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Top 11 Songs By Classic Rock Trios
“In the Police, in a trio situation—which I’ve come back to now—it’s just so wide open that it does actually provide this arena where you can play with a certain freedom.”
- “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by The Police
“Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” was a No. 3 hit for The Police in 1981. The song was written by Sting in 1976. “This was first recorded as a demo, with the piano figure, in a studio in Montreal,” Sting told The Independent in 1993. “I had written the song long before the Police were successful, but it seemed a bit soft for the band at first. But the demo was really great. It sounded like a No. 1 song to me. I took it to the band, who were reticent, still thinking it was soft. I was saying, ‘But listen, it’s a hit.’ We tried to do it from scratch as the Police, but it didn’t have the same energy as the demo. After a degree of hair-pulling and torturing on my part, I got the band to play over the top of my demo.”
“I remember Sting for years trying to think of a rhyme for ‘magic’,” recalled drummer Stewart Copeland in Revolver. “I think the only word he could come up with, apart from ‘tragic,’ was ‘pelagic,’ which means ‘ocean-going’. There I was in my leather pants and punk hairdo, pondering the distinction between ocean-going and river-going fish.”
- “Funk #49” by the James Gang
“Funk #49” was written by the three members of the James Gang, guitarist Joe Walsh, drummer Jim Fox and bassist Dale Peters. It was not a big chart hit in 1970 but became a staple of classic rock radio. “Before we really started writing our own songs in the James Gang we’d play covers, and then in the middle of them we’d go for a jam for four or five minutes,” Walsh explained in Rolling Stone. “At some point we had six or seven of those sections, and we didn’t need to cover other people’s songs anymore. We took those jams and wrote words to them, and that was really the first and second James Gang albums.
“The ‘Funk #49’ jam was one we always happened to crush, so we recorded it for Rides Again. How’d we get the name? We said, ‘Hey, this is that funk jam we have!’ And it seemed like we were counting how many times we ever played it. We thought it was right around 50. But we were in the studio with Bill Szymczyk, who was our engineer at the time, and he said, ‘It couldn’t have been 50.’ So we said, ‘OK, well, 49 then!'”
- “A Horse With No Name” by America
America was originally a trio, made up of guitarist-singer Dewey Bunnell, pianist-singer Gerry Beckley and guitarist-singer Dan Peek. Peek, who died in 2011, left the band in 1977. Bunnell and Beckley have worked as a duo ever since.
America was part of the ’70s laid-back West Coast sound that included the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt. Written by Bunnell, “A Horse With No Name” was released in 1972 and became a No. 1 hit. Bunnell explained in the Wall Street Journal how the folk-rock tune, originally called “Desert Song,” was written while living in London.
“One afternoon, when everyone was out, I was on my bed with my cheap Hawk guitar. I had just begun experimenting with alternate tunings. With the Hawk on my lap, I found a chord progression that I liked. The song’s melody started to come. Playing on the bed, I was homesick for the US. I wanted to be part of the evolving folk-rock scene there and I wished for warmer, drier weather. I also thought about my parents up in Yorkshire and felt alone.
“As I strummed, I thought back to a drive my family had taken through the American Southwest. I began to visualize the sights and sounds of the desert. I realized I needed a good opening to set up the narrative: ‘On the first part of the journey / I was looking at all the life / There were plants and birds and rocks and things / There was sand and hills and rings.’
“As I wrote, I asked myself, ‘How did I wind up in the desert?’ Ah, right, they ride horses out there. I asked myself if the horse should have a name. The horse was merely a vehicle to get me into the desert, so I made it ‘a horse with no name.'”
- “Bad Time” by Grand Funk
Although it didn’t reach No. 1, “Bad Time” was certified by BMI as radio’s most-played song of 1975. Written by guitarist Mark Farner, the song was a departure from the trio’s hard rock roots. “It was kind of a different song,” Farner told Songfacts. “It was different when I wrote it. My first wife was in the kitchen. I can remember sitting at the piano — I had a little spinet in the dining room– and she’s threatening to put a 12-inch cast-iron skillet through my forehead. And I’m in there writing ‘bad time for being in love.'”
Farner explained in Penny Black Music that “Bad Time” had a message. “I believe it’s a beautiful way for someone to express a hurt or an emotional struggle that they’re having, and it seemed as if when I was writing this song, it would help me resolve, get it off my chest. A lot of times what we really need to do is express it, even if there is no one in the room with us. It spreads it out — we hear it back in our ears, just thinking about it. Taking those words deep within our heart will change things. That’s the way it works. It just is.”
- “New World Man” by Rush
“New World Man” was the last song recorded for Rush‘s 1982 album Signals. Its working title was “Project 3:57” because they wanted to fill that amount of time on one of the sides of the cassette version. “New World Man” was Rush’s most successful single, reaching No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1982.
“Writing it in one day and recording it the next! We wanted to capture a spontaneous, relaxed feel for this one, not even spending much time getting the sounds together,” drummer Neil Peart recalled in the Stories From Signals tour book. “Thus, it could stand in contrast to the rest of the album, being much more raw and ‘live’ in its effect. Two days is very close to a record for us to write and record a song.”
“It was almost compulsory to do solos at that time, but I didn’t want to feel that every song had to have that kind of structure,” guitarist Alex Lifeson told Guitar World. “I wanted to get away from that, and to this day I feel that way. I enjoy playing solos and I feel that my soloing is quite unique to my style, but I’m bored with that structure.”
