Songs based on rehearsal riffs and such

Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk was an expansion on Lindsey Buckingham’s sound check riff, and TIL that ZZ Top’s La Grange started the same way. Educate me, Dopers. What other well-known songs started out as throw-away riffs?

I’m pretty sure that was the story behind “Sweet Child of Mine” by Guns N Roses. Slash was practicing some sort of broken chord riff and the band were like “hey! that’s cool!” and the song grew behind it. Let me see if I can find some cite for that.

Well, this is was Wikipedia says. This is similar to what I heard:

During a jam session at the band’s house in the Sunset Strip,[8] drummer Steven Adler and Slash were warming up and Slash began to play a “circus” melody while making faces at Adler. Rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin asked Slash to play it again. Stradlin came up with some chords, Duff McKagan created a bassline and Adler planned a beat. In his autobiography, Slash said “within an hour my guitar exercise had become something else”. Lead singer Axl Rose was listening to the musicians upstairs in his room and was inspired to write lyrics, which he completed by the following afternoon.[9]

Sweet Child o' Mine - Wikipedia.

I can’t hear that riff without thinking that he was just riffing fast on “Spirit in the Sky”.

I recall an interview where Joe Walsh’s Funk 49 started as a warmup exercise riff.

According to Bill Wyman’s autobiography “Stone Alone” and the book “The Rolling Stones - All The Songs”, the bass player came up with the riff for “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” played on keyboards while jamming in the studio with only Charlie and Brian. When Mick came in, he told them not to stop and repeat the riff. A few weeks later, Mick and Keith came to the studio with the riff worked out to the final song, and in usual Glimmer Twins fashion, Wyman didn’t get a credit.

Rush’s Geddy Lee said in an interview that the synth riff in Tom Sawyer was something he played during soundchecks.

IANAG, but I’ve always heard the “LaGrange” riff as a pretty standard progression that’s at the core of hundreds of songs. That doesn’t make the song any less awesome, of course.

This, for instance ca. 157 John Lee Hooker songs and this by Canned Heat (which is older than “Spirit In The Sky)”:

Yes, exactly. The Record Company has been closing shows with a cover of Hooker’s “Boom Boom” that demonstrates how foundational he is to their sound and so many others.

“American Woman” by The Guess Who. From Wikipedia (emphasis mine):

The music and lyrics of the song were improvised on stage during a concert in Southern Ontario[10] (the guitarist, Randy Bachman, recalled it being at a concert in Kitchener,[11] although Burton Cummings, the lead singer, said it was at the Broom and Stone, a curling rink in Scarborough).[12] Bachman was playing notes while tuning his guitar after replacing a broken string, and he realized he was playing a new riff that he wanted to remember. He continued playing it and the other band members returned to the stage and joined in, creating a jam session in which Cummings improvised the lyrics.[11] They noticed a kid with a cassette recorder making a bootleg recording and asked him for the tape.[13] They listened to the tape and noted down the words that Cummings had extemporized, and which he later revised.

REM’s “Losing My Religion” grew out of a riff Peter Buck recorded while he was figuring out how to play the mandolin.

Buck said that “when I listened back to it the next day, there was a bunch of stuff that was really just me learning how to play mandolin, and then there’s what became ‘Losing My Religion’, and then a whole bunch more of me learning to play the mandolin.”

Kansas, Dust In the Wind.
Per wikipedia (and my memory of watching “Miracles Out of Nowhere”)

Kerry Livgren devised what would be the guitar line for “Dust in the Wind” as a finger exercise for learning fingerpicking. His wife, Vicci, heard what he was doing, remarked that the melody was nice, and encouraged him to write lyrics for it

I’ve seen several places that “Thunderstruck” from AC/DC arose from a finger picking practice that Angus Young did.

Rumble by Link Wray.

At a live gig in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in early 1958, attempting to work up a backing for The Diamonds’ “The Stroll”, Link Wray & His Ray Men came up with the instrumental “Rumble”, which they originally called “Oddball”. It was an instant hit with the live audience, which demanded four repeats that night.


Not exactly the same, but the theme to The Smothers Brothers Show (their controversial variety show, not the earlier sitcom) was inspired by a mistake someone made while playing the novelty song Cinderella Rockefella

There are plenty of “check one”'s in dance music (I think it comes from West Indian sound system culture?) Though arguable how many are actually sound checks:

Oh and also the classic intro to Poison by the Prodigy (NSFW lyrics, specifically “Someone on the phone for you man. Fck sake trying to write this fcking tune man”):

Ry Cooder has claimed that he was riffing in the studio and the Stone recorded it. Then they used the tape for several songs, including “Honky Tonk Woman.”

Here’s an interview where Joe Walsh describes “Life in the Fast Lane” starting as an exercise. Apparently he’s really good at exercising.

Yeah, also Brian Jones, Mick Taylor, Ronnie Wood and Billy Preston had enough influence on some of the Stones’ recordings to had have deserved credit (better credit than “Inspiration by Ron Wood/Billy Preston” ).