Music History

10 Examples of When Mistakes in Songs Make Things BETTER

hen you have a full recording studio at your disposal, there is that temptation to make things sound perfect. Sometimes, though, an imperfection can add beauty to a song. Here are some examples.

1.The Clash, “Brand New Cadillac”

To warm up for another day’s work on what would become the London Calling album, the Clash launched into a cover of Vince Taylor’s 1959 song, “Brand New Cadillac.” In the control room, producer Guy Stevens secretly pressed “record” on the tape machine. When the band finished, Stevens said “Right! That’s a take! Next song!”

The Clash was dumbfounded. “We can’t use that take! The tempo’s all wrong! Listen to how we sped up as the song went on!” Stephens replied “All rock’n’roll speeds up. Next song.”

That version ended up as the second track on London Calling. Have a listen.


2.Metallica, “Seek and Destroy”

Kirk Hammett only got two or three cracks at the solo when the band was making Kill ‘Em All in 1983. He still cringes at what he says are two bum notes in the solo.


3.The Breeders, “Cannonball”

Bass player Josephine Wiggs kept making a mistake in rehearsals, a wrong note slipped into her solo part at the beginning of the song, correcting it only when the guitars came in. The band loved this so much that they made it a permanent part of the song.


4. New Order, “Blue Monday”

“Blue Monday” began as sort of an f-you song. Anxious to end shows so they could get back to some serious drinking, “Blue Monday” was constructed to be a programmed and sequenced piece that could play while the band left the stage and avoided the hated encore. Peter Hook was the one who came up with the idea of getting machines to play the encore for them.

“Blue Monday,” of course, became only New Order’s best-known track by the best-selling 12-inch single of all time. And it also contains a serious mistake with the keyboard programming.

If you listen to the synth, it’s slightly out of time with the beat because keyboardist Gillian Gilbert accidentally left a note out when she was programming it. This happy accident removed melody’s rigid robotic feel, giving it just enough humanity to make it easier to dance to.


5. The B-52’s, “Love Shack”

Vocalist Cindy Wilson’s wail “TIIIIIIIIIIN ROOF!…Rusted” wasn’t part of the original vision of the song. On one take, Wilson kept on singing when the track playback stopped. This outtake was added later because it just sounded cool.


6. The Kingsmen, “Louie Louie”

The Kingsmen didn’t have much money, so their slop-rock recording of “Louie Louie” was so rushed that they didn’t have time re-recorded the track which included singer Joe Ely coming in too soon after the solo (it’s there at 1:58). Drummer Lynn Easton tried to cover up the mistake with a drum fill so the band could get back on track. But because this version of the song went on to become so popular, millions of people think that the error is an intentional part of the performance!


7. Green Day, “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”

The Green Day hits opens with a Billie Joe Armstrong error. He hits the 3rd and 4th strings of an open G/D chord instead of playing the 2nd and 3rd strings before starting again. The mistake was left in on purpose because the band wanted to show a sense of humour and humanity.


8. The Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter”

Vocalist (and at the time, very pregnant) Merry Clayton was called in to do her part at the last second in the middle of the night. The part where her voice unintentionally cracks gives the song an extra dose of power and emotion.


9. The Beatles, “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da”

Notice how Paul mixes up the characters of Desmond and Molly in the final verse. So it’s Desmond that stays home and “does his pretty face?” Or is there a gender-bending message we’ve been missing all these years?


10. Nirvana, “Polly”

There’s some dispute over Kurt’s early vocal reappearance at the start of the final verse. Those who say this was a mistake point to demos of the song where he does the same thing. Maybe that’s where the mistake originated. Kurt like it how it sounded and kept it.

Learn more about mistakes creating beauty at Open Culture. Try this Reddit thread, too.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37816 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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