Great Rock Bloopers And Spontaneous Moments

Mistakes. We’ve all made ’em. Some of us more than others. Rock stars are not immune to the embarrassment of a glorious clanger, and sometimes these little whoopsies, wonky notes and unwanted warbles can even make their way onto vinyl/tape/mp3/stream for all the world to hear.

Sometimes they make it through to the listener intentionally, and sometimes they sneak by purely by accident. Sometimes they might not even be actual bloopers so much as ‘in the moment’ things that get picked up and folded into the song. However they get to us, these little gems of humanity are part of what makes rock and roll so much fun, and what keeps kids wedged between a set of headphones when they probably should be studying.

The Beatles – “Helter Skelter” (The Beatles, 1968)

“Helter Skelter” is one of The Beatles’ most frenzied songs – in fact, a case could very well be made that it has a lot in common with the prototypical heavy metal that would soon follow. One of the most fiery aspects of the tune is the intense drum performance by Ringo Starr. According to The Beatles: The Biography, Ringo recorded 18 takes of the drum part on September 9, 1968. The very last take was the one used for the master recording, and it’s also the one in which Ringo performed one of the greatest tantrums in rock and roll, screaming out “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!” at the end of the take. You can hear Ringo’s outburst at 4:24.

Joe Satriani – “Surfing with the Alien” (Surfing with the Alien, 1987)

Joe Satriani’s sci-fi tones and out-of-this-world phrasing aren’t just the result of inspiration and perspiration – sometimes a little bit of serendipity and a whole lot of electronic malfunction play a role, too. For the lead guitar tone on Surfing with the Alien’s title track, Satriani used a wah-wah pedal and a harmonizer. The former worked perfectly, while the latter was in its death throes. Satriani told Guitar World, “The sound that came out of the speakers blew us away so much that we recorded the melody and the solo in about a half-hour and sat back and went, ‘Whoa! This is a song, man!’” Then the harmonizer broke down and couldn’t be fixed. “We couldn’t do anything,” he said. “We lost our tone. When we finally got it working again, we weren’t able to recreate the original effect. It just sounded different. So rather than screw up a wonderful-sounding performance that may have had a couple of glitches, we decided to just leave it, because it was just swinging.”

Frank Zappa – “Muffin Man” (Bongo Fury, 1975)

Frank Zappa often said he saw lyrics as a necessity that he didn’t quite enjoy. In his autobiography The Real Frank Zappa Book he said he felt that if he had to write lyrics, he might as well make them something that appealed to his particular skewed worldview. Nowhere is this more evident than the monologue at the start of “Muffin Man,” where the text and the voice he reads it in so appeal to Frank’s worldview that he breaks character to laugh at himself (0:48), before saying “Let’s try that again” and giving the line another shot.

Megadeth – “Paranoid” (Nativity In Black, 1994)

Megadeth’s take on this Black Sabbath classic was recorded for an all-star tribute which also featured Type O Negative, Sepultura, Biohazard, White Zombie, Corrosion of Conformity, Ugly Kid Joe, Faith No More and others. Megadeth’s version of “Paranoid” was a little faster and a lot angrier than Sabbath’s 1970 original, and the anger was ratcheted up tenfold when drummer Nick Menza continued playing by himself after the song was supposed to have ended (2:23-2:30). Menza is cut off by Dave Mustaine shouting “Nick… Nick …NICK!” – and when he realizes his mistake Menza berates himself with some choice words of his own.

Metallica – “The Four Horsemen” (Kill ’Em All, 1983)

One of the most unique features of Metallica’s classic track “The Four Horsemen” is its distinctive simultaneous two-headed guitar solo, heard from 4:10 to 4:30. You can hear two Kirk Hammetts, one in each speaker, playing roughly similar but still quite different solos. In 1991 Hammett told Guitar World this cool effect was entirely a fluke. After recording two takes of the solo, Hammett and Co. were trying to decide which one to use. “I listened to both tracks at once, to see if one would stand out,” Hammett said. “But playing both tracks simultaneously sounded great, and we decided to keep it like that on the record. Some of the notes harmonized with each other, and I remember Cliff [Burton, bassist] going, ‘Wow, that’s stylin’ – it sounds like Tony Iommi!’”

