I felt like my own self was collapsing in the presence of it.”
Hmm. So not quite dashed off as a rib-tickling novelty wig-out then? Lest you doubt that ‘Paranoid Android’ burns with a core of genuine misanthropy, note the hex on the single sleeve. The ensuing world tour was called Against Demons. ‘Paranoid Android’ is a song about seeing evil in the world around you, and being absolutely terrified by it.
So how come it’s so thrilling to listen to? What prevents ‘Paranoid Android’ from being unbearably bleak is the song’s endless inventiveness. It’s so complex, it took Radiohead 18 months of rehearsal before they could play it live. Tellingly, ‘Paranoid Android’ is essentially uncoverable: those who’ve tried, like Weezer, have failed dismally.
Standout moments? How about the guitar solo, hissing and spitting like a power cable let loose in a storm? Or better yet, the bit where the guitar cuts out, leaving a chasm of distortion before the final choral lament, which has always made me think of hooded monks marching with bowed heads, like Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ video.
Of course, it’s really three entirely different songs stitched together, and was built up piecemeal, layer upon layer, growing into this crazy toppling Jenga tower. Colin Greenwood recalls the weird feeling of vertigo this instilled: “We recorded the first bits and we were really into it. Each of the other bits had to be as good as what came before. It was really exciting… but it just raised the stakes each time and piled the pressure on.”
The best song of the past decade-and-a-half? Yes, because ‘Paranoid Android’ predicted so much of what came after. Not just the tenor of rock music, which took a more gloomy and introspective turn in the song’s wake, but the broader culture too. 'Paranoid Android' was recorded before most of us had internet access or mobile phones.
But the world it skewers - one of dislocation, chattering voices, information overload, bile - speaks to our times uncannily. Long may this extraordinary song rain down, rain down on us. Luke Lewis
'Paranoid Android'? It's like being in your own comic strip! Colin Greenwood ‘Paranoid Android’ has been chosen as the best song of the past 16 years. How does that make you feel? “That’s brilliant. Thanks so much! It’s very cool that people still like it.” What’s your standout memory of recording it? “We were in Bath, recording at [15th Century] St. Catherine’s Court. We were having drinks, and then we started doing percussion on a drum loop that Phil [Selway] had made. It grew from there. We’d already rehearsed an early version of the song, played it on tour with Alanis Morrissette – obviously it didn’t go down very well. Originally it had a ten-minute organ outro, which ultimately we ditched and replaced with the “rain down” section. Was that the right decision? I think so, but sometimes I regret the lack of psychedelic, patchouli-soaked organ madness. Was it immediately obvious you’d written something special? “I don’t know. Who can say? There’s something savage and cartoon-like about it, which was reflected in the video, which I really love. The song is wild and savage - something we did when we didn’t know how to do anything. There were no rules. The recording took a long time, but it wasn’t difficult. It was easy. It was a fun time.” Give us a visual picture of the moment it all came together. “We’d had a drink – but only one. Orange juice with vodka. And we were in this large wooden ballroom. We’d lit candles. And we were jamming, which is something we’d never done before. That brought a spontaneity, which helped the song come to life. It’s essentially three different songs stitched together. Were the lyrics there from the very start? I don’t remember.” What do you think people love about it so much? “It’s a bit like ‘Bloom’ on our new record [‘The King Of Limbs’]. I like songs that have a universe inside them. Loud and soft, pretty and ugly, fast and slow. ‘Paranoid Android’ is all those things. It’s brilliant to play live. As for why anyone else likes it? It’s like being in your own comic strip. Serious fun.”