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7 Famous Songs Written in Less Than a Day

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Bob Dylan once said "Tangled Up in Blue" took him ten years to live and two years to write. Sure, some singers pore laboriously over lyrics and melodies, but some plug out classic tunes in no time flat. Here's a tip of the cap to seven speed demon songwriters who whipped up some of their biggest hits in a matter of hours—if that.

1. Mott the Hoople, “All the Young Dudes”

Perennially underachieving Mott the Hoople almost called it quits in 1972 before David Bowie—probably assuming the messianic role of his glam rock alter ego, Ziggy Stardust—swooped in to save the band. He offered up “Suffragette City” if it meant the band would stave off breakup plans. Mott the Hoople’s bassist, Pete Overend Watts, turned it down.

Bowie called Watts two hours later, saying: “I’ve written a song for you since we talked, which could be great.” That song, penned by Bowie while sitting cross-legged on the floor of a room in Regent Street, London in front of Mott vocalist Ian Hunter, was “All the Young Dudes.”

2. The Rolling Stones, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”

Guitarist Keith Richards was passed out in the Jack Tar Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida when he woke up, pulled out the tape recorder he carried with him, and recorded the riff to “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Richards recorded himself saying “Can’t get no satisfaction” before dropping his guitar pick and falling back asleep.

When he woke up and played back his tape, it was “two minutes of ‘Satisfaction’ and forty minutes of me snoring.” Richards worried that the inspiration for the riff drew from Martha and the Vandella’s “Dancing in the Street,” but the song (and guitar hook) stuck.

3. Blur, “Song 2”

Blur never settled on exactly how long they spent writing and recording “Song 2”—the track’s working title in the studio—but the bandmates agree they came up with the hit in all of its improvised “woo-hoo!” glory in ten minutes to half an hour.

Lead singer Damon Albarn dismissed the hit as “just headbanging,” but producer Stephen Street claims Albarn wrote the song’s nonsensical hook on the fly. Street recalls, “Damon went ‘woo hoo” because he had nothing else prepared.”

4. Queen and David Bowie, “Under Pressure”

The Thin White Duke proved his marathon songwriting chops once again when he and Queen spent “an extremely long night” (according to Queen guitar slinger Brian May) in a jam session at Queen’s Mountain Studios in Switzerland. Bowie took charge of the song’s lyrics while Freddie Mercury spearheaded the music songwriting.

Mercury’s improvised scat singing from early in the jam session made the official cut, a song Queen debuted live quickly, though Bowie and May didn’t love the song. When the song was recorded and mixed (nothing was written before the session), Bowie and Queen went for pizza, according to Roger Taylor.

5. R.E.M., “Losing My Religion”

Guitarist Peter Buck spent a classy evening drinking wine, watching the Nature Channel on mute, and learning how to play the mandolin when he “played ‘Losing My Religion all the way through, and then played really bad stuff for a while.”

Buck woke up with the song’s chords all but forgotten, relearning to play it by listening back to the tape. The impromptu late night recording captured the song’s main riff and chorus—not bad for an unseasoned mandolin player who was lucky to think to tape his laid-back practice session.

6. Tears For Fears, “Mad World”

Brooding Brit Curt Smith told the Boston Globe, “I remember it being written in an hour or two in Roland’s little flat above a pizza place.” Smith and Tears For Fears bassist Roland Orzabal penned it as the first single of the band’s 1982 album The Hurting. In the liner notes for the record’s 1999 rerelease, Orzabal confessed that his flat probably wasn’t the best place to pen a track called “Mad World": “That came when I lived above a pizza restaurant in Bath and I could look out onto the centre of the city. Not that Bath is very mad—I should have called it 'Bourgeois World.'"

7. David Bowie, “Life on Mars?”

Bowie quipped that writing “Life on Mars?” — a parody of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” cover — was “easy” in a 2008 article in the Mail on Sunday, and in true, flamboyant Bowie fashion, it was.

I took a walk to Beckenham High Street to catch a bus to Lewisham to buy shoes and shirts but couldn't get the riff out of my head. Jumped off two stops into the ride and more or less loped back to the house up on Southend Road. Workspace was a big empty room with a chaise lounge; a bargain-price art nouveau screen ('William Morris,' so I told anyone who asked); a huge overflowing freestanding ashtray and a grand piano. Little else. I started working it out on the piano and had the whole lyric and melody finished by late afternoon. Nice.

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Art
Get Crazy With the Official Bob Ross Coloring Book
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If you watched Bob Ross's classic series The Joy of Painting for hours on end but didn’t come away a terribly capable artist, you can still enjoy replicating the amazing public television personality’s work. You can now pretend you’re painting along with the late, great PBS star using a brand-new adult coloring book based on his art.

The Bob Ross Coloring Book (Universe) is the first authorized coloring book based on Ross’s artistic archive. Ross, who would have turned 75 later this year, was all about giving his fans the confidence to pursue art even without extensive training. “There’s an artist hidden at the bottom of every single one of us,” the gentle genius said. So what better way to honor his memory than to relax with his coloring book?

Here’s a sneak peek of some of the Ross landscapes you can recreate, all while flipping through some of his best quotes and timeless tidbits of wisdom.

An black-and-white outline of a Bob ross painting of a mountain valley

A black-and-white outline of a Bob Ross painting shows a house nestled among trees.

