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Music

From John Lennon to Bob Dylan: The five best songs recorded in a single day

@SamWKemp

Music has always been bound to feats of speed. Whether it’s the studio-sprints of John Lennon, the extraordinary output of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – who wrote something like 626 pieces of music in just 35 years – or the Indian guitarist Nirvana B, who performed Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ at an astonishing 1600 beats per minute, we are fascinated with the Olympic side of music-making.

The tracks on this list were, for whatever reason, all recorded in just one day. For some, this was less of a choice and more a necessity. Take The Beatles, for example, who, with recording studios being as rudimentary as they were in the early ’60s, wouldn’t have known what to do with more time even if they’d been offered it.

For other’s, however, time became a tool of artistic expression, with the likes of Jack White, John Lennon, and The Velvet Underground, placing intentional limits on the amount of time they could spend on a record to push their creativity to its outer limits. Whatever the reason, all of the tracks below are stunning pieces that, in one way or another, capture the mood of a single day on planet earth.

Five songs recorded in a single day:

‘Instant Karma’ – John Lennon

This track, recorded by John Lennon when the Beatles were about to go their separate ways, was written and recorded in a single day on January 27th, 1970. When it was released ten days later, Lennon boasted that he “wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch and we’re putting it out for dinner”.

The idea behind Lennon’s instant hit was already in the air. Everybody was going on about karma, especially in the ’60s,” he told David Sheff, “But it occurred to me that karma is instant, as well as it influences your past life or your future life. There really is a reaction to what you do now. That’s what people ought to be concerned about. Also, I’m fascinated by commercials and promotion as an art form. I enjoy them. So, the idea of instant karma was like the idea of instant coffee.”

So, after making a few phone calls, Lennon, George Harrison, and Phil Spector decided to go down to the studio: “John phoned me up one morning in January and said, ‘I’ve written this tune and I’m going to record it tonight and have it pressed up and out tomorrow—that’s the whole point: ‘Instant Karma,” Harrison recalled. “There were just four people: John played piano, I played acoustic guitar, there was Klaus Voormann on bass and Alan White on drums. We recorded the song and brought it out that week, mixed—instantly—by Phil Spector.”

‘Lazaretto’ – Jack White

Back in 2014, Jack White won the Guinness world record for the fastest record release of all time. To celebrate record store day, White recorded, pressed, and released the single ‘Lazaretto’ in just under four hours. Yes, four.

The record-breaking track was recorded during an early morning gig at the Blue Room of Nashville’s Third Man Records. By the time he had moved on to a rendition of Elvis Presley’s the ‘Power of My Love’ – which served as the single’s B-side – the recording was already being mixed and mastered.

White’s goal was to record, press, and have ‘Lazaretto’ ready for sale in stores within four hours. Not only did White beat the record previously held by Swiss trio Vollgas Kompanie, but he also managed to beat his own goal, releasing the single just three hours, 55 minutes and 21 seconds after it was recorded. Talk about fresh.

‘Twist And Shout’ – The Beatles

‘Twist And Shout’ and indeed the whole of The Beatles debut Please Please Me – aside from a few overdubs by George Martin – was recorded in just a single day on February 11th, 1963.

The process couldn’t have been more simple. All the Beatles had to do was perform their well-honed Cavern Club set in front of a few microphones and that was that. Most of the tracks on Please Please Me, such as ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, were recorded in a few takes, but ‘Twist And Shout’ was laid down in just one.

‘The Fab Four’ gave it everything they had, with Lennon gladly shredding his already-tired vocal cords to get the perfect take. If you listen carefully, you can also hear that Lennon was suffering from a bit of his cold at the time of recording. Indeed, many a few of his sputterings made it into the final product.

‘Rain Day Women 12 & 35’ – Bob Dylan

Recorded in Columbia’s Nashville studio on March 10th, 1966, Bob Dylan’s ‘Rainy Day Women 12 & 35’ caused quite the stir when it was released – and it’s no wonder. Even in ’66, songs that made flagrant drug references were still pretty taboo, so it’s unsurprising that Dylan’s imperative: “Everyone must get stoned” sparked controversy.

Featuring an array of instruments, including trombones, tubas, pianos, drums, and guitars, this particular Dylan track has wonderfully ramshackle, honky tonk energy to it. Hearing Dylan’s intoxicated laughter as he attempts to stumble his way through the song, it’s easy to imagine the poor recording engineer’s desperately trying to keep the session from descending into chaos.

According to lore, ‘Rainy Day Women 12 & 35’ was recorded in just a few hours after Dylan and his fellow musicians decided to smoke huge quantities of marijuana; hoping that their spaced-out mindset might induce a heightened state of creativity.

‘Sister Ray’ – The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground had experimentation in their DNA. Before joining the New York group, John Cale had worked with The Theatre Of Eternal Music, whose durational, drone-based pieces could last hours. With ‘Sister Ray’, The Velvets continued this fascination with the durational and improvisational, making a deal that they would set the reel-to-reel running and release whatever it captured. There were to be no second tries; the idea was to capture the unrestrained heart of their music without attempting to dilute or modify it.

This is what they came out with: a labyrinthine and challenging freak-out characterised by fuzz-laden rhythm and blues riffs and atonal textures. Recorded in 1967, it’s an utterly revolutionary piece of music that seems to foreshadow the next three decades of alternative guitar music, from Deep Purple to My Bloody Valentine.

The story goes that the harshness of the sound emanating from the live room forced studio engineer Gary Kellgrento to walk away from the control desk, leaving The Velvet Underground to thrash out their brutal blend of art-rock on their own.