I’ve always had an affinity for the strange part of music; the lesser known background details that cement my place as a true fan of an artist. Growing up listening to U2, Coldplay and Radiohead inevitably made me desire the need to pick apart their every song. I had to figure out what goes on behind the scenes of each project they released and what measures the members go to craft their sound. As time passed, my music tastes expanded and my internal flame kindled by the discovery of an artist’s quirks and unique sounds only grew. Here are my favorite “behind the scenes” facts from my favorite musical endeavours.
10. “Zooropa” – U2
The trippy and reverb-filled opener to U2’s 1993 LP Zooropa features Bono singing solely advertising slogans in the first half of the song, but that’s not the only reason it’s on this list. Drummer Larry Mullen Jr., in an uncharacteristic appearance, hopped on the bass guitar for the song’s intro to create a simple yet dynamic backing to a dreamy opening instrumental.
9. “Miami” – U2
This polarizing track off of U2’s 1997 album Pop features a snappy, shadowy drum beat dominated by a familiar yet strangely alien sound: a hi-hat played in reverse. The sound contributes to the quiet mystery and simmering tension the song has and was described by the album’s producer, Howie B, as “a mad engine running or something really crazy.”
8. “Planet Telex” – Radiohead
The intro to Radiohead’s 1995 album, The Bends, features Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke cryptically alluding to an undefined force that remains with a person no matter what they do. The reason behind his confusing words? He recorded his improvised lyrics while laying drunk on the floor of the band’s studio.
7. Viva la Vida – Coldplay
Coldplay’s iconic 2008 record was backed by the renowned producer Brian Eno, who took some drastic measures to maximize Coldplay’s creativity. One such experimental foray was when Eno agreed to let a hypnotherapist into the studio to hypnotize the British band while recording. According to Coldplay’s bassist Guy Berryman, “When we went down and played, it was a sort of long, ambient piece that resulted. I’m not sure if it will ever see the light of day.”
6. Original Soundtracks 1 – Passengers
Passengers, a.k.a. U2 plus the ageless Brian Eno, formed in 1995 for a one-off experimental record under their unremarkable pseudonym. Their goal was creating an album that featured minimal electronic and ambient songs as soundtracks for movies that didn’t exist. U2 watched a variety of old visual media procured by Eno while recording for inspiration, and even went as far as writing summaries of fake movies that accompanied each track for the CD booklet.
5. The Money Store – Death Grips
The Sacramento-based experimental/industrial hip hop group oddly yet seamlessly used samples of ringtones from phones found in the Sahara Desert for multiple songs on their breakthrough 2012 album. They’re included in the verses of the ever-popular “Get Got” and the barebones, tribal-like “F*ck That.”
4. “The Scientist” – Coldplay
Coldplay’s music video for their hit 2002 song “The Scientist” features singer Chris Martin singing the song as life around him continues in reverse. In reality, Martin had to memorize the song backwards so when he lip-synced during the video, his mouth movements would line up with the recording. In a subsequent talk show appearance, Martin attempted reciting the backwards lyrics. The show reversed a clip of his attempt and, sure enough, he successfully sung a few lines of his emotional ballad.
3. “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors” – Radiohead
Radiohead’s 2001 record Amnesiac features some of the group’s most creative production to date, especially in the case of “Pulk.” Yorke pulled the lyrics for the song from a children’s book about doors and spoke the lyrics into a heavily distorted voice synthesizer. The final product is a sinister electronic composition with a creepy backstory.
2. “Like Spinning Plates” – Radiohead
The British band is featured on this list quite often, and for good reason. The penultimate track of Amnesiac was recorded by Yorke singing lyrics backwards. In the final product, his lyrics were reversed to make it sound like he was singing normally but with odd voice inflictions due to the painstaking recording process. Truly mind blowing stuff.
1. Since I Left You – The Avalanches
The Australian group’s gargantuan task of recording an album using solely sounds from old records sounded mind-boggling. Their 2000 project was produced with nearly 3,500 samples ranging from all kinds of records to create a cohesive, tropical-sounding album. How did they do it? By simply playing a record, dropping the needle on to random parts of the vinyl and choosing parts that sounded the best. There was a tad bit of method to their madness.