Steve Vai – “Sex & Religion” (Sex & Religion, 1993)

These days Devin Townsend is known as a heavy metal auteur, solo and with Strapping Young Lad. But when he was 20, Townsend found fame as the singer in Steve Vai’s band, alongside T.M. Stevens on bass and Vai’s fellow Zappa alumni Terry Bozzio on drums. A vocal follow-up to Passion & Warfare was always going to be a bold move for Vai, but nobody was prepared for the hyperactive Townsend, who soared into gorgeous melodies before plummeting down to the lowest pits of hell with piercing screams, often in the space of a single bar. At the end of the album’s title track, Townsend really goes for it with a perfectly pitched but very intense melodic scream which lasts for a whole 18 seconds (from 4:05 to 4:23) – and he doesn’t quite make it back. Townsend passed out after the take, and Vai kept some of what he said after he came to. “Oh I hurt your brain? Oh. My fingers are numb… right now, they’re numb… can I deprive my brain of oxygen?”

The Police – “Roxanne” (Outlandos d’Amour, 1978)

“Roxanne” is a classic for its melody, its vocal performance, its orchestration and the instrumental timbres, but it’s also unique for a different reason. The mysterious piano chord heard at 0:04 is an unusual, atonal cluster that has nothing to do with the rest of the song. So what gives? Well it turns out Sting slinked back to relax on a nearby piano but didn’t realize the lid was up, so he unwittingly played that gloriously dissonant chord with his butt. This also explains his laugh at 0:06.

Led Zeppelin – “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” (Led Zeppelin, 1969)

“Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” is an eerie, moody track to begin with, but if you listen very closely you’ll hear a ghostly voice at 1:43. What is it? A backwards-masked magic spell? Some kind of ghostly incantation? Nope. That’s actually the sound of Robert Plant singing along with drummer John Bonham during tracking, and there was no way to delete Plant’s singing from the drum tracks. Whether that’s his actual naked voice leaking through the drum mics, or perhaps being blasted through Bonzo’s headphones, perhaps we’ll never quite know, but it sure sounds cool, and adds yet another interesting layer to discover among Led Zep’s tapestry of orchestration.

Radiohead – “Creep” (Pablo Honey, 1993)

One of the most unique parts of Radiohead’s hit “Creep” was the salvo of chunky, deadened notes played by Jonny Greenwood right before the chorus at 0:58, and again at 2:00. Bandmate Ed O’Brien told Select magazine that Greenwood’s ear-catching decision was actually born of frustration. “That’s the sound of Jonny trying to [expletive] the song up,” O’Brien said. “He really didn’t like it the first time we played it, so he tried spoiling it. And it made the song.”

Van Halen – “Everybody Wants Some” (Women and Children First, 1980)

This Van Halen classic features oodles of the loose party vibe the band were known for in the early days – you can almost hear the clinking of beer bottles and the boogying of bikini babes. Almost. One thing you can most definitely hear though is the sound of David Lee Roth totally flubbing a lyric. According to his autobiography, Crazy From the Heat, the line was supposed to be something along the lines of “I’ve seen a lot of people just looking for a moonbeam.” But that’s not what came out. Instead, at 1:58, Dave sang something resembling “Ya take a moople-ah, wookie pah-a moopie.” The band decided that the vibe of the new line worked just as well, and the messed-up take was left in the song, an enduring legacy to just how hard Van Halen rocked it.

Van Halen – “Eruption”

“Eruption,” with its blistering licks and innovative techniques, launched a million shredders, but the technique-redefining tapping section includes – by Eddie Van Halen’s own admission – a little mistake. Van Halen told Guitar Player, “…I took one pass at it and they put it on the record. I didn’t even play it right. There’s a mistake at the top end of it. To this day whenever I hear it I always think,’Man, I could’ve played it better’.” But wher is it? It sounds like a mistake can be heard at about 1.01 – listen for a tiny stutter which breaks up the flow of the tapping pattern. However, there are those of us who believe EVH’s playing to be utterly infallible and will not accept that he can make mistakes, even by his own admission.

