South Park started life as a wonky cut-out Christmas cartoon with the mouths flying all over the place. There’s no doubt a stick-men sketch of the Last Supper changing hands for billions in the world’s most exclusive auction houses as we speak. And the same goes for songs – those musical masterpieces don’t just land in a band’s lap fully formed and ready to eat the charts. Often they’ll start out with a crap chorus, mumbling for lyrics, a solo seemingly played on a cheese-grater and all of it recorded onto tape that sounds like it’s made of concrete and nuclear waste. We’ve found some examples of classic songs before they got good – do you know any more?
Never has a fantastic song hovered so close to a recording desperate to be discovered than on this early 1997 incarnation of ‘Plug In Baby’ – its ecstatic chorus then just a formless verse and the best solo of the 21st Century yet to spurt into existence like molten material from a dying dwarf star.
Come back Owen Morris, all is forgiven! With Liam – clearly in an age before he was struck by the rock god lightning bolt – crooning in a bland and sexless fashion and the band leaving their punch and power at the door, here’s Britpop biggest cloud-burster rendered, well, a bit dull really.
Originally called ‘Feel Like’, ‘Under Pressure’ was a series of driving rock chords in need of a chorus until David Bowie turned up and went ”’Ere, you know what this needs… ‘Pressure!‘”
Taking to the mike before he has any real idea who this ‘Billie Jean’ woman might be, he fuddles and fudges his way through the tune asking for “more kick in the phones” when what he really needed was a kick in the arse to finish the lyrics. I mean, “I sit in a cup in a ride?”
The Libertines’ most moving moment started life as an excuse for Pete Doherty to pretend he’s playing the Phantom Of The Opera during a particularly weepy scene. He’s aiming for Ziggy Stardust and hitting Tim Curry.
Recording a song while you’re still in the process of writing it has never made for particularly riveting listening, but Blur’s half-formed early take on ‘Beetlebum’ is a fascinating insight into what distance is still left to run even when you’ve got the chord structure down. Particular nods to Damon for struggling through with only about four words written and whoever tries to turn it into a doom goth synth song halfway through.
Testament to the importance of finding the right synth sound, we can only thank Christ this is only 30 seconds long or we’d never be able to listen to the finished version without imagining the agony of dubstep dentistry ever again.
You’d have to have had some supernatural precognitive powers to listen to this bedroom fuck-around of one-finger synths and toneless wailing and think ‘Number One hit!’, particularly when the keyboardist attempts to make the leap beyond one note at a time and stretch themselves into the realms of actual chords towards the end, with catastrophic results.
Ironically, if Toy put this out today it’d be seen as a modern classic, but compared to the febrile, taut energy of the version that opened ‘Three Imaginary Boys’, this slacker-paced home demo sounds like Robert Smith, very stoned indeed, trying to put off having to replace the washer in that tap.
Proof that even in the twee-est, fluffiest cod-C86 early tune – in this case a hippy-dippy Beatledelic strumalong called ‘Behave Yourself Baby’ with sodding TRUMPETS on it – you can find the nugget of your best future song (from 1.15 onwards).
With its origins in the ‘White Album’ sessions, ‘Jealous Guy’ began life as one of Lennon’s cheesiest flower-power tunes, sung in a theatrical warble, about being “one of nature’s children” and having the windows of his soul fiddled about with by the beauty of mountain ranges, and such shit.
A classic case of “hey lads, take this bong, pass me the Casio on the paso doble setting and get recording this, I’ve got a BRILLIANT idea…”
Literally just a plodding drumbeat and Elton wailing randomly over the top, you have to imagine the actual chords to what would eventually become one of Elton’s most artful classics. You’ve got to wonder what the point was, especially double-tracking the vocals…