Five Genius Songs Written at the Last Minute
Funny thing about songwriting. I can speak from personal experience: sometimes you spend days, weeks, or years getting a song right, and sometimes you just throw some crap into a microphone at the last minute and hope that someone doesn't hate it.
In the hands of master musicians, though, that last-minute Hail Mary is often the unfiltered smoke of genius. There's even a word for it in Portuguese, desenrascanco. It's the reason that people who work with David Bowie always keep the tape running. Even though he says it's just a practice run, it's probably going to be a sudden work of brilliance.
Today we salute you, hits and anthems that have about as much thought behind them as the average crammed seventh-grade history test.
Warrant, "Cherry Pie"
It's likely that the only song you know by hair metal band Warrant is "Cherry Pie" and that most of all because of the video above featuring Bobbie Brown looking like nine kinds of sex. However, if you heard the single and the original title track of that 1990 juggernaut album, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," you know that Warrant should definitely be associated with a deeper and more inventive pop metal sound than they were hung with.
Worried that the album lacked the obligatory rock anthem that made all of the turn of the '90s kind of a blur, president of Columbia Records at the time, Don Ienner, pressured frontman Jani Lane to please write one. It took Lane 15 minutes to channel a little Def Leppard and Joan Jett into an entendre-laden sex anthem that remains their biggest hit. Lane has alternated between being disgusted with the tune to be grateful so many people enjoy it. If you did, please do one old hair metal apologist a favor and check out 1992's Dog Eat Dog to hear all Warrant was really capable of.
The Who, "Pinball Wizard"
Believe or not, the famous rock opera about a deaf, dumb, and blind kid who becomes a messiah after achieving superstardom as a pinball prodigy originally contained almost none of that sentence at all. In fact, most of what we would describe as the backbone of Tommy was actually a last-minute attempt to impress critic Nik Cohn.
Cohn was initially ambivalent about the album and all its heavy spiritual overtones. Knowing that Cohn was a pinball fan, Pete Townshend suggested a disabled boy who excelled at the game, and Cohn went on to give it rave reviews after Townshend went right out and recorded "Pinball Wizard."
Kansas, "Dust in the Wind"
When it came time to put together songs for 1976's Leftoverture Kansas' main writer, Steve Walsh, experienced a serious case of writer's block that left the album fairly short. In stepped Kerry Livgren with one of the band's biggest hits, "Dust In the Wind." The funny thing is, "Dust in the Wind" sounds nothing like the rest of the record, for a very good reason.
The main melody was only a guitar warmup that Livgren would use, and it was only on the advice of his wife -- who overheard it and remarked that it sounded pretty enough to be a song -- that he brought it in near the end of recording to submit to the band. There's a long history of guitarists turning such exercises into big hits, such as Joe Walsh with "Life in the Fast Lane" and Slash with "Sweet Child o' Mine." So the next time your guitarist is just noodling about, just shut up and write some words to it.
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