10 Classic Rock Songs Behind the Scenes

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The music today known as “classic rock” is more than 50 years old; that’s almost old enough to qualify for senior discounts and retirement community living. Yet those familiar tunes by the Stones, Zeppelin, the Eagles, Pink Floyd and others live on at classic rock stations everywhere. And just look at the most lucrative concert tours of the past couple of years. Among the top-grossing acts were classic rockers the Stones, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses. Clearly, this genre still resonates, not just with graying baby boomers, but a new generation of fans who’ve discovered the wonders of the Beatles, Allman Brothers and other legends. Here are a few YouTube videos we stumbled across recently highlighting the interesting origins and other surprising facts about some of classic rock’s biggest hits.


10. Boston Guitarist Tom Scholz Reveals Secrets of Sound

You’ll never hear those vintage Boston songs the same way after seeing how band founder/guitarist Tom Scholz developed all the bizarre effects in the band’s signature sound. Most of the material on Boston’s historic first album was recorded in his home studio, not a professional facility. You would probably not be surprised to know Scholz earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT.


9. Guitarist Says Everyone Plays ‘Smoke on the Water’ Wrong

Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water features one of the most iconic opening riffs in rock and roll history. But while it sounds like a simple chord progression, guitarist Richie Blackmore, who wrote the riff, demonstrates that most people are playing it wrong.


8. Rush’s Geddy Lee Explains 2112 Effects

Rush vocalist and bassist Geddy Lee explains the origins of the weird sound effects on the band’s seminal 2112 album. And Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart play part of the song in the studio.


7. Pink Floyd Bandmates Disagreed Over Comfortably Numb

Roger Waters explains that he and bandmate David Gilmour had a “serious disagreement” about the famous song on The Wall album. Gilmour produced a version with a different rhythm track, and Waters hated it. Eventually, the two compromised, using Waters’ favorite rhythm track for the first verse, Gilmour’s for the second, and alternating them throughout the rest of the song. See if you can pick out the difference next time you hear the classic. It’s not surprising a band known for its musical precision and quest for perfection would argue about such an issue.


6. Mark Knopfler Shares Secrets of Money For Nothing

The Dire Straits guitarist shares his secrets that give the 1985 song its distinctive sound.


5. Steven Tyler Plays Dream On For Matt Lauer

Apologies for the watermark on this video, but it’s definitely worth a watch. Steven Tyler sits down at a keyboard in an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, plays the opening chords of Dream On, and explains the inspiration for the song. Good stuff.


4. Sound Engineer Recalls Recording Sgt. Peppers Album

Sound engineer Geoff Emerick’s experience with the Beatles and the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album shows sound engineers have a much greater role than people realize, suggesting solos and creating sound effects on the fly. “They didn’t know what they wanted, except they wanted different sounds” Emerick said.


3. Gimme Shelter Vocalist Recalls Session With Rolling Stones

Merry Clayton worked as a prolific backup singer for the biggest stars in music in the 1960s, but her biggest claim to fame is her duet with Mick Jagger on the 1969 Rolling Stones classic Gimme Shelter. As Clayton recalls in the video, late one night she was getting ready for bed, her hair in curlers, when she got a phone call. “Merry, there’s a group of guys in town called the rolling somebodys … and they need somebody that will sing with them.” Still dressed in her pajamas, Clayton went with the Stones to a local recording studio, where she belted out some of the most extreme, soulful vocals ever recorded. Her voice cracked at point as she pushed it to the limit; luckily it cracked “in tune,” she’s said. Clayton paid a price for the session; pregnant at the time, the strain of the recording session led her to have a miscarriage shortly after.


2. Jimmy Page Explains How He Wrote Stairway to Heaven

Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page sits down with a BBC crew and talks about the creation of Stairway to Heaven as they spin an old LP featuring the song. “It was really an inspired period of time,” Page said. “The lasting quality of this music over all these years is the fact everyone is playing so honestly and with such conviction, and that sort of shows.”


1. Layla Producer Recalls Clapton, Allman’s Relationship

Tom Dowd worked as a recording engineer/producer for some of the biggest legends in music in the 1960s and ’70s, from Eric Clapton and the Allman Brothers to Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. In the above video, he recalls encouraging Clapton to bring in guitarist Duane Allman for the Layla recording session in 1970. “There were very few words. It was just complete musical dialog,” Dowd recalls. The rest is music history. The clip is from the 2003 documentary Tom Dowd & the Language of Music, which was nominated for a Grammy Award.


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