Led Zeppelin – “Heartbreaker”

As anyone who has ever tried to jam along to “Heartbreaker” will attest, the song’s iconic unaccompanied solo section is pitched slightly higher than the rest of the song. As Jimmy Page explained to Guitar World in 1998: “The interesting thing about the solo is that it was recorded after we had already finished “Heartbreaker” – it was an afterthought. That whole section was recorded in a different studio and it was sort of slotted in the middle.” Even with the studio technology of the time it would have been possible to match the tuning of the two sections via some deft tape speed manipulation, so why does it sound higher than the rest of the song? Is it possible it was slightly sped up on purpose to appear even more impressive? Maybe we’ll never know.

Led Zeppelin – “Since I’ve Been Loving You”

Led Zeppelin chalk up another little studio mishap in the form of a squeaky kick drum pedal on “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” In 1993 Jimmy Page recounted his discovery of the artefact while putting together the first Led Zeppelin boxed set. “It sounds louder and louder every time I hear it,” he said. “That was something that was obviously sadly overlooked at the time.” Still, it’s one of those great little Easter Eggs that make Led Zeppelin albums such wonderful headphone fodder.

U2 – “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)”

At around 3:10 to 3:14, drummer Larry Mullen Jr can be heard dropping a drum stick. He valiantly continues on for a few bars before obtaining another drum stick (I’d like to think that he summoned it to his hand using the Force). The mistake was left in the song – and it lends a particularly cool dynamic shift to the song – although legend has it that Larry Mullen Jr wasn’t exactly pleased with the decision to leave it in.

Frank Zappa – “We’re Turning Again”

On the version of this track from You Can’t Do That On Stage Any More Vol. 6, Mike Keneally loses control of his guitar after the Hendrix section (“You can regulate my fuzztone with your wah wah,” etc). Keneally quickly gets his axe under control but vocalist Ike Willis can be heard chuckling about the incident for a few more bars.

Black Sabbath – “Sweet Leaf”

Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf” is a heavy, lumbering ode to a particular extracurricular activity the band often engaged in at the time of recording 1971’s Master Of Reality. The track opens with a tape loop of somebody coughing. Ozzy Osbourne told Rolling Stone in 2004 that the source of the cough was guitarist Tony Iommi. Iommi confirmed, “I was outside recording an acoustic thing, and Ozzy brought me a [not suitable for publication]. I had a puff and nearly choked myself, and they were taping it!”

Pantera – “Good Friends And A Bottle Of Pills”

The staccato feedback chops which punctuate portions of this Far Beyond Driven track were created when Dimebag Darrell stood a little too close to brother Vinnie Paul’s drums. Dime was running his guitar through a vintage flanger pedal and a noise gate. As he told Guitar World in 1994, his plan was to “just make a little bit of racket in the beginning of the song,” but by chance his guitar’s pickup sensed the sound of Vinnie Paul’s snare, and its output was enough to release the noise gate, creating a choppy, flanged roar perfectly synced to the snare.

Mr. Big – “Alive And Kicking”

This song instead – from Mr.Big’s breakthrough album Lean Into It – doesn’t include an actual mistake per se, but its main riff was created when guitarist Paul Gilbert was tuning his guitar. Gilbert told Guitar World (March 1991) that he hit two strings while twisting the tuning peg of one string, and the riff’s distinctively sassy first note was created. Gilbert figured out how to achieve the same effect by bending one string instead of messing with the tuning keys, but the riff wouldn’t have happened if not for a creative spin on a mis-hit note. Gilbert also plays off this effect during the song’s intro, both in the studio and live.

