Genius At Work – Handwritten Lyrics From Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Paul Simon, Rush, The Beatles and Others
Maybe you’ve wondered; how did some of the greatest songs in the history of rock ‘n’ roll get written? When a creative artist puts pen to paper in a moment of inspiration, what does it look like?
If you are Paul McCartney or Keith Richards, sometimes melodies and words come in a dream.
McCartney’s melody for “Yesterday” was penned right after he dreamed about it. The original words he thought of were very different from the final version. Instead of,
“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday.”
the words McCartney originally thought of were,
“Scrambled eggs. Oh, my baby, how I love your legs. Not as much as I love scrambled eggs. Oh, we should eat some scrambled eggs.”
MCartney obviously worked on those lyrics for what has become one of the all-time great Beatles songs, with John Lennon apocraphally changing the title to “Yesterday.” Unfortunately there is no trace of McCartney’s original handwritten lyrics for Yesterday.
Keith Richards said he recorded Satisfaction, the breakout song for The Rolling Stones while dreaming as well. Instead of a pen, Richards had a tape recorder by his bed in a hotel while on tour in 1965. In the morning he checked his portable recorder and was surprised it was at the end of the tape. He rewound it to the beginning and discovered he had laid down the main riff and chorus and the words “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” He had no memory of actually recording the song, but surmises he woke up while dreaming it and proceeded to record what he had dreamed and went back to sleep! Richards presented the song to the band, and singer Mick Jagger later helped with the lyrics.
Outside of dreams, words come to musicians in a variety of ways. We will not look at the story behind the songs, but the actual drafts of the lyrics to those songs.
Searching the internet for the early drafts of songs with corrections yielded few results. But this assemblage is still interesting to look at.
Jim Morrison singer and poet of The Doors wrote the haunting Riders on the Storm, and it was placed as the last song on the final album Morrison performed on, L.A. Woman. It was also the last song to be recorded for that album.
Interestingly guitarist Robbie Krieger’s name is crossed out. Well, we know Morrison didn’t write the entire melody, but Krieger quite possibly contributed some of the words. It is the only song on the album where all four band members receive writing credit.
Next, Paul Simon of Simon and Garfunkel with The Boxer from the 1970 album Bridge Over Troubled Water. Here you can see Simon’s thought process at work with most of the words never making it into the final version.
Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin has always come up with songs with deep meanings. The handwritten lyrics shown here for Ten Years Gone from Physical Graffiti show Plant’s rough ideas many of which would make it into the final version of the song.
Rush does their songwriting in a very consistent way and has done so for the last 43 years, Bass player and singer Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson come up with the music and drummer Neal Peart does the lyrics. And Peart always has something provocative for the listener to ponder. The Spirit of Radio from the album Permanent Waves is a knock at the corruption of the recording industry and the payola involved in getting music to the public via radio.
Billy Joel’s, My Life from the album 52nd Street (1978). While the majority of the song is not written here, the main chorus and hook is written down. Notice all the changes that Joel made before settling on the words that made it into the recorded version.
One of the rock songs that evokes and epitomizes the 1970s is Peter Frampton’s Show Me The Way from the album 1975 Frampton. The song did not become a huge hit until Frampton’s 1976 live album Frampton Comes Alive. How many people lost their virginity in 1976 while this song was playing would stagger the mind. Shown here is the final version of the lyrics and the band’s powerful TV appearance on the Midnight Special.
There are many people that believe John Lennon was the greatest songwriter of the 20th century. I don’t think you can single out any one person in a creative field as greatest. But Lennon was certainly a musical genius and one person who I personally wish was still living in 2017. You can only wonder what John Lennon would have produced in the last 37 years and what he would have said about the events that have transpired.
In My Life from the Beatles 1965 Rubber Soul is such a beautiful song. For the first time, Lennon wrote a song based upon his personal experiences. The incredible accomplishment is that millions of people relate to these words and find context to them in their own lives.
Originally started as reminiscences of sites from his youth, Lennon discarded much of In My Life in the final recorded version .
Metallica would not play Jump In The Fire live for many years (1984-2004). Why? The song was written by Dave Mustaine the original member of Metallica thrown out of the band right before the first album Kill ‘Em All was released (1983).
Mustaine’s departure didn’t prevent the band from including Jump In The Fire and other songs Mustaine co-wrote on their debut album. Metallica’s vocalist and guitarist James Hetfield adjusted the original lyrics seen here, and just wouldn’t play the song live in concert which would have entitled Mustaine to a performance royalty.
Finally, AC/DC’s first breakthrough to American radio came from the eponymous Highway To Hell (1979), the final album that featured singer/lyricist Bon Scott. After Scott’s 1980 death, the band would go on to rock super-stardom with the multi-platinum album Back In Black.
I never could understand the third line to Highway to Hell. I thought Scott sang a racial slur, “see’s a nigger on a one way ride” which made no sense at all, since it had no context to the rest of the song and there would be no reason for Scott, who was not a racist, to denigrate black people.
Even after AC/DC printed their lyrics in music books, it seemed that they had sanitized Scott’s original version by using “season ticket.” But they did not change a thing, and here is the proof: Bon Scott’s handwritten lyrics to Highway To Hell. Listen to the original song below the lyrics and ask yourself what you hear on that third line.