- “Wasted on the Way” by Crosby, Stills & Nash
When Crosby, Stills & Nash recorded “Wasted on the Way,” it became a Top 10 hit in 1982, their first in five years. David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, later joined by Neil Young, have broken up and reorganized many times since they formed the supergroup in 1968. Nash told Radio.com. “Hey listen, I’m the guy that wrote ‘Wasted On The Way’ because of all the songs that I wish we had written and had sung and had been together enough to make more music than we did. But I guess it’s what it is. I mean if CSN or CSNY never play another note of music, then that’s how it is.”
“That was a song I wrote for David and Stephen to tell them that I thought we had wasted too much time and too much love and too much music in petty arguments,” Nash explained in The Oklahoman.
“Why hasn’t Crosby, Stills & Nash been a full-time proposition? Because people are not a full-time proposition. There are some times when I don’t like them. There are some times they don’t like me. There are some times when I need to do some things in my personal life that interrupt some thing that they might want to do.”
- “Move It On Over” by George Thorogood & the Destroyers
“Move It On Over” was written and first recorded by country singer Hank Williams in 1947. It is considered one of the earliest rock and roll records. George Thorogood & The Destroyers made it the title tune of their second album in 1978.
“Well, when it comes to country music, there’s Hank Williams and there’s Hank Williams, and that’s it!” Thorogood told Todd Beebe Music. “It’s like saying there’s blues and there’s Robert Johnson, and that’s it. I was made aware of Robert Johnson and Hank Williams almost exactly at the same time. I had a Hank Williams album and then I heard Robert Johnson right after that.
“I couldn’t tell which artist was greater—Hank Williams or Robert Johnson! It was so powerful, both of them! And I was just going ‘this is the greatest music I’ve ever heard!’ Remember, I’d already been exposed to the Beatles and Zeppelin and Dylan and Hendrix and things like that. I heard Hank Williams and Robert Johnson and that’s when I put it together. I said, ‘This is where it all came from! These are the two most important artists that ever came along in contemporary music!’ And I couldn’t tell which one was better, so I said ‘Let’s do a Hank Williams song and put a slide on it like Robert Johnson! BANG, ‘Move It On Over,’ here I am!”
“Move It On Over” by Hank Williams
- “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Keyboardist Keith Emerson, guitarist Greg Lake and drummer Carl Palmer made up one of the most creative of the progressive rock groups of the 1970s. “Fanfare for the Common Man,” first recorded by Aaron Copland in 1942, was born from a studio jam in Montreux, Switzerland in 1976 after a long hiatus. “We jammed it in the studio, and the sound engineer had the good sense to record it,” Lake told Uncut in 2016. “It went down live on a two-track and that’s the record.
“We were in the studio and Keith was playing ‘Fanfare …’ as per the orchestral version — quite slow and sedate. And as he was playing along I was setting up my gear. And I just started playing a shuffle behind it, and he then joined in. The whole thing just fitted together — it was a sort of instantaneous coming together of elements.”
“We tried to reproduce it again, but we never quite got the excitement,” added Palmer. “I think it was the freshness of getting back together.”
“Fanfare for the Common Man” by Aaron Copland
- “Legs” by ZZ Top
ZZ Top — guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard—scored a Top 10 hit in 1984 with “Legs.” The track was one of the trio’s earliest uses of electronic music elements. “I was driving in Los Angeles, and there was this unusual downpour,” Gibbons explained in Spin. “And there was a real pretty girl on the side of the road. I passed her, and then I thought, ‘Well, I’d better pull over’ or at least turn around and offer her a ride, and by the time I got back she was gone.
“Her legs were the first thing I noticed. Then I noticed that she had a Brooke Shields hairdo that was in danger of falling. She was not going to get wet. She had legs and she knew how to use them.”
- “White Room” by Cream
Cream was one of the original supergroups, bringing together guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker. A shortened version of “White Room” was released as the single from 1968’s Wheels of Fire. Bruce provided the music and poet Pete Brown the lyrics.
“It was a meandering thing about a relationship that I was in and how I was at the time,” Brown told Songfacts. “There was this kind of transitional period where I lived in this actual white room and was trying to come to terms with various things that were going on. It’s a place where I stopped, I gave up all drugs and alcohol at that time in 1967 as a result of being in the white room, so it was a kind of watershed period. That song’s like a kind of weird little movie: it changes perspectives all the time. That’s why it’s probably lasted — it’s got a kind of mystery to it.”
Bruce told Forbes that “White Room” was his favorite Cream song. “The inspiration for the music came from meeting Jimi Hendrix and his approach to playing. In fact, he came to the recording session of that in New York and said to me, ‘I wish I could write something like that.’ I said, ‘But it comes from you!'”
- “Purple Haze” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
“Purple Haze” was written by Jimi Hendrix, the second single from the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s 1967 debut album Are You Experienced. The Experience included bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. Hendrix has offered differing explanations of what its lyrics mean. Hendrix was a fan of science fiction and often incorporated its ideas into his songs. In the book Hendrix on Hendrix: Interviews and Encounters with Jimi Hendrix, the guitarist said, “I dream a lot and I put my dreams down as songs. I wrote one called ‘First Look Around the Corner’ and another called ‘The Purple Haze,’ which was about a dream I had that I was walking under the sea.”
The basic track was recorded in four hours. Hendrix and producer Chas Chandler repeatedly returned to the studio to add new vocals, guitar parts and effects. “With ‘Purple Haze’, Hendrix and I were striving for a sound and just kept going back in, two hours at a time, trying to achieve it,” Chandler recalled in Ultimate Hendrix. “It wasn’t like we were there for days on end. We recorded it, and then Hendrix and I would be sitting at home saying, ‘Let’s try that.’ Then we would go in for an hour or two. That’s how it was in those days. However long it took to record one specific idea, that’s how long we would book.”
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