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7 Song Mistakes That Were Intentionally Left In: The Beatles, R.E.M., and more

by Joey DeGroot   Apr 30, 2014 19:51 PM EDT

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The beauty of recording is that you can delete all of the mistakes until you have a perfect song, but any good musicians will tell you that sometimes, mistakes are the most interesting parts of a song. Here are seven great songs with mistakes that were intentionally left in.

1. Nirvana - "Polly" (1991)

Even albums as carefully produced as Nirvana's Nevermind aren't without occasional mistakes. Right before the start of the third verse of "Polly," Kurt Cobain sings, "Polly said..." before realizing that he had come in too soon. He does the same thing during the MTV Unplugged version of the song, which makes it seem like he had written the song this way.

2. The Beatles - "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" (1968)

Here's an example of something that was a mistake, but many have believed to be intentional. Paul McCartney's lyrics for "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" tell the story of a couple, Desmond and Molly, but in the song's final verse, McCartney mixes up their names, singing "Molly lets the children lend a hand/Desmond sits at home and does his pretty face/and in the evening she's the singer in the band," adding an accidental element of transvestitism to the song.

3. Beat Happening - "I Love You" (1985)

The members of Beat Happening never got very good at playing their instruments, but they never made a mistake as glaringly obvious as the opening riff to this song off of the band's debut album. Four notes were clearly not played correctly, but this was good enough for Beat Happening.

4. Guided By Voices - "Hardcore UFOs" (1994)

Lo-fi albums are about 60 percent performance and 40 percent unintended recording mistakes, and one of the most obvious mistakes in a lo-fi song happens at the 1:21 mark of "Hardcore UFOs" by Guided By Voices, in which the lead guitar track mysteriously drops out for about three seconds before sputtering back in.

5. R.E.M. - "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight" (1992)

There are plenty of R.E.M. lyrics that sound just a little bit too weird to be taken seriously, but the lyrics to this classic track from Automatic for the People are too absurd even for Michael Stipe. At 2:33, after singing the line, "a candy bar, or falling star, or a reading from Dr. Seuss," Stipe starts giggling into the next chorus.

6. Devendra Banhart - "Cosmos and Demos" (2002)

The "mistake" in this song isn't Devendra Banhart's fault, but it is very strange that he wouldn't stop recording as soon as he heard it. At the 24-second point, an unmistakable gunshot is heard, but instead of stopping and calling the police, Banhart continues the song unfazed.

7. Big Star - "Don't Lie to Me" (1972)

Big Star's debut album #1 Record is one of the tightest and most immaculately produced of the '70s, but the track "Don't Lie to Me" has a perplexing vocal mistake around 2:14. The whole band is singing at once, but apparently couldn't agree on a lyric, so they all sing something different. The band loved how the take sounded, and chose to turn up everyone's vocals at this moment to make it intentionally confusing.

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