Stories Behind Classic Songs, Part 10

1) Neil Young wrote Cinnamon Girl, Down by the River and Cowgirl in the Sand with a fever

I’m sure many fellow bloggers went through this at one point – you’re having a bad day, you think that nothing you write today will be of any worth, but decide to give it a shot anyway. Something happens along the way and the ending results turn out great, perhaps even greater than they would on a usual day. The achievement in itself saves the day; the thing that you had the lowest hopes for turns out to be exactly what you needed. Imagine then what it must’ve felt like for Neil Young to come up with 3 of his all-time masterpieces whilst sick with a fever of 39.4 ℃ (103 ℉). I’m talking about Cinnamon Girl, Down by the River and Cowgirl in the Sand – all written in the same “session”, the type of session that most people would just abandon in favor of a hot cup of tea and a cozy blanket.

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All three songs eventually got fleshed out by Neil and ended up central pieces on the much-acclaimed Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. This was his sophomore album, but his first with the newly-formed Crazy Horse and their influence is definitely felt. The crunchy electric riffs, the rawness of the recording and the interplay between the two guitarists are all trademark characteristics of Young’s work with the band. And although many other great albums followed, to me this still remains the best place to get a taste of that.

2) Black Sabbath wrote Paranoid as filler

An equally unusual circumstance gave birth to the heavy metal classic that is Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. The band was done recording the follow-up album to their eponymous debut; or at least so they thought. When they presented the material to the producer, he deemed the total length to be too short by 3 minutes. Iommi, Osbourne, Butler and Ward decided to fill that remaining time right on the spot. The guitarist had already been messing around with a riff, and the rest of the band just followed that riff. Geezer recalls this: “It became the most popular song from the album, but it wasn’t something we thought much of when we wrote it. […] We didn’t think anything of it.”

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If the band didn’t recognize its commercial potential, than the record company definitely did. Named Paranoid despite not actually featuring that word anywhere in its lyrics, it immediately gave the album its name and was deemed worthy to be released as the first single from it. And keep in mind, this was already an album that contained its fair share of metal masterpieces with Iron Man or War Pigs (which the band originally wanted as the title track). What started out as filler became the album’s main focal point in a manner of minutes. Paranoid the song gave the band its deserved first hit and has been a staple of classic rock radio and textbook definition for heavy metal song-writing ever since. And I can certainly understand why – out of all the songs on the album, this is the one that catches the listener’s ear the most. It may not be the best, but the balance between radio-friendliness and enough heaviness as to not forget this is Black Sabbath we’re talking about made it both accessible and innovative at the same time.

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Categories: Stories Behind Classic Songs

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21 replies

  1. A great song has to have a great riff, as all of the above-mentioned do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. very cool. Paranoid is just an epic tune or filler!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Awesome post! “Paranoid” was written as filler? That’s an interesting tidbit…I had no idea, LOL

    I love the song “Cinnamon Girl” – have you heard the remake by Type O Negative? It’s awesome!
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Can very much relate to your portrait of a blogger’s plight!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good stories. Most of the rock press wrote Black Sabbath off as sludge when they first came around. Who knew they’d be so influential for so long?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Man, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere is such a great album and those three songs are the highlights. To have kept up with that session while feeling that bad is really quite something. He musta knew he was onto something, huh?

    As for Sabbath, I had no idea Paranoid was so throwaway. Pretty incredible …

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s amazing how many “fillers” became hits. Maybe that says something about how the creative process works more smoothly when we just relax and let the ideas flow.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Brendan Behan claimed to write his best stuff when he was drunk, though I don’t know what he compared it with, because he was never sober….

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Nice stories – both new to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Missed this post first time around. Like your initial taste with the Neil Young cuts. He’s one of those guys that just keeps pumping out quality music but yeah these cuts get the job done.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Good post! There is always a story that we don’t know, hiding somewhere in a dark place (I want my comment to be metal!!!). Thanks for the one about Sabbath. That’s funny, I just post the story of THE black sabbath sound on my blog! But it’s in french… Keep on the good job.

    Liked by 2 people

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