Song Writing

Facts on Tracks: Stories Behind 100 Rock Classics - An Excerpt

by Greg Prato

Share this post

Who doesn't like to learn about the stories behind our favorite rock songs from throughout the years? We all do!

In my 27th book overall, Facts on Tracks: Stories Behind 100 Rock Classics, yours truly is prepared to guide readers through 100 bona fide classic songs from a multitude of rock genres - heavy metal, punk rock, grunge, hair metal, funk, instrumental, classic rock, arena rock, power ballads, new wave, prog rock, soft rock, power pop, thrash metal, hardcore, southern rock, rap, alternative, etc. - with each listing containing background info plus insight from someone closely associated with the track.

Black Sabbath, Eagles, Soundgarden, Rick Springfield, Toto, Kiss, Sepultura, MC5, Billy Joel, Police, Whitesnake, Dead Kennedys, Ramones, Funkadelic, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, King Crimson, Run-DMC, Primus, Pantera, Agnostic Front, Hall & Oates, Steely Dan, Metallica, Sex Pistols, Rush, Bauhaus, Cheap Trick, Nirvana, plus a foreword by Keith Roth (host of Ozzy's Boneyard and Hair Nation on Sirius Radio, plus the Electric Ballroom radio show)...they're all included in Facts on Tracks!

And now, a few excerpts...
"Bela Lugosi's Dead"
Bauhaus

Written by Daniel Ash, David Haskins, Kevin Haskins, Peter Murphy
From Crackle (1998) - single released in 1979
There are few instances where you can pinpoint the birth of an entire subgenre of rock music to a specific song. But this spooky masterpiece by Bauhaus may be one of those rare instances—signaling the birth of goth rock.

Daniel Ash [Bauhaus guitarist]: Recording "Bela" was one of those magical moments in the studio. We had only been a band for about a month but the chemistry between us all was on fire. It was a first or second take with us all playing live—including Peter [Murphy] in the vocal booth. I remember he had a cold but sounded great anyway. It was pretty much instant, just adding some echo to the guitar and drums.

I remember being in the bathroom after mixing the song, and "Bela" was coming out of the smallest cheapest speaker you've ever seen - and it still sounded perfect. That's when I knew it was going to be noticed and remembered. A classic. From the first time we played "Bela" live, it had an extreme reaction. Everyone would go quiet. "Transfixed" I think you call it. Must have something to do with the kick drum, haha.

"Bela Lugosi's Dead" lyrics

"Eye of the Tiger"
Survivor

Written by Jim Peterik, Frankie Sullivan
From Eye of the Tiger (1982)
While you can certainly say that Sylvester Stallone has a knack for sometimes selecting good movies to star in (remember Rhinestone?), something that he doesn't seem to get credit for is that he certainly had a knack for picking winning anthemic songs for the first few Rocky films. Especially, this megahit - which he played a major hand in helping to sound just right.

Frankie Sullivan [Survivor guitarist]: [Sylvester Stallone] was - and still is - really good friends with the president of our record company [Tony Scotti]. Stallone was pretty much done with Rocky III. Where we entered the picture was he wanted something a little bit different, and [Scotti] was very business smart, and saw this as an opportunity. He said, "I have a young band. Maybe you'd be interested in seeing what they would come up with. I can put you in touch with them, and you guys could talk. Maybe they could hit the mark or come up with something you like." That's really where it started.

My stories with [Stallone] went back to Rocky III, because when we put the music to the film, he wasn't happy with what was going on. There really wasn't a lot of rock bands doing soundtracks back then. Sly was a guy that really liked a lot of balls and punch. He liked the demo version a lot. He liked the rawness of it. I got a call, and he said, "Will you come out here?" He was struggling with what they were doing, because they were sticking to a standard. By then, you'd get into a soundstage, and they'd have a big screen with two VU meters, and they'd play it really safe, because they don't want the stuff to get printed on the film, and then it ends up in the theater, and it's all distorted. Sly wanted that song slamming.