David Bowie – “Little Wonder”

While not quite a blooper so much as a clever rearranging of off-the-cuff moments, Reeves Gabrels told Guitar World in 1997 that the skittering riff on this 1997 hit was born after he recorded about 40 minutes worth of random guitar noises, loaded the results onto a sampling keybaord and messed around with the riffage until he found something he liked. Gabrels said that when Bowie and go started playing “Little Wonder” live, he had to figure out how to physically play what he had sampled. “It was really educational,” he said. “To a small degree it changed how I look at my actual real-time playing, which is a cool thing.”

The Mamas & The Papas – “I Saw Her Again”

This 1966 single includes an iconic and much-imitated blooper around the 2:40 mark. Singer Denny Doherty sings the first line of the third chorus a little too early, cuts himself off, and comes in again at the right moment with the rest of the group. Producer (who also produced Carole King’s Tapestry) intentionally left the flub in. The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian mimicked the mistake on “Darling Be Home Soon” in 1967 and Kenny Loggins did the same on “I’m Alright” in 1980. A similar mistake can be heard before the start of the first verse of “Discipline” from Nine Inch Nails’ 2008 album The Slip.

Playing In A Duo

The idea of a guitar-plus-drums duo isn’t a new one. A lot of us even started out this way by pure necessity. I know I did: I’d been playing electric guitar for about two years before I met a bass player, so my earliest jams were all with a drummer. One time a buddy and I even played Poison’s “Unskinny Bop” as a duo, sans vocals (and probably sans awesomeness, if I’m to be honest about our seventh-grade skills). But even back then I took steps to compensate for the lack of bass, mainly by trying to throw in as many notes from the bassline as I could in between C.C. DeVille licks. Now there are all sorts of ways you can fill out the sound if you’re playing in a guitar/drums duo, and there are lots of great examples of duos doing some pretty amazing things. 

If you’re playing in a guitar/drums duo you need to find a way to fill out the low end, because a standard-tuned guitar can lack a little of the fullness of a bass-driven band. There are all sorts of methods to achieve this. One I like is to drop the low E string down quite low – often to C or A. For me this was inspired by the Van Halen instrumental track ‘Baluchitherium,’ where Eddie drops his low string way, way down. This lets you play the stuff you normally would on the other four or five strings (depending on how you choose to tune) while also giving you access to a lower range for bass notes. Of course there’s no reason you can’t use a baritone guitar to get right down there for those lower notes.

Another useful method is to use an octave pedal or pitch shifter to generate a lower-octave tone to fill out the guitar sound. This can restrict what you play though, since many octave units don’t sound so great when you play a full chord through them. There are other options out there for generating a bass sound: the A Little Thunder pickup (which I’ve been messing around with in my Les Paul) generates a bass sound from the lowest three strings and sends it to a separate amp, and is even clever enough to only use the E string if you’re playing a six-note barre chord.

Or you could use a guitar synth, which also gives you the option of routing only particular strings to another signal chain, and letting you do things like muting the guitar notes on the bottom two strings so they’re not doubling the bass. Whichever method you use in a setup like this, it’s usually beneficial to send your faux-bass signal to a separate amplifier or direct into the mixing desk so you can achieve maximum sonic spread. Also, guitar amps typically aren’t designed to handle the frequency range of a bass amp, so you’ll get a more authentic sound if you send your bass-type signal to a bass amp.

Here in Australia there are two bands in particular who are doing some very innovative things in two-guitar bands: King of the North and DZ Deathrays. Both are guitar/drum duos. DZ is described as ‘dance-punk’ or ‘thrash-pop,’ and their guitarist/vocalist, Shane Parsons, uses a multi-amp/multi-effect setup to generate a dense, psychedelic, often alien-sounding guitar army. Although more recently Parsons has experimented with layering each element separately in the studio, if you catch them live the sound is all happening in real-time from the one instrument. King Of The North take a more direct approach. Guitarist/vocalist Andrew Higgs uses a three-amp setup which seems complicated on the surface, but he likes to explain it as “Angus Young, Malcolm Young and Cliff Williams” – that is, one amp cranks out his rhythm guitar riffs, one handles the simulated basslines and one kicks in for lead guitar. It’s interesting to compare King of the North and DZ Deathrays: if you closed your eyes at a King of the North gig you wouldn’t even realise you weren’t listening to a traditional ‘two guitars, bass and drums’ band, while there are times when DZ can often sound as much like analog synths as guitars. 

