Transcript 160–Failing Upward, Vol 2

NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.


Hey, Cuz! Welcome to the next episode of How Good It Is, and today we’re going to look at a few songs that have interesting goofs in them.


Hi there! I’m Claude Call. There won’t be any trivia for ye today because this entire episode is basically trivia. I haven’t done an episode like this since all the way back in Episode 11. But the focus here is not so much songs which went out with incidental mistakes in them, but songs where they caught the mistake and decided that it sounded better that way, so they kept it in.

Let’s start with 1979 and The Police. Their second album, Regatta de Blanc, includes a track that was written and performed by Stuart Copeland. Early in the song, something peculiar happens. Have a listen:


Copeland himself explains what happened in an interview that appeared in the December 1981 issue of Musician Magazine. He said:
“I recorded the demo for that at home. I had a little home studio at the time with wires going everywhere – I think I was running the guitar through the toaster, that sort of thing – and I was playing the piano part while I sang the song, or at least what was supposed to be the lyrics of the song. And just as I finished singing, all the wires in the room acted like a radio and picked up a signal of this opera. It was perfectly in time and perfectly in tune, even the mood and sentiment of the thing were absolutely perfect. So it went straight on tape, exactly in the place that it should have gone. It had to be a message from above that this was the way the song had to go. So we actually used that, my home demo, at the beginning of the studio recording.”

Let’s stick with the Police for a minute, or one of them anyway. Specifically Sting and his 1985 album The Dream of the Blue Turtles. The album as a whole has a rather jazzy sound to it though it’s still clearly rock, and that’s probably because of the musicians who played on it, who came to be known themselves as The Blue Turtles.  They would be Kenny Kirkland on the keyboards, Darryl Jones on the bass, Branford Marsalis on the saxophone, Omar Hakim on the drums, and of course Sting on vocals and the guitar. All of these guys have some serious jazz credentials. The last track on Side 1 of the album is a remake of the Police song “Shadows in the Rain” from Zenyatta Mondata. It opens with a confused Branford Marsalis asking a question and not getting an answer:


This is partially a mistake that remained in the final mix, but it’s also a testament to Marsalis’ talent and his skills with relative pitch, which is different from perfect pitch. According to an interview he had with neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, who wrote a book called This is Your Brain on Music, Marsalis had to wait until Sting started singing, and then he started playing quietly until he figured out the note Sting was singing, and from there he was able to deduce the key, which is why he’s exactly in tune when he begins playing in earnest. 

One of the more famous mistakes in a Beatles song comes in the last verse of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” when Paul McCartney sings this:


The band had been working on the song for several days, and it led to several arguments, although at least one of them actually resulted in a positive change to the song. According to Ian MacDonald’s book Revolution in the Head, out of frustration John Lennon went to the piano and banged out the opening chords much louder and faster than they’d been playing previously, telling Paul that this is how the song should be played. As it happens, that’s the style they went with. But in that last verse, Paul does the switchup with Desmond and Molly’s roles by accident. When they finished recording, Paul said they had to do it again because of the mixup, but the other Beatles liked it that way. At that point John was also a little frustrated with people looking too deeply into their lyrics, so he thought it would be a good thing to have people thinking that Desmond might be a homosexual.

From the White Album we jump to 1975 and another double LP. This time it’s Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. Like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin was kind of famous for leaving odd mistakes in their records. Now, their track “In My Time of Dying” was quite a long track, clocking in at over eleven minutes. In fact, at 11:06 it’s their longest studio track. So when they got to the very end of the song, something happens, and the decision was made to leave the error in, because it actually improved the ending of the song. Listen in and we’ll talk about it a little on the other side:


So nearly everything you hear wasn’t originally part of the song. It was supposed to just end with Robert Plant singing, “Won’t you make it my dying, dying, dying…” and the song would just end like that, with the music decaying behind him. But then drummer John Bonham coughed, and Plant added in, in tune, “Cough.” Then as they start to break down a little bit, you can hear Bonham saying “That’s going to be the one, isn’t it?”

Here’s a pretty good one that unfortunately I have no explanation for. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1969 hit “Down on the Corner” has somebody whistling briefly during an instrumental break. I’ve tried to amplify it a little bit so you can hear it better, so listen carefully about four seconds after John Fogerty finishes singing the chorus:


That’s all I got. Presumably Fogerty is trying to get someone’s attention and it got caught on the vocal track, but otherwise I don’t know the story involved.

Let’s wrap it up with 1989 and the B-52’s “Love Shack”. If you ask the B’s where the original shack is that inspired the song, they’ll each have a different location in mind. But they all agree that the club you see in the movie The Color Purple was an inspiration for the song, and it’s also well-known that the Hawaiian Ha-Le Club, in Athens Georgia, is a place where the band frequently hung out. Cindy Wilson and Fred Schneider both think of the Hawaiian Ha-Le as being at the heart of this song, but Kate Pierson has another place in Athens in her head, and Keith Strickland said it mostly reminded him of keg parties out in the country.

At any rate, one of the cooler parts of the record is the point where the music suddenly stops for a moment:


Now, Cindy Wilson’s line actually came from an outtake stemming from an earlier jam session the band had been through. The music track stopped suddenly, and Cindy Wilson just kept on singing, belting out that line in the silence. But that’s what gave them the idea to stop the music on purpose, and then resume a beat later.

Incidentally, most people agree that the phrase “tin roof, rusted” refers to a woman getting pregnant, but Cindy Wilson says she’s just recalling the rusty roof at the Hawaiian Ha-Le, and Kate Pierson is pretty much on the same page. So, do with that what you will.

Finally for this song, watch the video carefully and you’ll see a not-yet-famous RuPaul dancing at the party.


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