So I was there for about two weeks. I stayed with him. He was very cool, very easy to work with. He put me in the hot seat. That was a wake-up call, because I was 24 years old, and Donny Zimmerman, who's won like 22 Oscars, was sitting in the driver's seat, and Sly was like, "This isn't it. I want more balls!" I said, "Well, we do things differently. These guys like to keep it in the black. We like to ride it up into the red, the VU meters. The more the better. You get the tape compression, you get that low end, you get the drums, [and] everything kind of pops out. And if you get it to the right sweet spot, it gets huge."

And he says, "Sit down there." He had the guy get up. He was a big star and had a lot of power, so they're not going to argue with him. He said, "Just do what you do. Pretend they're not here. Whatever you did when you did the demo and mixed it, do it here." I looked at the VU meters and did what I would do if we were mixing a record. He said, "Now we're getting there." We finally got to a point, and he said, "Print it." They were arguing with him, but he'd just say, "Hey, whose movie is this?" They hushed up pretty quick.

He played the whole four minutes and 58 seconds of the song at the beginning of the film, so that in itself was a video to me. That was my favorite video version. He did that little montage that he wrote, where he did all those commercials for American Express. If you watch the beginning of Rocky III, you'll notice that. To me, we had a "60-million-dollar video" out there, and we had a guy at the time who was just a huge Hollywood star. He was out there promoting the film and loved the tune, so he was promoting the tune. It was like a double whammy. Our version of the video, I was never really a big fan of it. There are parts that are cool, and there are parts where we're walking around the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco, that I look at, and say, "That doesn't really make much sense to me."

"Eye of the Tiger" lyrics

"Jessie's Girl"
Rick Springfield

Written by Rick Springfield
From Working Class Dog (1981)
It's hard to believe that a chap as good-looking and talented as Rick Springfield would have trouble in the romance department... but as evidenced by this catchy pop rocker, there was one specific lady who proved to be out of reach. And wouldn't you know it that in its music video, the lad who plays "Jessie" is none other than actor Steve Antin... who would play a very similar role in one of the best '80s teen comedy/drama films, The Last American Virgin (as the coldhearted character "Rick")!

Rick Springfield [solo artist/singer/guitarist]: I had the guitar riff and wrote the verses, but I had this other song that I was pretty sure I wouldn't finish. I liked the B verse of it, and it fit into the "JG" verse I already had. I wanted the song to build up to the chorus, but I only had a TEAC four-track [home recording device], a crappy pawn shop bass guitar and cushions for drums. The instrumental side was a little sparse, which made me come up with the stripped down verses and the "all in" choruses. I liked the song, but thought it was a good album cut, not necessarily a single.

The video was a blast. I didn't really know why they gave us 1,500 bucks to shoot it because there was no MTV at the time we filmed it. I wrote and drew up the storyboard. Then we shot it over three days using back alleys and found places that we filmed in, 'til the neighbors complained and the cops arrived. Then we'd throw all our gear into the van and skedaddle. Guerilla filming, for sure.

"Jessie's Girl" lyrics

"Slow Ride"
Foghat

Written by Dave Peverett
From Fool for the City (1975)
Is there a classic rock tune better built for cruising in a beefed-up Camaro than this tune? I think not. And according to the band's drummer, the band took their sweet time in the recording studio - getting its burly groove just right.

Roger Earl [Foghat drummer]: We recorded the Fool for the City album up in Sharon, Vermont. We took about two or three months off the road, and we were doing really well. We wanted to put the time in and get it right. Nick Jameson, who was the bass player and producer of that album, was up there [with us] mixing two of the songs - one of them was "Slow Ride," and what was eventually the B-side of the single, "Save Your Loving (For Me)."

