15 Classic Songs That Were Recorded In One Take
Modern pop music can feel more like a science lab with teams of musicians and producers fine-tuning and rerecording new tracks to create the perfect final product. That process can produce hits, but there's also a history of songs recorded in one take that includes some widely known (and widely panned) hits. Some songs just seemed destined for greatness, and no amount of rerecording or hair-splitting could get in the way of it. These songs got fired from the creative chamber ready to hit number one.
This rockin' Beatles cover closed the album Please Please Me, and it also closed a marathon recording session that left John Lennon exhausted. Producer George Martin had the Fab Four record the song after recording nine other songs earlier in the day. He slotted "Twist and Shout" last because of the strain it would put on Lennon's voice, and even then, they weren't sure how much juice he had left in the tank.
They powered through in one take and tried a second, but Lennon's voice was so shot, the band decided to let it be and stick the initial go.
- Photo: Arista
"How Will I Know" wasn't the first single off of Whitney Houston's debut album, but it's the most memorable song off of the album. It was definitely memorable for songwriters George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam. The pair was tapped to write the song for Janet Jackson, but when she passed, the song made its way to Houston for her self-titled debut.
Everyone who heard Houston's first vocal take on the song knew something special was brewing. Additional backing tracks were recorded separately, but that first lead vocal track stayed in the final mix.
- Photo: Wand Records
The raucous, borderline-unintelligible "Louie Louie" inspired controversy when it was released, but it was mostly due to shoddy production rather than ill intent. The Kingsmen were teenagers when they recorded the song, and they had allegedly hired a stingy producer who rushed them through their session to save time.
There was only ever one recording of the song, which is why there are numerous errors ranging from mistimed vocals to the f word in the background from when the drummer dropped his sticks mid-recording.
- Photo: 8 Mile / Universal Pictures
Eminem's performance in 8 Mile shocked a lot of people who'd dismissed the rapper as a one-trick artist specializing in lyrics that pushed the boundaries of good taste. The film showed the range he had as an actor and rapper, and it also produced one of his most successful singles in "Lose Yourself."
Eminem wrote the song between takes on the set of the movie and didn't have much time to record between his responsibilities on set. He said he was able to record each verse in a single take during his lunch breaks while filming.
- Photo: Death Row Records
The recording session for Tupac Shakur's final, posthumous album, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory was a reportedly frenetic seven-day process that had to fit between shoot dates for a pair of films Shakur had roles in.
Stories claim "Hail Mary" took less than an hour to write and record, with Shakur writing the lyrics in about 15 minutes and producer Hurt-M-Badd piecing the rest of the track together on the fly.
- Photo: MGM Records/Verve / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
The closing song from The Velvet Underground's White Light White Heat started as a sort of challenge from the band. They agreed before recording that they would stick with whatever the song ended up as, good or bad.
At the end of recording, they ended up with a 17-minute epic that often morphed into an even longer song during live shows.