Sometimes, songwriting can be a long and arduous struggle. Other times, it seems to just fall from the heavens right onto your lap. Sam Smith has revealed that his new Bond theme ‘Spectre’ took just 20 minutes to pen. Here are 19 other tracks that were all finished up in less time than it takes to get a takeaway delivered.
Beastie Boys, ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)’ – 5 mins: “It was summer 1986. We wrote it in about five minutes. We were in the Palladium with Rick Rubin, drinking vodka and grapefruit juice, and ‘Fight For Your Right’ was written in the Michael Todd Room on napkins on top of those shitty lacy tables,” remembers Beastie Boy Mike D.
REM, ‘Losing My Religion’ – 10 mins: The Georgians’ greatest anthem was written in a 10-minute burst of messing around on the mandolin with a tape recorder running – or so Pete Buck has claimed. “When I listened back to it the next day, there was a bunch of stuff that was really just me learning how to play mandolin,” he explained. The melodies were then moulded into a jaded mega hit.
Beyoncé, ‘Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)’ – 20 mins: Written with producer The-Dream, Beyoncé’s pop smash warning to men to commit to their partners or lose them was written in less time than it’d take to learn its famous dance moves. “When Bey came in, she had that smirk that I see when I know a record is happening,” said The-Dream, who says the track was done with 20 minutes later.
The Beatles, ‘Yesterday’ – less than a minute: ‘Yesterday’, one of The Beatles’ best loved tracks, was famously conceived during a dream that McCartney hurriedly scribbled down upon waking. “I have no idea how I wrote that. I just woke up one morning and it was in my head. I didn’t believe it for about two weeks,” Macca said of the incident.
The Jam, ‘That’s Entertainment’ – 10 mins: Paul Weller’s never been a man for airs and affectations, as he proved when he explained the writing of The Jam’s ‘That’s Entertainment’. “I wrote it in 10 minutess flat, while under the influence. I’d had a few but some songs just write themselves.” Bish bash bosh, and Bob’s yer uncle.
Taylor Swift, ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ – 25 mins: “I just grabbed the guitar and it just happened very randomly. It was hilarious – we wrote the song in 25 minutes,” said Taylor of her ex-ditching 2012 hit. With more than 7 million copies of the single sold, that must be 25 of the most lucrative minutes in music history.
Kanye West, ‘All Falls Down’ – 15 mins: Whether or not you agree with Kanye’s constant claims of genius, it’s hard to dispute that writing 2004 smash ‘All Falls Down’ in 15 minutes is pretty damn impressive. The trick? learning “how to make raps with a message sound cool” says Mr Kim Kardashian.
Led Zeppelin, ‘Rock And Roll’ – 30 mins: Frustrated with the writing sessions for other track ‘Four Sticks’, drummer John Bonham started riffing on the intro to Little Richard track ‘Keep A Knockin”. Jimmy Page added a guitar part and – bang – ‘Rock And Roll’ was famously born in half an hour. If only everything was that simple.
Blur, ‘Song 2’ – 30 mins: Written as a tongue-in-cheek send-up of grunge, ‘Song 2’ was a throwaway track penned in less than half an hour that went on to become a mega-hit. As producer Stephen Street remembers, “Damon went ‘woo hoo’ because he had nothing else prepared.”
Adele, ‘Skyfall’ – 10 mins: The Bond soundtrack might be one of music’s most lucrative gigs, but Sam Smith isn’t the only one to have dashed off his effort in mere minutes. According to producer Paul Epworth, the lyrics to Adele’s ‘Skyfall’ were penned “within 10 minutes”. When you know, you know, as they say…
The White Stripes, ‘Seven Nation Army’ – during a soundcheck: Possibly the most famous riff in contemporary rock (and the chant that soundtracked a thousand football matches) was composed offhand during a soundcheck in Melbourne. “I was playing it for Meg and [Ben Swank, Third Man employee] was walking by,” recalls Jack. “I said, ‘Swank, check this riff out.’ And he said, ‘It’s OK.'”
Oasis, ‘Supersonic’ – 10 mins: After a short flurry of music writing, Noel Gallagher penned the lyrics to Oasis’ swaggering debut single in just 10 minutes. “I remember being off my nut and going into the back room and setting the goal of writing a song in 10 minutes – that was ‘Supersonic’,” he said in typically casual fashion.
Lorde, ‘Royals’ – 30 mins: Lorde’s breakthrough smash ‘Royals’ was written in 30 minutes when the singer was 15. “I wrote it in, like, half an hour – the lyrics anyway,” she explained to Billboard. “I wrote all the lyrics and took them to the studio and my producer [Joel Little] was like, ‘Yeah, this is cool’.” And the understatement of the year title goes to…
Charli XCX, ‘I Love It’ for Icona Pop – 30 mins: Charli XCX has proven herself to be a hit-writing machine, but her first proper smash came with ‘I Love It’, which she gave to Swedish duo Icona Pop. Written in half an hour in a hotel room, the future Number One was done and dusted in less time than it takes to watch an episode of Breaking Bad.
The Knack, ‘My Sharona’ – 15 mins: Sure, lyrics like “my, my my, my, my, wooh!” aren’t exactly Shakespearian poetry, but The Knack’s 1979 hit ‘My Sharona’ is still a stone-cold classic. Singer Doug Fieger once claimed in an interview that the track had been written in 15 minutes. With vocals full of tetchy urgency, the theory makes sense.
Mumford & Sons, ‘The Cave’ – during a soundcheck: The first draft of ‘Sigh No More’ hit ‘The Cave’ was written during a soundcheck at a small pub in Edinburgh called Bannermans. Needless to say, they wouldn’t be playing the track in venues of that size for long.
Black Sabbath, ‘Paranoid’ – 30 mins: Says guitarist Geezer Butler of the Sabbath classic: “The song ‘Paranoid’ was written as an afterthought. We basically needed a three-minute filler for the album, and Tony [Iommi] came up with the riff. I quickly did the lyrics, and Ozzy was reading them as he was singing.” If only all our afterthoughts were so good.
The Rolling Stones, ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ – 40 mins: Another incident of a particularly productive sleep session. The inimitable riff for ‘…Satisfaction’ was penned by Keith Richards as he was drifting off in a hotel room. Listening back to the recording the next day, there were two minutes of acoustics riffs, “and then me snoring for 40 minutes”.
David Bowie, ‘All The Young Dudes’ for Mott The Hoople – two hours: A little longer, this one, but still great. When our Dave heard that Mott The Hoople were planning on splitting in 1972, he offered them ‘Suffragette City’ as a career-saving single. The band (bizarrely) turned him down, so two hours later Bowie called back having whipped up ‘All The Young Dudes’ for them instead. Amazing.