Here’s King Of The North’s video for ”Wanted”

And here they are covering Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song”

 

Wait… wait… EVH Bumblebee Tribute guitar?

Check this out!!!

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (July 18, 2019) – In celebration of the 40th anniversary of five-time platinum-selling 1979 album Van Halen II, EVH® is privileged to unveil the ’79 Bumblebee tribute guitar. Eddie Van Halen debuted this wildly iconic black-with-yellow-stripes guitar on the cover of the seminal album, and played it extensively throughout the band’s 1979 world tour.

“The 79 Bumblebees that we’re making sound very much like how I always wanted the original to sound,” said Van Halen. “So it may have taken 40 years, but I now have everything I wanted back then — a bitchin’-looking guitar that plays and sounds great.”

Limited to 50 instruments worldwide, the meticulously recreated ’79 Bumblebee tribute model features all of the original specs, including an ash Strat® body, bolt-on birdseye maple neck with oiled back finish, straight 12” radius birdseye maple fingerboard with 22 jumbo frets, katalox dots and black side dots, and skirted Strat-style “Tone” volume knob.

True to Van Halen’s pickup recipe, the instrument has been outfitted with an EVH ’79 Bumblebee humbucking bridge pickup. EVH also matched the Bumblebee’s six screw holes, (hidden under the original prototype non-fine tuner locking tremolo bridge that EVH recreated just for this project), along with the original prototype locking nut. All hardware has been reliced, including the custom brass string retainer, screw-eye strap hooks, side output jack and original period-correct Schaller® tuning machines.

Its black-with-yellow-stripes paint job has also been reliced to match the wear and tear from his heavy year of touring in 1979, and the guitar is stylishly finished off with chrome hardware.

Notably, the back of the headstock of each guitar bears Eddie Van Halen’s signature, adding to the value and the once-in-a lifetime collector’s nature of this instrument.

Arriving in a custom-made Anvil® hardshell case, the package also includes ’70s-era Fender® Super Bullets strings, Van Halen ’70s tortoiseshell picks, an exclusive Bumblebee collector’s booklet, Young Guitar book Van Halen Live Tour in Japan 1978 & 1979, and several autographed items—a certificate of authenticity, 8”x10” 1979 concert photo of Eddie Van Halen and vinyl copy of Van Halen II.

Bumbleebee’s Origins

During the recording process for Van Halen II,  Eddie Van Halen sought something fresh to play other than his original “Frankenstrat,” which at the time was being heavily copied by many major guitar companies.

Van Halen had the idea to build a new guitar with an ash body and black-and-yellow-stripe paint job, with rear-loaded electronics so there would be no pickguard. While he tasked Wayne Charvel to cut the body, the maple neck was made by Lynn Ellsworth at Boogie Bodies with dot inlays on a maple fingerboard. Other features on the first-incarnation guitar (as pictured on Van Halen II) were a standard nut, single Mighty Mite humbucking pickup with transparent bobbins, single chrome volume knob, original Charvel six-screw brass tremolo bridge, and Schaller® tuning keys.

While pleased with the looks of the guitar, Van Halen was less impressed with its tone and  quickly began tinkering with it, as he was prone to do. He installed a new Boogie Bodies maple neck with a natural headstock, unfinished back (which he has always preferred) and 12”-radius dot-inlay maple fingerboard. Next to go was the Mighty Mite pickup. After selecting a DiMarzio® Super Distortion humbucking pickup, he swapped out its ceramic magnet for an alnico 2 magnet from a Gibson® PAF. He rewound the pickup by hand, dipped it in paraffin wax and put copper tape around the windings.

