“My wife met me at the door the other night in a sexy negligee. Unfortunately, she was just coming home.”
– Rodney Dangerfield
- “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins
Following his departure from Genesis, Phil Collins released his first solo album, Face Value, in 1981. Its single was “In the Air Tonight,” which became a Top 20 hit. “This song has become a stone around my neck, though I do love it,” Collins told Rolling Stone. “I wrote it after my wife left me. Genesis had done a tour that was far too long. She said to me, ‘We won’t be together if you do the next tour.’ I said, ‘I’m a musician. I have to go away and play. Just hold your breath when I’m over there.’ Then Genesis toured Japan. When I got back, she said she was leaving and taking the kids.”
For fans who have tried to interpret its lyrics, Collins gave little help in a BBC interview. “I don’t know what this song is about. When I was writing this I was going through a divorce. And the only thing I can say about it is that it’s obviously in anger. It’s the angry side, or the bitter side of a separation.
“This is one song out of all the songs probably that I’ve ever written that I really don’t know what it’s about.”
- “Heartache Tonight” by the Eagles
“Heartache Tonight” was a No. 1 hit in 1979, the last time that the Eagles would top the charts. The song was written by Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Bob Seger and J.D. Souther over the course of several months of jam sessions and phone calls. Seger told us how the song came together.
“’Heartache Tonight’ started with me and Glenn at his house. I was playing bass and he was playing guitar. He had this little thing, ‘Somebody’s gonna hurt somebody.’ He wanted to write a shuffle. So we’re playing that groove and Glenn’s singing the verses and suddenly out of the blue, [sings] ‘There’s gonna be a heartache tonight, heartache tonight, I know.’
“I started singing that and Glenn goes, “YEAH!” I took what he was singing about and jumped right into the chorus. Then Glenn called Walsh. Now it’s like one o’clock in the morning. He calls Walsh and he gets up and comes down and starts playing guitar on it and Walsh comes up with the bridge. Then J.D. Souther came in right after Walsh that same night. He’d help Glenn with lyrics. The next day Henley chimes in and goes, ‘Oh yeah’ and he starts writing a lot of the lyrics. So that’s how that song happened.”
- “Good Night” by the Beatles
John Lennon wrote “Good Night,” a lullaby for his five-year-old son Julian, as the close of 1968’s White Album. Lennon asked producer George Martin to provide a lush orchestral score, which was recorded with twenty-six musicians and backing vocals by the Mike Sammes Singers.
In early takes of the song, Lennon played guitar and taught the vocals to Ringo Starr. When finally recorded, Starr was the only one of the Beatles to perform on the track. “You could almost be forgiven for thinking ‘Good Night’ was mine, because it’s so soft and melodic and so un-John,” Paul McCartney recalled in Many Years From Now.
“I think John felt it might not be good for his image for him to sing it but it was fabulous to hear him do it, he sang it great. We heard him sing it in order to teach it to Ringo and he sang it very tenderly. John rarely showed his tender side, but my key memories of John are when he was tender, that’s what has remained with me; those moments where he showed himself to be a very generous, loving person. I always cite that song as an example of the John beneath the surface that we only saw occasionally.”
- “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” by Elton John
Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1975. John insisted the song, long for a single at 6:45, not be cut. “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” is autobiographical, written in 1968 at a low point in the singer-songwriter’s life and career. John was engaged to be married to girlfriend Linda Woodrow, a relationship he was desperate to end. John told The Sun that he and lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote the song “about our pre-fame years living in a flat in North London with a woman I had foolishly got engaged to when I was still very confused about my sexuality.
“I really had staged a completely ridiculous suicide bid that involved sticking my head in a gas oven. Rather than tell my fiancée I had made a mistake, that was my brilliant plan to try to get out of the wedding.”
“I wrote it from his point of view,” Taupin told the Daily Mail. “A comical incident of him being depressed and attempting — a very feeble attempt I might add — of suicide. Leaving the windows open and the ovens on. I go, ‘What are you doing? Get off the floor.’ But it was a serious cry for help, so it made a good ingredient for the song.”
- “End of the Night” by the Doors
“End of the Night” is an early example of the literary references used in Jim Morrison’s compositions. Its title is a nod to Louis-Ferdinand Celine’s 1932 French novel Journey to the End of the Night, which skewers the hypocrisy of society. “End of the Night” was included on the Doors’ 1967 debut album and was released as the B-side to “Break On Through (To the Other Side).”
“On ‘End of the Night,’ Jim decided at the last minute to change the lyric on that,” said producer Paul Rothchild in a 1967 interview.“It was originally, and always had been, ‘take a trip into the end of the night’ and at that point Jim decided that the word ‘trip’ had been violently overused, so he changed it to ‘highway.’
“‘End of the Night’ is another paean to the, well, it’s Jim saying to the world come on, people, get free, get rid of all that shit, take a journey to the great midnight. I’m sure that has meaning for me, and I’m sure that has meaning for you, and I’m sure our meanings are a great deal different. Jim likes to do that.”
- “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by The Band
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” was released by The Band in 1969 as a B-side to their single “Up on Cripple Creek.” Joan Baez would record a version in 1971 that became a Top 10 hit. The Band’s story of a Confederate soldier in the final days of the Civil War was written by Canadian Robbie Robertson after his first trip to the South. “I liked the way people talked, I liked the way they moved,” Robertson recalled in a 1988 radio interview. “I liked being in a place that had rhythm in the air. I thought, ‘No wonder they invented rock and roll here. Everything sounds like music.'”
