With a wonderful bit of rhyming, “Le Freak” became one of the biggest songs of the late seventies. Writer and guitarist Nile Rodgers was headed to a club with some friends to meet model Grace Jones but were refused entry. They retreated to Rodger’s apartment, where they improvised some guitar lines.
However, the “Freak out” line started as something a little punchier, aimed at the club and bouncer in particular. The second word was “off,” let’s put it that way. They realized they had a hit on their hands, but they had to do a little work with the lyrics.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
It was a song that changed the musical landscape forever, doing away with the remnants of the eighties and firing the grunge scene into the forefront. It changed popular music forever...but what is it about? The title is gibberish, like a lot of the song, but it does come from somewhere.
Katherine Hanna, the lead singer of Bikini Kill, scrawled it on a wall above Kurt Cobain and his girlfriend Tobi Vail, Hanna's bandmate, while the pair were asleep. Cobain saw it upon waking and liked the sound of it. Turns out that “Teen Spirit” is the deodorant that Vail wore.
“Come Together” by The Beatles
Full of nonsequiturs and with a strange rally cry of a chorus, this famous Beatles tune is just one of their many hits. And it makes sense that it seems like a rallying cry since that's how it started. Lennon wrote the original version as a campaign song for gubernatorial candidate Timothy Leary, who lost to Reagan in 1970.
See, Leary and Lennon were both big fans of certain substances. The song got a little bit of radio play, but Lennon wanted to do more with it, bringing in the other lads to make it one of his eventual favorites.
“Taxman” by The Beatles
Lots of the songs that Liverpool lads came up with were strange, but some of them managed to have backstories regardless. George Harrison was only allowed to write two songs per album with the band, but his talents were still good enough to lead their 1966 album, “Revolver.”
“Taxman” alluded to a United Kingdom tax policy that targeted star-level income, like what rock stars might make. High earners might get taxed for up to 95% of their income. Harrison was also a fan of the “Batman” TV show, which is where the harmonized callout before the guitar solo comes from.
“Walk This Way” by Run-D.M.C.
In 1986, rap was little more than a fad to most people, destined to disappear like all the other musical fads. Run-D.M.C. was prepared to make history with their third album, but they needed a lead single. Their producer suggested covering Aerosmith's “Walk This Way,” and even though the band thought it was hippie nonsense (and had, incredibly, never heard of Aerosmith), Aerosmith agreed to collaborate.
The resulting song shot Run-D.M.C. to worldwide fame, gave Aerosmith's career new life, and made rap one of the most popular genres in the musical community, a status it still enjoys to this day.