The legendary Jay-Z once mentioned that if a song took him more than 20 minutes to write, it was "probably not going to work." We imagine that tons of other artists share his sentiment because many of today's biggest hits were actually written in the span of five to 10 minutes. As the rapper had put it, songwriters get that "magic feeling," or inspiration that drives them to pen major hits in practically no time. But then there are those who don't get that magic feeling right away. For many, it comes in stages. And that process can take several weeks, months, or even years.
We don't hear about those examples as often because, let's face it, cranking out the perfect lyrics and completing a song at lightning speed takes serious skill. Especially since we live in a world where inspiration is so fleeting. However, it can be argued that taking significantly more time to craft the perfect song is just as impressive, whether it means pushing through writer's block, returning to a shelved project or the taking extra time to make it perfect. Several artists and songwriters have been doing just that, and judging by the popularity of many of these songs, their extra work definitely paid off. See which songs took forever to finish.
This powerful ballad marked Adele's return to music after her three-year hiatus, so a part of us can understand why this song took a bit more time to complete. The singer typically writes her songs in mere minutes, but this one took her over six months. Apparently, Greg Kurstin, who produced the song, wasn't even sure if Adele would finish the song. He said: "We had half a song written. I just had to be very patient."
Thankfully, the soulful singer did not disappoint. She wound up writing a masterpiece that's moving enough to make us cry for literally no reason. Plus, the song won three Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance.
We're talking about a guy who has written hits for Adele, Beyonce, and Ellie Goulding. And for the record, none of those songs took more than a day. But when it came to OneRepublic's "Apologize," Ryan took much longer to get a certain verse done. He said: "The first verse I thought was so good, but it took me six months to finish the second." That song went on to earn a Grammy Award nomination and became a major hit internationally, peaking at number-one in over 16 countries.
In an interview, the band's guitarist, Ray Toro, explained the history behind the song. The group actually started working on it when the band was first formed, but it wasn't released right away because they didn't have the time to finish it. As they continued to revisit the song, however, they all decided that it just wasn't working. Instead of giving up on it, though, they spent a ton of time altering the lyrics and making additional changes.
Ray said: "What’s really cool when you write music is sometimes all you have to do is change a chord progression and that completely changes the face of the song. So we basically just changed one note in the chorus and it let Gerard go somewhere else that he wouldn’t have gone, and that’s where the hook of the song came from. I just have very fond memories of that song because it started out in a completely different form. It’s been a part of this band for five years, and it took that long to really finish the song and define what it truly was about."
The singer often shared that this song took him a decade to live and two years to write before he performed it live. It turns out that he re-worked the lyrics and often performed different versions in concert. So for instance, at times he switched some of his verses from first-person to third-person perspectives, and on other occasions, he completely switched up the lyrics. He officially released two different versions, but noted that he personally preferred the one on his Real Live album.
Regarding the song's meaning, he once explained: "What's different about it is that there's a code in the lyrics, and there's also no sense of time. There's no respect for it. You've got yesterday, today and tomorrow all in the same room, and there's very little you can't imagine not happening."
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The late singer poured his heart into this touching song, which was a tribute to his wife. But when he first worked on it, he simply wasn't satisfied with what he came up with. A lot of time had passed and it still wasn't quite perfect, but he always knew that the song had potential.
Chris explained: "I kept remembering [this song] and knowing there was a great song in there. The sentiment was very raw and real and immediate — writing it to someone I wanted to be my future wife that is now my wife and mother of my children. Finishing that thought may be one of the more satisfying moments I've had in songwriting my whole life. The song worked out — it just took a long time to get there. Maybe I was too nervous about it. Maybe it meant too much to me in the beginning. I was overthinking it. I didn't let it just flow out."
We've heard the classic get covered by several artists, from Bon Jovi to Justin Timberlake. But for Leonard Cohen, the process of writing this song was far from easy. He apparently wrote over 80 draft verses for the song, and in one writing session, he was struggling so much that he sat on the floor in his underwear and banged his head on the floor. Yikes
Though we imagine that his other songs weren't as painful to write, the late singer expressed that he was never the type to write songs quickly. He said: "I’m writing all the time. And as the songs begin to coalesce, I’m not doing anything else but writing. I wish I were one of those people who wrote songs quickly. But I’m not. So it takes me a great deal of time to find out what the song is."
Freddie actually began to work on this song in the late '60s. Roy Thomas Baker, the song's producer, once explained how it all began: "[Freddie] played the beginning on the piano, then stopped and said, 'And this is where the opera section comes in!' Then we went out to eat dinner." The band considered the song original and "worthy of work," so they spent a lot of time writing the material before they started recording. The guitarist, Brian May, also noted that the song was "all in Freddie's mind" before they went to the studio.