A black-and-white outline of a Bob Ross painting shows a farm scene.

And remember, even if you color outside the lines, it’s still a work of art. As Ross said, “We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents.”

You can find The Bob Ross Coloring Book for about $14 on Amazon. Oh, and if you need even more Ross in your life, there’s now a Bob Ross wall calendar, too.

All images courtesy of Rizzoli.

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entertainment
8 Movies That Almost Starred Keanu Reeves
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He may not have the natural ease of Al Pacino, the classical training of Anthony Hopkins, the timeless cool of Jack Nicholson, or the raw versatility of Gary Oldman, but Keanu Reeves has been around long enough to have worked alongside each of those actors. Yet instead of Oscar nods, the actor whose first name means “cool breeze over the mountains” in Hawaiian has a handful of Razzie nominations.

While critical acclaim has mostly eluded Reeves during his 30-plus years in Hollywood, his movies have made nearly $2 billion at the box office. Whether because of his own choosiness or the decisions of studio powers-that-be, that tally could be much, much higher. To celebrate The Chosen One’s 53rd birthday, here are eight movies that almost starred Keanu Reeves.

1. X-MEN (2000)

In Hollywood’s version of the X-Men universe, Hugh Jackman is the definitive Wolverine. But Jackman himself was a last-minute replacement (for Dougray Scott) and other, bigger (in 2000) names were considered for the hirsute superhero—including Reeves. Ultimately, it was the studio that decided to go in a different direction, much to Reeves’ disappointment. “I always wanted to play Wolverine,” the actor told Moviefone in 2014. “But I didn't get that. And they have a great Wolverine now. I always wanted to play The Dark Knight. But I didn't get that one. They've had some great Batmans. So now I'm just enjoying them as an audience.”

2. PLATOON (1986)

For an action star, Reeves isn’t a huge fan of violence, which is why he passed on playing the lead in Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning Vietnam classic. “Keanu turned it down because of the violence,” Stone told Entertainment Weekly in 2011. “He didn’t want to do violence.”

3. THE FLY II (1989)

Few people would likely mistake Reeves for the son of Jeff Goldblum, but producers were anxious to see him play the next generation of Goldblum’s insectile role in the sequel to The Fly. But Reeves wasn’t having any of it. Why? Simple: “I didn't like the script,” he told Movieline in 1990.

4. SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL (1997)

Speaking of sequels (and bad scripts): Reeves was ready to reprise his role as Jack Traven in Jan de Bont’s second go at the series … then he read it. “When I was offered Speed 2, Jan came to Chicago and so did Sandra, and they said, ‘You’ve got to do this,’” Reeves recalled to The Telegraph. “And I said, 'I read the script and I can’t. It’s called Speed, and it’s on a cruise ship.” (He's got a point.)

Even when the studio dangled a $12 million paycheck in front of him, Reeves said no. “I told [William Mechanic, then-head of Fox], ‘If I do this film, I will not come back up. You guys will send me to the bottom of the ocean and I will not make it back up again.’ I really felt like I was fighting for my life.”

5. HEAT (1995)

Reeves’ refusal to cave on Speed 2 didn’t sit well in Hollywood circles. And it didn't help that he also passed on playing Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer’s role) in Michael Mann’s Heat in order to spend a month playing Hamlet at Canada’s Manitoba Theatre Centre. From that point on, Reeves told The Telegraph that it’s been a struggle for him to book any studio movies. “That’s a good old Hollywood story! That was a whole, 'Hey, kid, this is what happens in Hollywood: I said no to the number two and I never worked with the studio again!’”

6. BOWFINGER (1999)

By the time Frank Oz’s Bowfinger rolled around, Eddie Murphy was pretty much the go-to guy for any dual role part, but the movie wasn’t always intended to play that way. Steve Martin, who both starred in and wrote the movie, had actually penned the part of Kit Ramsey for Reeves (whom he had worked with a decade earlier in Parenthood).

“When Steve gave me the script for Bowfinger, it wasn't written for Eddie Murphy,” producer Brian Grazer explained. “It was written for a white action star. It was written for Keanu Reeves, literally. I said, 'Why does it have to be an action star?' He said, 'That's the joke.' I said: 'What if it were Eddie Murphy, and Eddie Murphy played two characters? That could be really funny.' He said: 'You know, that'd be great—that'd be brilliant. Let's do that.' He processed it in about a minute, and he made a creative sea change.”

7. WATCHMEN (2009)

A year before Zack Snyder’s Watchmen hit theaters, Reeves confirmed to MTV what many had speculated: that he had turned down the chance to play Dr. Manhattan in the highly anticipated adaptation. But it wasn’t because of lack of interest on Reeves’ part; it just “didn't work out.” Still, he made it as far as a set visit: “They were shooting in Vancouver while we were filming so I went over to the set to say, 'hi.' They showed me some stuff and it looks amazing! I can’t wait. It’s going to be so killer, man!”

8. TROPIC THUNDER (2008)

By the time Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder made its way into theaters in the summer of 2008, the meta-comedy had been more than a decade in the making. So it’s understandable that the final product veered from Stiller’s original plan for the film, which included Reeves playing the role of Tugg Speedman (Stiller’s eventual part). Initially, Stiller had planned to cast himself as smarmy agent Rick Peck (Matthew McConaughey picked up the slack).

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