There are countless stories of musicians engaging in outrageous behavior on stage or in their private lives, like Ozzy Osbourne biting the head off a bat, or the Who throwing furniture out of their hotel windows. These sometimes drug-fueled acts we almost come to expect from rock music icons, and sometimes even envy. Can’t one dream about being able to demand all of one color of M&Ms being delivered and not be ignored and considered insane? Everyone wants to live out their immediate whims and fantasies, but that’s why we have laws and jail. Then there are the odd behaviors some of these artists used to actually create the music we love so much in the first place, to spark their creativity in and around the recording studio.
1. The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys could fill an entire list with all of the unorthodox methods Brian Wilson used while making hits. The man was a songwriting and melody machine, and at one point in the darker days of the musician’s life, the other Beach Boys would go and get a bag of cheeseburgers and feed Brian one at his piano every time he wrote a song. That’s one damn good ad premise for cheeseburgers and one very sad incentives structure for a musical genius.
One of the ways Brian tried to inspire great work was during the recording sessions for his ambitious concept album Smile, where he would incorporate themes from the music into actual physical forms. During the recording of the “Fire” section of the elements suite, Brian tried to capture the chaos, swarming ambulances, and hellish fire onto tape. To do this, maybe most musicians would simply tell everyone to think about an ambulance roar or flames or even just demand that your paid musicians play what you tell them to, but Brian went much further. He not only got firemen helmets for everyone in the studio, but he then lit an actual fire in a trashcan so that everyone could smell the smoke while they played. It would definitely be hard to question the man who just a year before produced Pet Sounds, and why would you want to? Besides getting some ash in your trumpet hole, it sounds pretty nice getting to wear a cool firemen’s helmet. It’s a good thing R. Kelly doesn’t use this technique of incorporating elements of his songs to inspire him in the studio because that would be incredibly gross, or pretty hot if you’re into that kind of stuff.
This shouldn’t be surprising from the band that thought it would be reasonable to move their entire studio to Holland and record there for a year so that they could maybe stop making horribly-selling records. (Spoiler alert: Holland was an awful album.) There are many other notable Brian Wilson creative practices, like when he put a sandbox around his home piano so he could play with his feet buried in sand, which didn’t last long because his pets decided to use it as a giant toilet. This seems like one of those ideas you have as a kid, and think when you grow up you’ll have a house with sand everywhere, trampoline floors, and a pool filled with Jell-O, and then you grow up and realize you forgot about all those cool things and that all the awesome ideas you had as a kid you haven’t followed up on. Then you get sad. Well, Brian Wilson did them, whether they worked out or not, and that’s very admirable.
2. The Beatles
The Beatles were obviously amazing in the studio with producer George Martin. They innovated the recording process and rock music in many ways. That’s all fine, but they also did some things more for fun in the studio. During the sessions for the orchestral part of “A Day in the Life” the Beatles hired 40 orchestral musicians to create the large swell of sound to end the epic piece. These are no nonsense and highly trained musicians and they came to work in fancy evening attire at the Beatles request. But the Beatles needed to loosen them up, and what better way than to make them wear party hats, clown noses, and fake plastic nipples? So the orchestra performed, going from the lowest notes to the highest notes in no specific time, wearing carnival novelties.
3. Brian Eno
Brian Eno is known as much for his music as his producing skills, and he also created a very interesting technique to help deal with writer’s block in the studio. His process was called oblique strategies and it is basically like tarot cards mixed with those sex dice you can get that give orders like “rub her back” or “let’s just watch TV instead.” Eno created a deck of cards that you would flip over whenever you were unsure what to do, and they would give you an instruction. Some examples of this were to “use an old idea” or “work at a different speed” and some more vague ideas like “ask your body,” which might just mean that maybe you’re hungry and need a snack break.
4. Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan is known for being pretty loose in the studio, and not really interested in getting things to sound perfect there, because he just has to make the song in that moment, and maybe it will find its perfect form live on stage somewhere. So Bob Dylan is lazy is what it really sounds like. As Bob Dylan set to work with studio musicians in Nashville on the then untitled “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” he got everyone in the studio high as he passed around weed throughout the room, and then had all of the musicians switch their instruments. Now, this somehow doesn’t seem lazy, it sounds like Bob actually systematically trying to make a bad song. “Hey, you. Expert organ player, go grab that guitar.” Yet Bob seemed to know what was going on or got pretty lucky because the song became a hit, reaching #2 on the billboard charts. If you dream high enough, kids, you can get paid to get high and play an instrument you don’t know how to play. What a world.
5. Phil Spector
Phil Spector is a maniac and infamous asshole currently in prison for allegedly shooting his wife, and as is expected, he brought that crazy with him into the studio on multiple occasions. He is known for threatening several notable musicians in the studio, and not by telling them he won’t come to one of their shows — he used guns. Phil has pulled a gun out to threaten Debbie Harry, the Ramones, and John Lennon. The man actually shot a gun off in the studio near a former Beatle, and held the Ramones hostage. This bozo’s guns and his “wall of sound” technique failed to make the albums great, so it can easily be said to not start a shootout to make a good record.