Song Writing

Waiting For The Break of Day: Three Classic Songs About All-Nighters

by Carl Wiser

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Jay-Z named his 2017 album 4:44 after the time when inspiration struck - 4:44 a.m. - but the golden age of the all-nighter was surely the '60s, when three classic songs about working through the wee hours appeared. Were drugs a factor? In at least one case, yes.
25 Or 6 To 4 by Chicago

Chicago's most enduring hit came into being when their keyboard player, Robert Lamm, was working on a song late into the night at the house in Hollywood he shared with "a bunch of hippies." He wrote exactly what he was feeling. Night would soon become morning, which gave him the first line:

Waiting for the break of day

He needed something to write about in this song:

Searching for something to say

A neon sign flickered in the distance:

Dancing lights against the sky

You can't force inspiration, so it's time to surrender:

Giving up I close my eyes

If nothing is coming, just write anything:

Sitting cross-legged on the floor

When he looked at his watch to check the time, it was 3:34 a.m., then 3:35 a.m. - 26 to 4 o'clock, or 25 to 4 o'clock, put more lyrically, 25 or 6 to 4, which completes the chorus.

The rest of the lyric describes his delirium as he fights through sleep, wondering how much he can take.

Lamm supplied the words, but Chicago's dazzling horn section made "25 Or 6 To 4" one of the most memorable songs in rock, and one that marching bands are still playing nearly 50 years later. That otherworldly lead vocal is by Peter Cetera, who launched an impressive solo career in 1985, with two #1 singles: "Glory Of Love" and "The Next Time I Fall."

Suspected Drug Reference:
That "25" and "624" are forms of LSD, and he's wondering which one to take. This theory doesn't hold up, but has fueled many lively conversations in smoky rooms.

Songfacts entry

"Sunshine Of Your Love" by Cream

It really was getting near dawn when Pete Brown came up with the lyric for the Cream classic "Sunshine Of Your Love." Jack Bruce, the bass player of the trio (which also included Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton) still had his stand-up bass handy from his days playing jazz.

"He said, 'What about this then?' and played the famous riff," Brown told Songfacts. "I looked out the window and wrote down, 'It's getting near dawn.' That's how it happened. It's actually all true, really, all real stuff."

Cream kept a frenetic pace, which left little time for songwriting. This ad-hoc, late night session was a rare writing opportunity, so a little daybreak wasn't going to stop it. Brown is a poet by trade, but these time constraints kept him from getting too poetic - no "silver horses" or "tired starlings" here. Instead, it's a more direct story of devotion inspired by the morning light:

I'm with you my love,
The light's shining through on you
Yes, I'm with you my love
It's the morning and just we two


With Bruce on lead vocals, the song became Cream's most enduring hit. Even the notoriously fickle Clapton loved the song - he played it at many of his solo shows.

Suspected Drug Reference:
None. It's one of the few Cream songs that wasn't accused of narcotic influence.

Songfacts entry

Morning isn't the only time when a song can strike. Justin Hayward was smoking a funny cigarette on a Tuesday afternoon, which produced a Moody Blues classic.
"Smoke On The Water" - Deep Purple

On December 4, 1971, Deep Purple was in the audience for Frank Zappa's concert at the Casino at Montreux, Switzerland. After the show, they were going to use the venue to start recording their album Machine Head. It didn't go as planned.

During Zappa's set, someone walked in and fired a flare gun, igniting the combustible venue. Everyone got out alive, but the casino was burned to the ground. As the band watched the smoke rise from Lake Geneva, they got an idea: "Smoke On The Water."

The lyric is a recap of that fateful day:

They burned down the gambling house
It died with an awful sound


Claude Nobs, who arranged their visit and helped get people to safety, gets a shoutout in the next line:

Funky Claude was running in and out
Pulling kids out the ground


The band was relocated to the Grand Hotel, which they used as a studio with the Rolling Stones' mobile unit recording the action.

We ended up at the Grand Hotel
It was empty cold and bare
But with the Rolling truck Stones thing just outside
Making our music there


Despite a smoldering Ritchie Blackmore guitar riff, Deep Purple didn't rate the song and almost left it off the album. A year later it caught a spark when it was released as a single in America, rising to #4 and becoming an iconic rock song of its time.

Suspected Drug Reference:
That the smoke was coming from a bong. The band's bass player, Roger Glover, nearly nixed it because he thought it sounded too much like a drug song.

Songfacts entry

January 10, 2018
Here's our list of songs about trying to write a song or make an album.

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