14 first classic song demos you absolutely must hear
We all know that songs, especially classics, don’t just come out of the mind of a fully trained and fleshed out artist. Some end with demos. Like a movie or a good book, it’s a constant process of writing, revising, reworking, and editing, until you have something that fits your vision.
In the case of music, we have demos – the rudimentary seeds from which timeless tunes and chart-wide hits are born. Of course, sometimes the artists really just have a stroke of genius and a song comes out pretty much like it ended up on the album the first time around, without even needing to do any demos.
In other cases, unforgettable songs started in almost unrecognizable forms compared to the ones we know and love in the form of demos. We’ve compiled some of our favorite demos. In some cases, we think the demos may even match the originals!
Michael Jackson – “Beat Him”
While there are plenty of famous pop songs on this list, this one is undeniably the most memorable and iconic of them all. After all, this is one of the most important pop albums of the 20th century by one of its most important artists.
But what separates this demo from the others on the roster is that while a lot of them already had pretty much the beat and it was just a matter of the star injecting her lyrics and / or his voice in the mix, the demo of ‘Beat It’ was radically different, on the one hand it was entirely a cappella.
Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit ‘
Listening for the first time to the demo of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is quite an extraordinary experience. Besides the fact that you can hear how a song that was going to have such a big impact on popular culture started (with a different structure, including a cover in the first chorus and mostly untrained lyrics), but you can hearing a band that has no idea what they’re about to accomplish – they’re just demoing a song for their next album.
Eminem-Lose Yourself ‘
This is that rap song that everyone seems to know the lyrics to, and if they don’t, they are more than familiar with the famous phrase “mum’s spaghetti”.
Do you like Eminem?
Get the latest Eminem news, features, updates and freebies straight to your inbox Learn more
But when the song was in its early stages, there was no “mum’s spaghetti” and the chorus wasn’t as memorable.
Instead, there were borderline absurd lines on the “Cadillacs and Buicks” and a bunch of bars that just don’t seem to match. It just goes to show that genius is not about sudden inspiration, but about engagement and multiple revisions.
The Strokes – “You Only Live Once”
Before Drake ever tagged everyone #YOLO, The Strokes reminded us of our own mortality with this heartfelt rocker whose intro looked suspiciously like “I Want To Break Free” by Queen.
The melodic and uplifting indie rocker was one of the defining singles of what many considered the beginning of the band’s decline and one of the most thoughtful pop rock tracks of the decade. But frontman Julian Casablancas’ demo was a far cry from the original garage, with sleepy vocals and charming Casio touches.
Men at Work – “Land Down Under”
Men At Work has always had a white reggae vibe throughout their music, but the original version of what is arguably their most famous hit, “Land Down Under,” is pure dub.
Significantly slowed down compared to the original and much less upbeat, the track is more concerned with the rolling and gradually removed basslines than the famous flute trills of the released version, although they are there, but not in the pitch. in which we remember it.
The vocals are considerably more muffled, and the track has a lot of quirks, like the atmospheric overtones and voiceovers of the characters depicted in the song.
Nicki Minaj – “Spaceships”
“What I want the world to know about Nicki Minaj is that when you hear Nicki Minaj spit, Nicki Minaj wrote it down,” Nicki said upon accepting an award at the 2014 BET Awards , and while the verses to her of 2012 hit “Starships” was indeed all Nicki, the bridge and that inescapable chorus came courtesy of the relatively unknown singer Mohombi.
Feeling a hit on her hands, Nicki left Mohombi’s skillfully crafted pop hooks in RedOne’s Eurodance production and removed the verses for something a little more her style.
David Bowie – ‘Ziggy Stardust’
When David “The Chameleon” Bowie first donned red hair and the shiny jumpsuit to reveal Ziggy Stadust to the world, not only was it a defining moment in the rock icon’s career, it was without. doubtless one of the most important cultural flashpoints of modern music.
But while the concept may have paved the way for Bowie’s career, along with countless others, impacting everything from glam rock to punk and hair metal, it all started with a simple acoustic demo.
Britney Spears – ‘Toxic’
Hearing demos of pop songs gives a strange sense of voyeurism, of hearing something that you aren’t quite meant to hear, and that you don’t quite know how to handle.
While we all know where the iconic rock songs come from (a band member sitting with a guitar and a notebook or an impromptu jam session), hearing an acoustic demo is pretty much normal, hearing a tune made by- A song. Committee pop designed to move units can be somewhat confrontational and unexpected. Just check this one out.
Pink Floyd – “Silver”
This is one of the most famous intros in music and one of the most famous riffs on a centerpiece from one of the most famous albums with one of the most famous covers of all time.
But before “Money” was the track your father used as an example of “real music” when he walked into your room while you were listening to Deadmau5, it was just a crass demo that Roger Waters had played with.
What’s rather remarkable is not just how the rather short demo developed into a six-minute epic, but how the song’s themes and most of the lyrics were already in the mind of Waters.
The Who – “My Generation”
With tracks like “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks, “My Generation” helped forge the foundations of garage and punk rock. The dirty production, garage arrangement, and provocative lyrics make this slice of proto-punk one of the most enduring anthems in modern youth music.
But when guitarist and songwriter Pete Townsend first wrote the classic tune, it sounded more like the later hit “Magic Bus,” consisting of a scrambling acoustic guitar and a call-and-answer section loaded with reverberation.
Ramones – ’53rd and 3rd’
For a band that spoke of raw, fiery, unbridled aggressiveness and rock-solid ferocity, the Ramones’ albums were relatively mellow compared to their infamous gigs.
While the albums were certainly aggressive and far more fierce than anything released at the time, the production techniques of the ’70s often added a little too much polish to the punk gods of New York.
This demo version of ’53rd & 3rd’, one of the most memorable tracks from the band’s eponymous debut album, is a real assault on the other hand.
Fleetwood Mac – “Dreams”
This rock radio staple, which featured on the band’s classic album in 1977 Rumors is known for its instantly memorable lyrics, unforgettable chorus, inspired arrangements and moody atmospheres throughout the tracks, largely achieved through solid rhythmic backing and Christine McVie’s keyboard work, as well as dark lyrical themes.
While the features of the demo are much more sparse, featuring only keys, guitar, and vocals, it’s remarkable how they already contained the palpable vibe of the album version.
The vines – “highly evolved”
The Vines is a group that has always worn its influences on their sleeves. But on the demo version of the Australian rockers’ single ‘Highly Evolved’, taken from their 2002 album of the same name, the influences are radically different from those proudly emulated on the album.
Less akin to an uplifting garage rocker, with grunge guitars and provocative Brit-pop swagger, it sounds like a never-before-seen collaboration between The Kinks and The Stooges.
The Pumpkins Smashing – ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’
Recorded at Sadlands Studios, the fully acoustic version of “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” from Smashing Pumpkins’ 1995 flagship double album Mélan Collie and Infinite Sadness is certainly a more low-key effort than the aggressive alternative rocker who made the album.
Vocalist Billy Corgan keeps his vocals relatively subdued, singing in a higher register and refraining from the throaty lamentations of the album version. Interestingly, however, the song’s arrangement effectively follows Corgan’s acoustic chords on the demo.