5 Mistakes that Made it into Famous Recordings

Sometimes thinking on your feet pays off

Recording a song was a lot more difficult back in the day than it is now. Without the technological advances that we see today, getting that “perfect” take wasn’t easy, especially when all you had was a tape recorder. A lot of songs were done in one take, which a lot of the time resulted in improvisation. Occasionally, these improvisations or accidents actually enhanced a song.

Checkout our list of happy accidents in music.

Ella Fitzgerald “Mack the Knife” (1960)

While recording Mack the Knife in 1960, Ella forgot the lyrics to the song after the first verse. Instead of panicking and readying herself for a do-over, Ella improvised the rest of the song, while also throwing in a hilariously accurate impression of Louis Armstrong. The recording ended up winning a Grammy.


Fontella Bass “Rescue Me” (1965)

After birthing the song during a jam session, Fontella Bass recorded the track at Chess Studios in Chicago. The seemingly intentional call-and-response moans that can be heard near the end of the song were actually an improvisation after Bass forgot the lyrics. In 1989, she commented on the song during an interview with the New York Times.

“Back then, you didn’t stop while the tape was running, and I remembered from the church what to do if you forget the words. I sang, ‘Ummm, ummm, ummm,’ and it worked out just fine.”


The Police “Roxanne” (1978)

Sting accidentally sat on a piano during the recording of this song, hence the piano chord that can be heard at the beginning of the song. The struck piano chord can be heard at around the 4 second mark, with laughter (also unintentional) at 6 seconds.


Otis Redding “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” (1967)

Otis Redding didn’t whistle the last verse of this song intentionally. In fact, he forgot the lyrics during recording and improvised. Sadly, he was supposed to re-record the song but died before he could. The song ended up winning two Grammys.


Radiohead “Creep” (1992)

Radiohead recorded “Creep” in one take. That guitar “crunch” that occurs in the song’s shift between verse and chorus was improvised by Jonny Greenwood who thought the song sounded too quiet.