Robertson asked Levon Helm, the only Southern in the band, to perform lead vocals. In his book Testimony, Robertson describes how he wrote the tune. “I told Levon I wanted to write lyrics about the Civil War from a Southern family’s point of view. ‘Don’t mention Abraham Lincoln in the lyrics’ was his only advice. ‘That won’t go down too well.’ I asked him to drive me to the Woodstock library so I could do a little research on the Confederacy. They didn’t teach that stuff in Canadian schools. When I conjured up a story about Virgil Caine and his kin against this historical backdrop, the song came to life for me. Though I did stop and wonder, ‘Can I get away with this? You call this rock ‘n’ roll? Maybe!'”
- “December ’63 (Oh What a Night)” by the Four Seasons
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons produced a long string of hits in the 1960s but by 1975, Valli had embarked on a successful solo career. With hits like “My Eyes Adored You” and “Swearin’ to God,” it seemed like the Seasons were history. But in 1975, Valli and a new Seasons lineup scored hits with “Who Loves You” and “December ’63 (Oh What a Night).”
“December ’63” was written by group member Bob Gaudio and his future wife, Judy Parker, as “December 5th, 1933,” about the repeal of Prohibition. The idea was about as popular as the 18th Amendment and was soon scrapped for a new version, a nostalgic love song. The song introduced a new sound for the Seasons, with Valli joined by drummer Gerry Polci on lead vocals and bassist Don Ciccone singing falsetto.
“December ’63” became the Seasons’ best-selling single of their long career. Re-released in 1994, the song reached No. 14 on the Billboard Top 100.
- “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC
“You Shook Me All Night Long” was AC/DC’s first single with lead singer Brian Johnson. The song, released in August 1980, reached No. 35. Johnson had replaced Bon Scott, who had died that February. Johnson co-wrote the song with Malcolm and Angus Young, the first he’d written with the band. Johnson told Absolute Radio that it was written quite quickly.
“It was as quick as it had to be, which was that night. I guess I had to try to impress somebody. It was just a thing that came at the time, and I still think it’s one of the greatest rock and roll riffs I’ve ever heard in my life. And it was kind of easy.
“‘She was a fast machine, she kept her motor clean’ and that was the first thing that come to me head. The boys had the title, you know. Malcolm and Angus said, ‘Hey, listen, we got this song, it’s called “Shook Me All Night Long.” That’s what we want the song to be called.’ So I can’t claim credit on that thing.”
- “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” by John Lennon
August 1974 found John Lennon in the midst of an eighteen-month separation from Yoko Ono, a period Lennon called his “Lost Weekend.” Lennon was living in New York City with May Pang and recording the Walls and Bridges album. In 2005, Pang told Radio Times how Lennon was inspired to write what would become a No. 1 hit.
“At night, he loved to channel-surf and he would pick up phrases from all the shows. One time, he was watching Reverend Ike, a famous black evangelist, who was saying, ‘Let me tell you guys, it doesn’t matter, it’s whatever gets you through the night.’ John loved it and said, ‘I’ve got to write it down or I’ll forget it.’ He always kept a pad and pen by the bed. That was the beginning of ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night.'”
Also recording at New York’s Record Plant that summer was Elton John. “I was fiddling about one night and Elton John walked in,” Lennon remembered in His Song: The Musical Journey of Elton John. “And the next minute Elton said, ‘Say, can I put a bit of piano on that?’ I said, ‘Sure, love it!’ He zapped in. I was amazed at his ability: I knew him, but I’d never seen him play. A fine musician, great piano player. I was really pleasantly surprised at the way he could get in on such a loose track and add to it and keep up with the rhythm changes – obviously, ’cause it doesn’t keep the same rhythm … and then he sang with me.”
The two rock icons would perform the song together at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 28, 1974.
- “Night Moves” by Bob Seger
Released in 1976, “Night Moves” was a No. 4 hit and took Bob Seger from regional success to national stardom. Written over six months, “Night Moves” is Seger’s wistful look back at his adolescence. Seger explained his inspiration for the song in the Wall Street Journal.
“Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ knocked me out. It’s a narration, very descriptive, and I knew those were the kinds of songs I wanted to write. I took that as my template. The original germ for ‘Night Moves’ was seeing American Graffiti. That was us. Cruising at night, going through drive-ins, and the mental process when your hormones are raging. I wrote the song when I was almost thirty, and I was talking about when I was seventeen.
“I had kind of a tough childhood growing up, but after my dad left, things kind of calmed down. It was just my brother and my mother and myself, and we all worked jobs. And in high school I had a bunch of new friends. We used to have these parties called ‘grassers.’ We’d all go out in some farmer’s field in Ann Arbor and dance. One guy had an upside-down record player in his car that he’d attach to the battery and everyone would play their favorite 45s. That’s where I got, ‘Out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy, out in the back seat of my ’60 Chevy.’ I actually had a ’62, but ’60 sang better.”
- “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues
“Nights in White Satin” is a song that has had separate lives for the Moody Blues. First released in 1968 as part of the Days of Future Passed album, the lush orchestral tune barely made a dent in the US charts. Percussionist Graeme Edge told Rolling Stone that when the band’s 1972 Seventh Sojourn LP was released, the song was given a second life.
“DJs were stars in those days and they prided themselves on discovering new talent. We had a regional breakout in Seattle. I think after the breakout started happening, there was a decision to re-promote it in other areas. It spread from Seattle down to San Francisco and down to L.A. It was going great everywhere, slowly going up the charts again until in the end it got to No. 2.”
Justin Hayward wrote the song, inspired by the memory of a gift from a former girlfriend: white satin sheets. “I was sharing a flat with Graeme and two girls that we just met. The four of us were living together in two rooms in Bayswater. I remember coming back from a gig and sitting on the side of the bed and just writing the two verses to ‘Nights.’ It was quite emotional. It was a whole series of random thoughts that were on my mind. I was at the end of one big love affair and at the beginning of another.”