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The Kingsmen – Louie Louie - 1963
When The Kingsmen covered Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie” in 1963, they had no idea that their version would become definitive…especially considering how many mistakes remain in the final master. Recorded in one take for $50, listen for drummer Lynn Easton shouting a certain expletive at 0:56 after dropping his drumsticks…and then listen for singer Jack Ely coming in early after the solo at 1:55 and immediately shutting up when he realizes his mistake. The band covers for him so nicely that most listeners think it’s purposeful, with cover bands everywhere replicating it.
The Breeders – Cannonball – 1993
With definitely one of the most iconic basslines ever, The Breeders’ "Cannonball" has been an alt-rock staple pretty much since Last Splash’s release in 1993. During the intro, the bassline is a semitone flat, only moving up a step into the proper key when the guitars come in. While it seems intentional, “We all just thought it was hilarious and thought it sounded really great. It kind of sets up a certain expectation, and then your expectation is changed because all of a sudden it’s in a different key. It was clear to us at that moment that that was the right thing to do, to keep the wrong note in there” bassist Josephine Wiggs told Consequence of Sound.
Van Halen – Everybody Wants Some – 1980
When you think of great lyrics in rock, many classics spring to mind. “All you need is love." “Don’t stop believing.” And of course, “Ah took a mooble and lookey fur a moo-peeee,” as sung by David Lee Roth at 1:58 in “Everybody Wants Some.” Now, you could argue that this doesn’t make any sense and that Roth meant to sing “I’ve seen a lot of people looking for a moonbeam,” but c’mon, haven’t we all been lookey fur a moo-pee at some point in our lives?
LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out - 1990
This is one of the prime examples of a mistake making a track. While in the studio with Marley Marl recording “Mama Said Knock You Out,” LL Cool J got into an argument with the engineer, and his exasperated “come on man!” was such an electrifying way to start the song, it’s the first thing you hear. Here’s Marley Marl’s take.
Madness – One Step Beyond - 1979
English ska band Madness scored a hit in 1979 with their cover of Prince Buster’s “One Step Beyond.” The only problem? Saxophonist Lee Thompson didn’t know how to tune his instrument at the time of recording, and so the iconic sax line is actually quite noticeably flat. In what is probably the ultimate spiritual quandary for music snobs everywhere, the out of tune sax didn’t matter at all: "One Step Beyond" ended up becoming one of Madness’ best loved singles. “That sax is ….out of tune! My God! Isn’t anyone hearing this!?“ – guy who definitely gets invited to parties.
Big Star – Don’t Lie To Me – 1972
Though the production on Big Star’s 1971 debut #1 Record is immaculate for the most part, there is one notable mistake: at 2:14 in “Don’t Lie To Me”, the band are all singing different lyrics. Listening back, Chilton and co. decided the effect was disorienting in a good way, and so it remains.
Megadeth – Paranoid -1994
When Megadeth recorded their version of “Paranoid” for the Black Sabbath cover series Nativity in Black, drummer Nick Menza got so into it he kept going after the song was supposed to end. Noted reasonable guy Dave Mustaine chided him with a gentle “Nick, what are you doing, my friend?” “Oh, whatever was I thinking?” Menza replies. Or something like that.
The Beatles - A ton of them
Part of the reason these mop-topped miscreants’ songs are so iconic is that they aren’t multi-tracked and re-recorded into soullessness. More than any band before or since, the Beatles knew when to let a mistake through to the end. As for examples, take your pick: there’s Paul mixing up the genders on “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da,” Paul laughing on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” Paul’s wrong piano chord on “Let It Be.” OK, maybe most of these are Paul’s fault. Man, that guy had like, no talent!
With today’s recording technology, it’s easier than ever before to ensure your song is completely polished to perfection. You kids with your ProGarages and Logic Tools or whatever can crank out pristine anthems about, I don’t know, Frozen all day long, but you should try just winging it more often. Ask anyone: sometimes, it’s a little mistake left in the final mix that turns a song from mediocre to magic. Well, maybe don’t ask Crusty Joe down by the pier, I doubt he’d have much to add to the conversation. Anyway, here are nine songs that became hits in spite of, or maybe because of, their mistakes.