Van Halen also stripped out the original Charvel bridge, leaving its six screw holes behind. He instead outfitted the instrument with a prototype two-point Floyd Rose® bridge and locking nut with retainer bar, becoming the first professional rock guitarist to use a locking-nut tremolo system. He also swapped out the chrome volume knob with a Strat-style skirted “Tone” knob. After all these modifications, only the original body, striped paint job, screw-eye strap hooks and Schaller® tuners remained from the first version of the guitar.

“Bumblebee,” as it would quickly come to be known by fans, became insanely popular and remains a longtime favorite for Van Halen listeners everywhere.

In an eternal sign of deep respect, Eddie’s original Bumblebee guitar was buried alongside Pantera guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, who died tragically in 2004. Eddie Van Halen was Abbott’s main influence, and Bumblebee was Abbott’s all-time favorite guitar.

For more information, please visit www.evhgear.com.

Cool Gear Alert: MXR EVH5150 Chorus

Some of my favourite recorded chorus sounds are courtesy of one Mr. Eddie Van Halen. Whether using an actual chorus pedal or setting his Eventide harmonizers to a slight pitch-shift, Eddie’s given us a lot of great chorus sounds over the years. And now you can get ’em too with the new MXR EVH5150 Chorus pedal, based on Eddie’s chorus unit from the early 80s (think Diver Down).
What I really like about this pedal is that more than any other chorus pedal on the market, this one is totally optimised for your rig regardless of whether you prefer chorus going into your amp’s preamp or in the effects loop, with three input level and two output level settings to make it play nicely with the rest of your gear. It has mono or stereo output, controls for Tone and Intensity, and a Volume control (not something you usually see on a chorus). It’s interesting to note that there’s no Rate control for the chorus, and as Pete Thorn notes in the video below, this is a little more static like the sounds Eddie got with his harmonizer until you really crank up the intensity.
This one was announced at Summer NAMM a few days ago and isn’t on the market just yet but I can’t wait for it to hit the streets.

Van Halen Hit The Road

Van Halen fans (in the USA), rejoice! The band is hitting the road for a greatest hits tour this year, and they’ll kick off preparations with a performance for Jimmy Kimmel Live on March 30. They’ll then appear on Ellen on April 2, and the tour kicks off on July 5 in Seattle. And don’t forget, their new live album is about to land. It just arrived in my advance media streamy promo dealie and it sounds raw and wild like it should. Here’s the press release including 2015 tour dates: Read More …

New Van Halen Live Album Details

VanHalen_Live_Cover_SmallerOkay, so you’ve surely heard by now that Van Halen will release their first ever live album to feature David Lee Roth. There was, of course, Live: Right Here, Right Now back in the 90s, and I wore that damn thing out on VHS and cassette. This new album, Tokyo Dome Live In Concert, is only being released as audio, but here’s what’s super-cool about this one compared to Live: Right Here, Right Now: the band has gone for a warts-and-all approach with no vocal touch-ups, whereas Sammy Hagar revealed in his autobiography that the band very heavily re-recorded that first record. Kudos to the mighty VH for keeping it authentic. Read More …

EVH 5150III 1×12 50-watt combo amp

EVH 5150III 1x12 50W Combo

Gooood… goooooooood. Eddie Van Halen’s EVH has announced the release of the long-awaited 5150III 50-watt combo amp with a single 12″ speaker and power scaling. Note that it’s a pretty damn big amp – none of this ‘just enough space to cram a twelve-incher into (hehe). So this isn’t exactly a mini amp by any stretch of the imagination – in fact it almost looks as big as the 2X12 version! I look forward to testing this beastie out some day. Here’s the press release:

PRESS RELEASE: After nearly three years in development, EVH is pleased to announce the launch of the 5150III 1×12 50-watt combo amplifier. This is not your average 1×12 combo by any stretch. In line with Eddie Van Halen’s legacy, this 1×12 is a true game changer, making players swear they’re standing in front of a half-stack. Read More …