After we mixed it, we drove back down to Bearsville Records, and went in to see the head of Bearsville, Paul Fishkin, and said, "This is our next single." Initially, there were some copies that went out, and the DJ's would have to fade it out, but later we acquiesced, and Nick edited it down to four-and-a-half minutes. I love playing the song - I play it every night, and we just did another version on our new album [2016's Under the Influence].

"Slow Ride" lyrics

"Alexis"
James Gang

Written by Tommy Bolin, Jeff Cook
From Bang (1973)
There are countless tracks that just about any fan of rock music can list as "shoulda/coulda been classics," that frustratingly somehow slipped through the cracks. One such example is this gorgeous half-ballad/half-rocker, by the James Gang. Perhaps the fact that Joe Walsh had exited long ago (the member that fans associated with the band most) was too much to overlook. But his second replacement, Tommy Bolin - who also handles lead vocals on the tune, and offers a simply smoldering solo at the end - was responsible for bringing this gem to the band, which was co-written by his oft-utilized collaborator, Jeff Cook.

Jeff Cook [songwriter]: I think "Alexis" is one of the best songs he ever did. I wrote the lyrics to that. It had sensitivity, it had strong lyric imagery, and the music fit the mood of the song very well. I think "Savannah Woman" was that way, "Alexis" was that way, and on the rockers, "Teaser" was that way.

The song was just a piece of fiction. When I wrote the song, I'd never been to Atlanta, I'd never been to New Orleans, and the lyrics were all just imagination. But what's very interesting is that whole song came true in my life. Ten years later, I ended up moving to Atlanta, meeting a woman younger than myself, marrying her, and having a daughter - so we named her Alexis. And her whole family was from New Orleans. So the song actually came true!

"Alexis" lyrics

"Dissident Aggressor"
Judas Priest

Written by Rob Halford, KK Downing, Glenn Tipton
From Sin After Sin (1977)
By the time of Judas Priest's third full-length overall, Sin After Sin, the battlin' band from Birmingham was quickly becoming of the heaviest bands on planet Earth. And one of their heftiest tunes up to this point was undoubtedly this selection.

Rob Halford [Judas Priest singer]: It's about the Berlin Wall in 1970-something-or-other. I couldn't sleep, so I went out for a walk. I went to the Berlin Wall and I walked up on top of a boxy-looking post thing. Watchtower thing. It was in November, it was freezing cold, and I was looking over from West Berlin, which is all brightly lit up - pubs were up and everything. And the East side was just dead. It was pitch black, no lights were on, and there were these Russian guys looking back at me in binoculars. That was the seed for what that song talks about, about "I know what I am, I'm Berlin."

It's the best thing in the world when another great band tributes it [Slayer covered it on 1988's South of Heaven], and Halestorm did it recently. Lzzy [Hale, Halestorm's singer] did it recently. It's a great feeling. So it's just very gratifying that you know you've made a song that potent that another great band would cover it and tribute it in that way.

"Dissident Aggressor" lyrics

May 22, 2019
Here is the ordering info for Facts on Tracks: Stories Behind 100 Rock Classics

More Song Writing

Comments

Be the first to comment...

Stand By Me: The Perfect Song-Movie CombinationSong Writing

In 1986, a Stephen King novella was made into a movie, with a classic song serving as title, soundtrack and tone.

Sending Out An SOS - Distress Signals In SongsSong Writing

Songs where something goes horribly wrong (literally or metaphorically), and help is needed right away.

Fire On The StageSong Writing

When you have a song called "Fire," it's tempting to set one - these guys did.

Al Jourgensen of MinistrySongwriter Interviews

In the name of song explanation, Al talks about scoring heroin for William Burroughs, and that's not even the most shocking story in this one.

Hawksley WorkmanSongwriter Interviews

One of Canada's most popular and eclectic performers, Hawksley tells stories about his oldest songs, his plentiful side projects, and the ways that he keeps his songwriting fresh.

Rush: Album by Album - A Conversation With Martin PopoffSong Writing

A talk with Martin Popoff about his latest book on Rush and how he assessed the thousands of albums he reviewed.