Some of the best known hits were written in a very short time.
“Songs all around you, just reach out and grab one,” the ‘60s folk-pop troubadour Donovan observed beatifically.
Easier said than done, grasshopper.
It took Freddie Mercury six years to write ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (no surprise there), while Vance Joy’s ‘Riptide’ took four years, Sujian Syevens took 26 years to finish off ‘Tonya Harding’, and Chris Cornell 12 years for ‘Josephine’.
In other timelines, The Whisp put it at five years for My Chemical Romance’s ‘Welcome To The Black Parade’, and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’.
Taking six months each were Adele’s ‘Hello’, Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born To Run’, Bob Seger’s ‘Night Moves’ and Camila Cabello for ‘Havana’.
On the end of the see-saw are songs that took a flash to come together.
Best known of the instant just-add-water classics was The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’ (1965) which came fully-formed in a dream to Paul McCartney.
One wonders if it would have become one of the most covered songs of all-time if Macca had stuck to his original title ‘Scrambled Eggs’ and a truly cringetown opening line “Scrambled eggs/Oh my baby how I love your legs/Not as much as I love scrambled eggs”.
Here are some more 10—20 minute wonders
The White Stripes: ‘Seven Nation Army’ (2003)
‘Seven Nation Army’ was written in Australia during White Stripes’ tour in January 2002, in fact in 10 minutes at soundcheck at the Corner Hotel in Melbourne.
According to Jack White, he was playing the new seven-note riff to Meg White, when one of the executives of the band’s record label Third Man; Ben Swank (of Soledad Brothers fame), walked by.
“Hey Ben, check this riff out.”
Back came the reply, “You could do better.”
White later added: “He didn’t even think that rhythm was that great, either”.
Jack kept the riff in case the James Bond people rang wanting a theme song. When that never happened, the song went to the Elephant album.
‘Seven Nation Army’ was about the negative impact of fame on relationships. But it is also played around the world at sports meets and political rallies. It won a Grammy for best rock song.
Highest Chart Position: #1 (UK, US), #3 (Poland), #17 (Australia).
Lizzo: ‘Cuz I Love You’ (2019)
Lizzo confirmed on Twitter that she nailed this sucker in under 10 minutes with the help of rock band X Ambassadors, who also produced it.
Not only did the soulful belter show off her vocal range but it gave Gen Z a permanent addition for its Valentine’s Day playlists.
She called it her most favourite song on her album of the same name, and performed it at this year’s Grammys.
Peak Chart Position: #20 (US), while album of same name was #3 (US) and #19 (Australia).
Amy Shark: ‘I Said Hi’ (2018)
Gold Coast-based Amy Shark had one day left in the studio with producer Dann Hume, to tie up loose ends on a couple of tracks from Love Machine, before she went back on tour.
Instead she turned up toting a brand new song called ‘I Said Hi’ she’d written the night before.
“I was so excited about it, it came out very quickly, like in five or 10 minutes,” she recollected. “I had the melodies there and I was so happy with it.”
Lyrically the song was about the days when Shark was trying to get a footsie into the music biz: “I had so many friends and family over the years that were like, ‘Oh, are you still doing your music. Come on Amy, get a real job.’
So it’s a real passive aggressive song, like, “Oh, tell them I said hi.”
Peak Chart Position: #6 (Australia).
R.E.M.: ‘Losing My Religion’ (1991)
R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck returned home from a US tour toting a newly acquired mandolin. He was seated in front of the TV trying to master it, recording as he went. Out leaped a riff, and he nailed it “in about five minutes.”
He told Guitar School in 1991: “I started it on mandolin and came up with the riff and chorus. The verses are the kinds of things R.E.M. uses a lot, going from one minor to another, kind of like those ‘Driver 8’ chords.
“You can’t really say anything bad about E minor, A minor, D, and G – I mean, they’re just good chords.”
For lyrics Michael Stipe went for “unrequited love”, inspired by the book Love In The Time Of Cholera by one of his favourite authors, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
It was demoed as ‘Sugar Cane’ before he opted for an old southern phrase “losing my religion”, about losing faith in God or a person.
The words fell together immediately, Stipe did the vocals in one take, the band nailed it “like magic” and it was popped into Out Of Time.
Not too many alt-rock singles came out with no chorus and the mandolin as the lead instrument. Their record company was apprehensive about its chances as a single.
