10 Hit Songs Originally Written as Jokes
10 Hit Songs Originally Written as Jokes
Most of us couldn’t write a song to save our lives. It takes a certain gift to not only compose music, but to then think of lyrics to accompany it that don’t completely botch the whole thing. Yet, there have been many talented musicians throughout the years that have done just that over and over again, and we envy those people as it is. So, when we found out that the following list of hit songs were written by musicians who were just clowning around, well, let’s just say it made us sick. Not really. It’s actually quite interesting. Here are ten famous hit songs that were originally written as jokes.
No. 10 - “Sex on Fire” by Kings of Leon
Released September 5, 2008
This song was Kings of Leon’s breakout hit. Not only was it the band’s first song to hit #1 in the U.K., Australia, Finland and Ireland, but it eventually went platinum here in the states, as well. So, it comes as a bit of a surprise that it was the one song on the album that singer Caleb Followill considered not even finishing. According to an interview with NME, he had a melody, but no lyrics. He sang “this sex is on fire,” and had a good laugh, but the band actually liked it to his dismay and encouraged him to finish. Another story, according to drummer Nathan Followill, is that they were singing the song as “set us on fire” in the recording studio, until a sound mixer misinterpreted it as “sex on fire.” It became a running joke that was eventually stuck with for the long haul. Other lyrics rumored to have been tried out include “socks on fire,” “piss on fire,” “crotch on fire” and “snatch on fire.” Considering Caleb wrote most of the album while apparently on painkillers, according to The Sun, ending up with a number one hit titled “Sex on Fire” on a multiple-award-winning album should be considered very fortunate.
No. 9 - “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” by the Beastie Boys
Released February 22, 1987
… Kick it! This song is easily the band’s most famous, as well as a rock anthem for the ages. But, believe it or not, it’s also the very definition of the word “irony.” You see, the actual Beastie Boys are everything “Fight for Your Right” isn’t. It did not reflect their values whatsoever, and was, in fact, a parody of idiotic rock songs like “Smokin' in the Boys Room” by Brownsville Station and then Mötley Crüe or “I Wanna Rock” by Brownsville Station and then Twisted Sister. Late band member Adam Yauch (MCA) and friend Tom Cushman wrote the song as a way to not only make fun of songs like it, but the meathead morons who lived by them. When their producer had them record it for their album, it quickly became their very first hit. The music video was again just a way of secretly making fun of the hard rock genre. But once they realized that they were appeasing the very people they were out to mock and actually playing too much into the stereotype themselves, they denounced the song all together and haven’t played it live since sometime in 1987
No. 8 - “Song 2” by Blur
Released April 7, 1997
Keeping up with the Beastie Boys' trend of covertly trash-talking a genre of music and then having that music become a huge hit with the very fanbase it mocks, this catchy, though short, little number was Blur’s “Fight for Your Right” against American grunge music. Grunge was huge here at the time, so it’s no wonder that the song became the success it did. And when you stop and listen to the almost mindless, nonsensical lyrics, you begin to see that the song was designed to be a quick hit here in the U.S., even though it faired very well overseas, as well, where the U.K.-native band was much more popular.
No. 7 - “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
Released September 10, 1991
Speaking of grunge rock, the king himself, Kurt Cobain, wasn’t above making a mockery of music, even if in this case it was half by accident. You see, he had written the song in an attempt to make the ultimate pop single, and was heavily influenced by the music of The Pixies. In doing this, though, he also got his inspiration (perspiration?) for the song’s title and general theme from something Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of a band called Bikini Kill, had spray painted on his bedroom wall after a night of debauchery. Cobain had been dating the drummer of Bikini Kill, Tobi Vail, at the time, who happened to use a brand of women’s deodorant known as “Teen Spirit.” So, Hanna wrote “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” as a joke, signifying that Cobain reeked of her scent. However, Cobain took this phrase as having to do with anarchy, punk rock and revolution, and wrote a song about the ridiculous notion of a revolution in that day and age. By the time he found out it was a female hygiene product, it was too late. The song was Nirvana’s biggest hit. He didn’t care, anyways, as the song’s main riff was already purposely cliché, baring a striking similarity to Boston’s “More Than a Feeling.”
No. 6 - “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum
Released Late 1969
Norman Greenbaum wasn’t much of a religious fellow, but he took a particular shine to Porter Wagoner, particularly when he’d seen him performing a gospel song on television. Greenbaum figured it couldn’t be that hard to write a gospel song, and set out on a mission to do just that. After writing the lyrics in only fifteen minutes, he began to put the rest of the song together, complete with gospel backup singers and fuzz boxes to give it a more distinct sound. The end result was, well, heavenly, as the song rapidly became the best-selling single for Greenbaum’s current record label at the time. This was after the fact that the record label was reluctant to release it as a single after two other songs from the album had already underperformed. And thus, psychedelic gospel rock began … and kind of ended, at the same time.
