15 classic records recorded in one take

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15 classic records recorded in one take

Recording studio tape
Words by Christie Eliezer

You don’t have to get a studio tan to make a great hit.

What do REM’s “Losing My Religion”, Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)”, Adele’s “Skyfall” and Oasis’ “Supersonic” have in common?

Their writers said they were all written within ten minutes.

In A Dream

The record goes to Paul McCartney. “Yesterday” came to him in a dream fully formed, and it took a minute to grab a tape recorder and put it down.

Similarly, some of the greatest classics in the rock era were nailed in just one take.

These are 12 of them.

Read all the latest features, columns and more here.


Eminem wrote “Lose Yourself” while shooting the 8 Mile movie in 2001, using breaks to run to a portable studio on the set, using one take for each verse, according to studio engineer Steven King.

Its hurried creation did not stop “Lose Yourself” from getting an Oscar for Best Original Song (and the first hip hop song to do so) and Grammy for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Solo Performance in 2004.

The movie grossed $242.9 million worldwide, and an extra $75 million on DVD in its first week in the US.


“The House of the Rising Sun” started out life as a hillbilly song in the 1880s as “Rising Sun Blues” and later recorded by every US folkie including Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie.

In 1963 when Newcastle R&B band The Animals did a UK tour by Chuck Berry, singer Eric Burdon wanted a “different” kind of song to finish their set.

Their version went down a storm with the crowds.  After the tour, The Animals returned to London and begged producer Mickie Most to include it on their first album.


Most was initially sceptical but thawed after he heard what they’d done with the song.

The mesmerising opening electric guitar by Hilton Valentine took Dylan’s chord sequence and played it as an A minor arpeggio, while Alan Price drove it home on a Vox Continental organ.

Burdon’s gritty voice howled through, the lyrics changed from the sad life of a hooker who worked in the New Orleans brothel to a man destroyed by it.


Recording took place on May 18, 1964, in the small De Lane Lea Studios on Kingsway in London.

It took 15 minutes. The Animals had played it so many times on tour, and laid it down in one take.

“The House of the Rising Sun” was a global radio hit (#2 in Australia) and broke them through in America.

When Bob Dylan heard it on his car radio, he stopped, got out and banged his fist on the bonnet.

Right then and there, he decided he was going to go electric.


In 1979, Sylvia Robinson’s tiny New York-based All Platinum Records was facing financial ruin.

The hit she desperately needed was inspired by some DJs rapping in a local disco.

She brought in Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike and Master Gee in on a Friday, to talk about cutting a track that fused the joy of Chic’s “Good Times” with the urgency of rap but without the anger and politics.

Return On Monday

They returned on Monday to record the track, with Robinson producing. 

There was no money so it had to be done first time.

“Rapper’s Delight” was an absolute game-changer. It was the first rap record to break through into white radio around the world (#37 in Australia) and showed the music business the commercial possibility of rap.

Last year the richest rapper in the world was Jay-Z worth $2.5 billion. Runner up Sean “Puffy” Combs aka Diddy was valued at $1 billion.


The making of “Billie Jean”, inspired by women claiming Michael Jackson and his brothers had fathered their children, was musically no one take.

Instead, Jackson and co-producer Quincy Jones painstakingly added layer over layer to get the distinctive and dynamic sound.

It included the stand-out bass riffs by Louis Johnson of the Brothers Johnson.

For Jackson’s vocals, delivered through a six-foot cardboard tube, Michael had vocal training every morning during the song’s recording.

Little wonder then that the vocal performance didn’t need a second try.


To deliver the lyrics about being “pulled down”, the ‘Chair did it in one pass, with the band seemingly in the same room watching each other’s eyes, and no treatment on Daniel John’s voice.

It was on the B-side of the “Freak” single.


In 1977, German producer Giorgio Moroder used early synthesisers to painstakingly create the backing track, each piece created synthetically over weeks.

The moog synthesiser kept going out of tune every 20 or 30 seconds, so recording had to be done before it needed to be retuned.

Only the bass drum was live.

Swept In

Then Summer, in Germany as part of the cast of the Hair musical, swept in, and banged the song’s sensual and emotional mood in one take.

Even the backup vocals were recorded once.

It went to #1 in Australia, UK, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and Austria.


In the first of her musical reincarnations, Kylie Minogue split from the PWL fodder factory which made her, and signed with deConstruction Records.

Hearing about her wanting to assert independence, Dave Seaman, Steve Anderson and Owain Barton, aka Brothers in Rhythm, offered to write her song.

“Confide In Me” came together in less than an hour, but more so the vocals. 

In Taxi

Seaman recollected that Minogue arrived in a taxi at their studio, told the taxi to wait, warmed up and after one take got back in the taxi.

The Brothers added a few embellishments to the track, which was released in August reached #1 in Australia, #2 in the UK, #9 in Europe and broke her into the US dance charts.


The first Beatles album Please Please Me was done in 13 hours. After nine songs, they had 15 minutes left on the clock.

It was time for “Twist And Shout”, originally a hit for US act The Isley Brothers, and which The Beatles introduced into their live set.

An exhausted John Lennon’s voice was shot, so he chucked down cough drops and gargled with milk.

He then stormed through the song, a live favourite. The voice finally went, so the Fab Four decided to go with what they had.

It was called “the most famous single take in rock history.” It was a hit in America and #5 in Australia and sold a million.


Recording in a dilapidated English country house, Thom Yorke was starting to become ill.

So the decision was made to play, and sing, it one take. The track from In Rainbows (2007) went to #8 in America’s Modern Rock chart.