It became a hit (turning them from a cult band that sold 3 million copies of Green to pushing Out Of Time to 10 million) and won a Grammy.
Hear the song here:
Buck told Guitar School in 1993: “I always thought this was the best song on [the album], even before it was a single.
“I really didn’t expect it to be a hit; I just loved the song and the lyrics.”
Highest Chart Position: #4 (US) #11 (Australia).
John Lennon & Plastic Ono Band: ‘Instant Karma!’ (1970)
‘Instant Karma’ started its journey in Aalborg, Denmark, when he and Yoko Ono visited her daughter Kyoto and ex-husband, artist Tony Cox.
Over dinner on New Year’s Eve, they discussed how an entire generation had to work at attaining peace (“get yourself together, join the human race”) or suffer the consequence – not over a lifetime or in the next life, as believed in the concept of karma, but immediately.
On January 27, two days after returning to London, Lennon awoke with the melody in his head.
Using the title ‘instant karma: as a marketing term to sell a peace anthem’ (subtitled “we all shine on”), he banged the tune out on piano and called US producer Phil Spector who was visiting London at the invitation of The Beatles.
He told him to get to the Beatles’ Apple studios saying, “Quick, I’ve just written a monster.”
The sessions included George Harrison, Beatles associates Billy Preston and Klaus Voorman, and future Yes drummer Andy White.
It was written, recorded (later that morning, in three takes) and released in ten days, the quickest record to be made.
It was part of Lennon’s idea to release a new record each week like a magazine.
Highest Chart Position: #5 (Australia, UK).
INXS: Need You Tonight (1987)
As INXS started work on the Kick album, the word came from producer Chris Thomas, “We need a single.”
Keyboard player Andrew Farriss planned to fly from Sydney to Hong Kong where singer Michael Hutchence lived.
The idea of the riff came to Farriss just as the taxi arrived to take him to the airport.
“Hang on, I’ve just forgotten something,” he told the driver, and nicked back in to put it down with a guitar and a drum machine on a tape recorder.
When Hutchence heard the tape, he responded, “This is really interesting, give me five or 10 minutes,” and, Farriss said, “he came up with, again, most of what was on the finished version.”
Highest Chart Position: #1 (US), #3 (Australia).
Lady Gaga: ‘Just Dance’ (2008)
‘Just Dance’ was more than just a turning point in Lady Gaga’s career.
“It saved my life,” she said, remembering how while living in New York she was depressed “and always in a bar”.
Going to Los Angeles gave her one shot to scrape up a hit song – and she did just that, writing it in ten minutes with Akon and producer RedOne as a happy song about a happy future.
Feel its happy vibes here:
It caused enough of a boomwah for Gaga never to have to return to New York.
“I left behind my boyfriend, my apartment. I still haven’t been back. My mother went in and cleared it for me.”
Highest Chart Position: #1 (Australia, US, UK).
Guns N’Roses: ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ (1988)
Slash came up with the riff to Guns N’Roses’ ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ while doodling on his guitar.
When he played it to the others at their rehearsal room on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, he was actually making faces because he thought it a bit jokey.
The rest of the band put the song together in ten minutes (“only three chords”, according to Duff McKagan) and thought so little of it they figured it would be a good album filler.
Slash, who disliked the song because it was a non-GNR ballad, saved it with one of the best guitar solos on record.
See him play it here:
Axl wrote the lyrics about his girlfriend at the time, Erin Everly, daughter of one of the ‘50s teen sensation Everly Brothers.
When demoing the track, producer Spencer Proffer suggested a breakdown at the end.
Listening to the demo on loop to get inspiration, Rose half-sang “where do we go from here?”
Proffer responded that should be the line.
It consolidated the lyrics’ melancholia about a troubled relationship at the crossroads and went on to become their biggest hit at the time.
The song was later accused of ripping off Melbourne band Australian Crawl’s ‘Unpublished Critics’.
The band admitted they tracked down the Crawl song and were stunned at how similar they were, but insisted they had not heard the track when they wrote theirs.
Highest Chart Position: #1 (US), #6 (UK), #11 (Australia).
Ian Moss: ‘Hold On To What You Got’ (2018)
As Ian Moss put the songs together for his seventh solo album, Ian Moss, he did a session with Nashville based blues singer Gary Nicholson and Aussie expat Sam Hawksley.