The song itself took another three weeks to record, and Brian, Freddie, and Roger sang vocals for up to 12 hours a day.
Before he sang this song on the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over tour, Don revealed: "It took me 42 years to write this song, and 5 minutes to sing it." This was his third single from his third album, The End of the Innocence. It peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks.
One of the songwriters, Mike Campbell, shared: "I cut the track at home and played it for [Don]. He wrote some words; I think he got some help from J.D. Souther on some of the lyrics. He changed the key to fit his voice, then we went in and basically recreated the demo. I know he was especially proud of that one. He told me that lyric was something he had been trying to write for a long time and it finally came out the way he liked it, something he really wanted to sing."
Milky Chance's guitarist, Clemens, once admitted: “It took me three years to write the song. It’s basically about missing a person and yearning for some love. [It’s] about heartaches but also about hope and looking forward to seeing better times.”
The German duo first released an early version of the song to YouTube in 2012, but in the following year, they uploaded the final version, which quickly became viral. That song went on to become a big hit, reaching No. 1 in countries like France, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, and Belgium.
Vance Joy started working on the song in 2008 before his music career took off. He had finished only a few of the first chords and two lines of lyrics, but then he shelved the whole thing. Over four years later, when he was working on a new track, it reminded him of his abandoned "Riptide" draft. So he put together a new version that combined the original song with his current work and he uploaded it to Facebook. After getting tons of positive feedback, he was encouraged to finally finish it.
When it got released, critics loved it, and as of now, it still holds the record for the longest-charting song in ARIA Chart history (120 weeks!).
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Even before the Tonya Harding scandal happened, Sufjan felt inspired to make a song about her. He admitted that initially, he focused more on the gossip that surrounded her life. But the more time he spent on the song, the more he felt inclined to change it.
Sufjan said: "I’ve been trying to write a Tonya Harding song since I first saw her skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1991. She’s a complicated subject for a song partly because the hard facts of her life are so strange, disputable, heroic, unprecedented, and indelibly American... The more I edited [the song], and the more I meditated, and the more I considered the wholeness of the person of Tonya Harding, I began to feel a conviction to write something with dignity and grace, to pull back the ridiculous tabloid fodder and take stock of the real story of this strange and magnificent America hero."
It's considered by many as the singer's most iconic hit, but what most don't know is that it took over six months for the singer to write the song. At that point in his career, he was struggling after his most recent album, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, didn't do so well commercially. He was under a lot of pressure to put out a new single that would be much more successful, and so understandably, he put a lot of extra time and work into "Born to Run." Had this also failed commercially, it would've been his last attempt to become successful. But thankfully, the powerful song led to his breakthrough in the industry.
Bob Seger was inspired to write this song after seeing the 1973 film American Graffiti, but after writing only a portion of it, he was stuck for a while. Surprisingly, it was Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run album that helped him finish the song.
Bob explained: "I had the ending but I didn’t know how to get there. What broke me free was listening to Bruce Springsteen’s album Born to Run. On the last song, 'Jungleland,' he did the bridge and slowed down the last verse, but it’s not the same chords as the first. Almost like a double bridge. I said, 'Wow, OK, that’ll be my structure'.”
"Let There Be Love" was a major hit in Scotland, the UK, and Italy. But Noel, who was the lead vocalist in Oasis, worked long and hard to come up with the perfect lyrics. A demo for the track that was slightly different was leaked back in 2000, and back then it was named "It's a Crime." But when the song was officially released in 2005, it featured a slightly different melody and some rewritten lyrics. We can only imagine how many times Noel reworked the song before it was finalized.
The dance-pop hit was written by Sarah Aarons, but the production process actually took over a year which included tweaks to the music and content. Before Maren was chosen to do the main vocals, versions were done by over a dozen other artists, including Camila Cabello, Demi Lovato, Carly Rae Jepsen, Tove Lo, and Lauren Jauregui. Stefan Johnson, who helped produce the single, once explained that it was a "super long process." And Jordan Johnson also explained: "We never lost the feeling for that song. Even a year later, I, as a creator hadn’t gotten tired of it. It was special."
It turns out he was right because it charted in several countries and is now nominated for three Grammy Awards!
Way before this addictive pop song blew up, Camila and her team were basically rewriting the lyrics for months because she wanted the song to be perfect. Though they were able to finish the chorus right away, the verses took way longer to get right.
Camila said: "'Havana' was probably the hardest song to write of the whole album, it took five months. We have like seven different versions. I actually performed a version of it in Chicago for a radio show that I had, and before the song came out I rewrote the pre-chorus. That's how many different times that song had to be worked on."