The lyrics started with a chat between Gnarls Barkley duo CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse about how people only take an artist seriously if they are insane.

Said Danger Mouse, “So we started jokingly discussing ways in which we could make people think we were crazy… CeeLo took that conversation and made it into ‘Crazy’, which we recorded in one take.”

CeeLo sang the lyrics from a piece of paper; it was the first time he’d sung it, even.

Magic Song

It was a magic song that affected people immediately. When they sent the track around to record companies, Downtown Records signed them after a sole listen.

Radio around the world got excited and started playing it before its March 2006 release.

It reached #1 in the UK (nine weeks on top), peaked at #2 in the US and in Australia was #2 on the ARIA Top 100 and #1 on the ARIA Dance Chart.

The one-take electro-soul gem was best selling single of the year and won a Grammy.


On the evening of July 5, 1954, relatively unknown truck driver Elvis Presley and a group of session musicians were at Sun Studios putting down tracks.

During a break, Presley started goofing about, with a rocked-up version of American bluesman Arthur Crudup’s 1949 “That’s Alright (Mama)”, which the band joined in on.

Producer Sam Phillips loved it, and told them to do it again live, and in one swoop to capture the rawness.

Radio Stations

It went to radio stations (Presley was so nervous he went to a movie theatre to calm down).

One excitedly playing it 14 times in a row and got 40 calls from listeners.

It was his debut single on Sun Records and only a regional hit.

But when signed to the major RCA Records, his first single through them “Heartbreak Hotel” was a smash.


The ultimate garage rock song first written in the late 1950s and covered 2,000 times, the best known version was the one in 1963 by The Kingsmen.

They were a bunch of teenagers from Portland, Oregon, who recorded it as a promo to try and get a gig on a cruise ship.

It cost either $36 or $50 for an hour’s session, so the producer – who ran a nightclub where they were the house band – rushed them through.

90 Minute Version

Having warmed up with a 90-minute version of the song at a gig the night before, they hit the studio on the morning of April 6, 1963.

There was a slight problem for singer Jack Ely. 

The only microphone for him was hanging several feet above him from the ceiling. He also wore dental braces.

His vocals were indistinguishable (not to mention mistimed), while the band whacked out the chords (A, D, E minor) with mistakes galore including the drummer dropping the F word when he dropped his sticks midway.

Ragged, Sloppy

The result was described as “ragged”, “sloppy” and “chaotic”, and went on to inspire generations of garagers and punkers.

Its fans ranged from The Beach Boys to Barry White to Sonic Youth and Black Flag.


“Bette Davis Eyes” was written in 1974 by Jackie DeShannon and Donna Weiss, inspired by the last powerful scene of Bette Davis’ movie Now Voyager having her cigarette lit by a lover.

DeShannon did a country-rock rendition with uptempo piano, pedal steel guitar and horns. 

In 1981, Weiss approached Kim Carnes, a singer, session singer and songwriter who spread the word she was looking for songs for an album.

Had A Song

She said she had a song. Carnes and her producer were not that impressed. Weiss said she had this other song.

Taking its lyrics and melody, with a signature riff developed by Bill Cuomo’s Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 synthesiser and intentionally using the cheapest drums possible, it was done in one take.

It swept to No. 1 around the world, won Grammys for song and record of the year and got all those involved a thank-you letter from the 73-year old actress for “making me part of modern times.” 


Los Angeles hair metal band Quiet Riot wanted only their own songs on the Metal Health album.

So they dug in when record producer Spencer Proffer wanted them to record a cover of British band Slade’s 1973 British No. 1 “Cum On Feel The Noize”.

Riot singer Kevin DuBrow also wanted nothing to do with Slade, who’d started out with a skinhead image and then went glam.

Give It A Try

The producer told them to give it a try at least once.

So on their 1983 version, Quiet Riot tried to sabotage it by not rehearsing, starting from the wrong part of the song and even leaving out a verse.

To their horror, their version was still released as a single and went to #5 and sold a million.

The album topped the US charts, putting a spotlight on the whole early 1980s glam-metal scene.


Slade were furious at having their song become an American smash for someone else.

When Quiet Riot played London, they invited the Brits to attend the Hammersmith Odeon show and offered to send a limo, but got no response.

Drummer Frankie Banali revealed, “Later I was shopping in Kensington Market and ran into (Slade’s) Jimmy Lea. 

“I wanted to shake his hand and thank him for writing a great song. 

“He looked into my face, and walked away leaving me with nothing in my hand but air!”


Frank Sinatra aka Ol’ Blue Eyes was known as “one-take Charlie” for his acting prowess.

But it was different for his recordings, where he’d do multiple versions until he was satisfied.

“My Way” was different. During a holiday in France, American singer songwriter Paul Anka heard a French song called ‘”Comme d’habitude” (“As Usual”) and got the rights to it.

Back home in New York, he started rewriting the lyrics at 1 am on his electric typewriter, wondering, what Sinatra would say in the song.

“I ate it up and spit it out,” was one of the lines that captured how Sinatra’s Rat Pack friends with their mob connections would talk.

Finished It

After he finished the English version at 5 am, he rang Sinatra in Las Vegas where he was doing a Caesars Palace residency and told him, “I’ve got something really special for you.”

Sinatra loved the melody and, after rehearsals with an orchestra, nailed it first time on December 28, 1968.

A recording which exuded magic, it became a popular song at funerals and farewell parties, for its theme of determining one’s own path in life.

But Sinatra learned to hate the song, telling his audiences the lyrics were “self-serving and self-indulgent.”