For the soulful track ‘Hold On (To What You Got)’, Moss played Nicholson the riff.
The American said, “Stop!” and “then put his head down with pen and paper for 10 minutes.”
After that he asked Moss to play the riff one more time and in another 10 minutes was singing him the final version.
It became a highlight of Moss’ live show and was the lead-off single for the album.
Highest Chart Position: album reached #11 (Australia).
Jennifer Lopez feat. Ja Rule: ‘I’m Real’ (2001)
Jennifer Lopez had just changed her name to J. Lo and her sound from pop to R&B/hip hop and set out on her second album to prove what a tough and sexy girl she really was.
Particularly sassy was ‘I’m Real’, which she wrote with three others, and which featured Ja Rule on the chart topping Murder Remix.
According to Rule, “The song was written in ‘literally 10, 15 minutes. Done deal!”
One of the writers played her a loop of 1978 instrument track ‘Firecracker’ by Japanese art rock outfit Yellow Magic Orchestra, which was incorporated in the song.
The album version, running four minutes and 58 seconds, was recorded that day.
Lo’s boyfriend at the time, Puff Daddy, was coaxed out of his own recording session to travel cross town to lay down the line “She’s a bad, bad bitch”, and then told, “You can go now.”
The album debuted at #1 in the US. Everyone loved the new persona, although the remix got them into the knee-deep due to Ja Rule’s use of the N word.
The remix starts with Ja Rule shouting “What’s my motherfucking name?”. Lopez replies “R-U-L-E”. Some listeners thought she was singing “Are you Ellie?”
Highest Chart Position: #1 (US) #3 (Australia) #4 (UK).
The Knack: ‘My Sharona’ (1979)
25 year old Knack singer Doug Fieger walked into a Los Angeles clothes store and spotted 17 year old Sharona Alperin serving behind the counter.
Despite the fact he had a girlfriend, he got the phwoooars and professed the deep & meaningful hots for her.
She had a boyfriend so she wasn’t exactly swooning to his charms.
Undaunted, he scribbled off a number of songs for her.
One was ‘My Sharona’, polished off in 15 minutes with Knack guitarist Burton Averee.
Watch it here:
It was penned from the perspective of a 14-year old boy, hence the “muh muh muh” lines to denote his being tongue-tied in the presence of a goddess.
‘My Sharona’ came out around the time when disco ruled the pop charts and synthesisers threatened to send guitars to the scrapyard.
Its success (best selling single of 1979 in the US) made a change at radio, and led to a spike in babies being named Sharona.
The Japanese thought ‘sharona’ was slang for penis.
Sharona became a minor celeb herself after she was featured on the sleeve of the single wearing tight jeans and revealing top.
She and Fieger became an item for four years and became engaged at one time, but they split due to his rock and roll lifestyle and alcoholism.
But they remained close friends right until his death from a brain tumour on February 14, 2010.
She became a real estate agent for celebrities.
Highest Chart Position: #1 (Australia, US) #7 (UK),
Oasis: ‘Supersonic’ (1994)
Oasis’ breakout single ‘Supersonic’ started at The Pink Museum recording studio in Liverpool where they were working on their debut album Definitely Maybe.
To warm up to record ‘Bring It On Down’, they got into a 10-minute jam.
In the documentary Supersonic, Gallagher claimed that later on, they took a break with a Chinese takeaway, he slipped off to a back room and created the song “in about however long it takes six guys to eat a Chinese meal.”
It was recorded immediately, and issued as a single.
Noel recalled how when ‘Supersonic’ came out, it was the first time crowds came to their gigs and sang along.
“They’re singing your words back that you’d nonsensically wrote down at fucking three in the morning.”
Highest Chart Position: #31 (UK)
The Guess Who: ‘American Woman’ (1970)
During a show in Ontario in 1969, Canadian band The Guess Who had to take a short break when guitarist Randy Bachman broke a string.
As he was retuning it, he came up with the riff. Not wanting to forget it, he called the rest of the band on stage to jam around it. Bachman says most likely it would have been lost in the mist of time.
Luckily a teenage fan was in the crowd illegally taping the show to make a bootleg record to sell. They spotted him with the cassette player and confiscated the tape.
Singer Burton Cummings related, “Had that not all gone down, ‘American Woman’ never would have happened. “We never would have heard it again. We never would have remembered it.”