No. 5 - “Loser” by Beck
Released March 8, 1993
For everyone who has ever made up lyrics to a beat on the fly and then thought they sounded terrible, there is hope. For this is exactly how “Loser” came to be. Sure, maybe lead singer Beck Hansen had some time to compose it in his head, seeing as how he’d been a struggling musician from the late ‘80s to the early ‘90s. But once record producer Carl Stephenson invited him to his home, after hearing several of his songs and liking them, things finally began to click for the starving artist. While hanging out in Stephenson’s kitchen, Beck did his best to freestyle rap in the style of Chuck D of Public Enemy. Stephenson was very unimpressed by Beck’s rap skills, but added some guitar, drums, sitar and other random samples to it to fill it out. Once Beck realized his rapping was sub-par at best, he began singing, “I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me?” The song was finished in a grand total of six and a half hours (plus minor redubs later), and the rest is history.
No. 4 - “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses
Released August 17, 1988
If you thought six and a half hours was an impressive time to create a hit single, how about five minutes for one of the most celebrated rock songs in history? Seriously. Lead guitarist Slash was only performing a simple (haha) string-skipping exercise while he and drummer Steven Adler warmed up before a session. From here, the rest of the band heard what was going down and decided to chime in. Axl Rose, who was upstairs in his room listening, couldn’t help but write lyrics to what he was hearing. Originally, there were three verses, but their producer decided to cut the last in favor of a final breakdown, which Axl hadn’t prepared. He was left to ponder, “Where do we go now?” His producer liked it, and told him to just sing that. OK, maybe the song itself, lyrics and all, took a bit more time than five minutes, but as far as the famous lick is concerned, it’s three chords, and three that the band figured would amount to nothing more than a filler song on the album. Shyeah — and monkeys might fly out of my butt.l
No. 3 - “Honesty” by Billy Joel
It’s pretty hard to follow such a legendary tune, so we figured it best to instead go with the story that we consider to be the funniest of the lot. In trying to fine-tune a new melody he’d written, Billy Joel invited his bandmates to the recording studio to give him a hand. All went well, except that every time the band got around to performing the chorus of the song, Joel would hear drummer Liberty Devitto in his headphones singing “Sodomy” overtop of it. Compared to the general soothing tone of the song, this cracked the band up. So Joel simply changed the word “Sodomy” to “Honesty” and moved on accordingly from there. Oh, what could have been
No. 2 - “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive
Released September 1974
Like many on the list, this song was never meant to see the light of day. Er … be heard by the light of day? Anyway, at the time, Bachman-Turner Overdrive (B.T.O.) consisted of Fred Turner and brothers Randy, Robbie and Tim Bachman. Another of the Bachman brothers, Gary, was their manager. You know how if your brother had a stuttering problem, you’d most likely rip on him for it? Well, that’s exactly what Randy’s intention was when he recorded this song. However, he never planned for it to be a public humiliation; quite the opposite, in fact. Prior to releasing their album “Not Fragile,” Gary, who had a stuttering problem, had stepped down as their manager. So, as a joke, the band recorded the song “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” — only lead singer Randy stuttered through the lyrics. The plan was to give the recording to Gary as a little joke, and only the group of them would ever hear that version. However, when it came time to release the album, the record company failed to hear a song that they believed would be a hit. So as a lark, Randy played them the private recording (which he had recorded the vocals for in one take), and they loved it. Randy agreed to put it on the album if he could re-record the lyrics without the stutter, but the company hated it and insisted on the original. The song went on to be the band’s first and only #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 List once Randy finally gave his permission after three weeks to let it be released as a single.
No. 1 - “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel
It’s one thing to make fun of your brother for his speech impediment and end up with a hit, but to mock one of the most legendary singers alive with the same result is pretty impressive. That’s right, if you couldn’t tell just by listening to it, this song is a not-so-subtle dig at the musical stylings of one Bob Dylan, if you’ve ever heard of him. The references to clowns and jokers to either side of him were singer Gerry Rafferty’s way of poking fun at Dylan’s often paranoid lyrics, and how he referred to people in his songs in this way regularly. Even the vocals of the song are meant to mimic Dylan’s voice. To be able to make a jab at such a well-renowned, iconic musical figure right under his nose and still rocket to the top of the charts is exactly why this song tops our list.