Check it out here:
The song was actually a love song to Canada – because its women “were not racy like American women” and it didn’t have that anti-Vietnam war rallies they saw while touring the US.
In 1970 when The Guess Who were asked to perform at the White House, President Richard Nixon’s wife Pat instructed them not to play “that anti-American song.”
Highest Chart Position: #1 (Canada, USA), #43 (Australia).
Queen: ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ (1980)
After the marathon effort behind ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, you could quite understand that Freddie Mercury wanted to do something quicker and more simple.
This came when Queen arrived for a long stay in Munich, Germany, to record an album with new producer Reinhold Mack at Musicland Studios.
While Mercury was soaking up the H2O in the bathtub in his suite at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel, he decided to do a tribute to Elvis Presley via a rockabilly flavour.
He told Melody Maker in 1981: “‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ took me five or 10 minutes.
“I did that on the guitar, which I can’t play for nuts, and in one way it was quite a good thing because I was restricted, knowing only a few chords.
“It’s a good discipline because I simply had to write within a small framework. I couldn’t work through too many chords, and because of that restriction I wrote a good song, I think.”
Mercury took the song to the others that day, and, the band say, they nailed it in half an hour. Mack though remembers it as a six hour job.
Highest Chart Position: #1 (Australia, US), #2 (UK),
The Go-Betweens: ‘Streets of Your Town’ (1988)
‘Streets of Your Town’ is regarded as a song about Brisbane, the Go-Betweens’ hometown, and topped Guardian Australia’s Songs Of Brisbane poll.
But it was actually written in Sydney, in the sunny top-floor Bondi flat that Grant McLennan and multi-instrumentalist Amanda Brown shared.
The song started because McLennan, a Church fan, was analysing their ‘Under The Milky Way’ and inspiration came that afternoon itself.
Brown told The Guardian it came together very quickly.
“It was written in, I would say, 10 minutes.
“I was singing along and I sung that ‘shine’ line, which is like the call and response answer in the verses, and that’s pretty much it – that’s how it came about.
“And I don’t collect any songwriting royalties for that song, because that was a condition of my joining the band.”
Included on the 16 Lovers Lane album, the song’s summery flavour made it a hit on summer radio in Australia, and then again when it was released in the UK and Europe.
Ride the journey here:
Robert Forster recalled: “We were walking around Soho (in London) and we’d hear it on the radio, every jean shop and café.
“It was on Radio 1 and so we were hearing it as we were walking around.”
Highest Chart Position: #30 (NZ), #68 (Australia), #80 (UK).
Black Sabbath: ‘Paranoid’ (1970)
Black Sabbath were initially thrown when their record company pressurised them to cut a short song they could take to radio.
Their first album was full of ponderous epics. But one night after a stint at the pub, they staggered back to the studio and started to jam.
Something about Tony Iommi’s riff set the juices flowing with the others.
Ozzy Osbourne whipped up the melody on the fly, and bassist Geezer Butler wrote the lyrics about suffering from depression as a teenager although the title is never mentioned in the song.
Drummer Bill Ward estimates, “I think it was about 20 minutes, 20 minutes to cook it up and basically have it ready.”
Highest Chart Position: #1 (Germany, Denmark), #4 (UK), #18 (Australia).
More Songs Written Between 10 To 20 Minutes
Ed Sheeran: ‘Photograph (2015) – Ed heard a three-note piano loop on Snow Patrol member Johnny McDaid’s laptop and “I just started singing over that, ‘Loving can hurt, loving can hurt,’ and then the song just kinda fell out within about 10 minutes.”
Blink 182: ‘First Date’/ ‘The Rock Show’ (2001) – after having their follow up to Enema Of The State rejected by the record company for not having an obvious single, bassist Mark Hoppus and guitarist Tom DeLonge decided to each write the cheesiest throwaway single within 10 minutes to stick it up the company.
Ray Charles: ‘What’d I Say’ (1959) – at a show in Brownsville, Pennsylvania in 1958, Ray Charles ran out of songs and had 12 minutes to spare.
“I had sung everything I could think of.”
So he told the band he was starting something he wasn’t sure where he was heading; “y’all just follow me” and the backing girls, “Whatever I say, just repeat after me.’”
Bee Gees:’ Lonely Days’ (1970) – it was written “in 10 minutes”, said Barry Gibb, on the same afternoon as ‘How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?’ when they reunited after a brief feud.