Memorable ad libs

As it was foolishly foretold, even though I now realise that I cannot think of nearly as many examples as I’d like, I’m obliged to go on with the next topic regardless: memorable ad libs.

Synonymous with improvisation, the ad lib comes from the Latin ad libitum, meaning “at will” or “at (one’s) pleasure”. For the purpose of this and in the interest of discussion, I take it to mean any additional word, words or amusing sound freely and merrily included in a song; usually one made spontaneously without preparation or forethought (thinking, presumably, of John Lennon’s theatrics at the close of ‘Cold Turkey’), but so often remembered and recreated eagerly with impeccable timing (such as Roy Orbison’s growl on ‘Pretty Woman’).

I thought of Ray Charles and ‘Hit the Road, Jack’. I thought of Michael Jackson and the wide assortment of unique sounds he made throughout his career both on stage and record, many of them difficult to impersonate and others almost indecipherable. I can’t help but feel that the rather lame “Make that change” which closes one of his finest songs, ‘Man In the Mirror’, whether spontaneous or not, is unfortunately all too clear. Still, when in the mood for it, I dutifully include every sniff, snort and sharp intake of breath when singing along to his tunes, as any good fan surely should, particularly when driving alone in the car where nobody else can hear. (Well, don’t you? Be honest.)

I remembered Jerry Lee Lewis, who, like Bob Dylan, rarely sings any song exactly the same way twice. Unlike Bob Dylan however, he has at times ad-libbed the most controversial and borderline offensive, yet often very witty, remarks. Frank Sinatra, as touched upon in the previous post and likely many posts before it, has been given many a moniker during a long career, but he truly was a master of the ad lib. Just watch him at the Royal Festival Hall in ’71.

Yet my first thoughts were of the Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘All You Need is Love’, specifically the timed-to-perfection recreation of the latter by Oasis, obviously borne out of tremendous respect for the original – ‘She Loves You’ and all.

Aside from the obvious (dare I say unimaginative and sometimes a bit desperate?) references to the visiting town or city, such as Leonard Cohen’s on one of, if not all, his recent live presentations of ‘Hallelujah’ (“I didn’t come all the way to [insert venue] just to fool you”) and, from experience of attending concerts across Wales, the oh-so predictable and now very tiresome compliments paid to the Welsh stereotype for its sublime singing capabilities (not always ably demonstrated when put on the spot by a big-name star, it has to be said), do also consider those charming snippets of studio jest captured by ever-faithful recording equipment and forever retained for others’ amusement, such as on the Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews duet, ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ (“It’s bloody freezing, innit?”).

So, with no further ado (because it’s been quite long already, sorry about that), let’s have some more of those memorable vocal ad libs, please. And do reveal whether or not you include them when singing along to your favourites.

Best musical ad libs welcome, too. I recall, for example, David including a portion of ‘La Marseillaise’ at concerts in France when touring The Division Bell.

Lastly, the chatroom will be open tomorrow from 12pm (UK), should you have nothing better to do for two hours.

Author: FEd

Features Editor of David Gilmour’s official blog, The Blog (‘Features’ previously being its rather naff title), affectionately – or lazily – shortened to ‘FEd’.

41 thoughts on “Memorable ad libs”

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  2. My favourite ad lib in recent years was the one Leonard Cohen did when he sang ‘The Future’ in concert.

    I’ll never think of being “careless” in the same way again.

    1. Speaking of Leonard Cohen in concert, I’m reminded of that planned pause for applause, during ‘Tower of Song’, after the following line:

      “I was born with the gift of a golden voice.”

    2. The one at the end of that song is brilliant too:

      “Do you want to hear the answer? Are you truly hungry for the answer? Then you’re just the people I want to tell it to because it’s a rare thing to come upon, this. I’m going to tell it to you now… The answer to the mysteries…”

  3. Not sure whether the first two are definitely ad libs, so you can be the judge!

    -Warren Zevon – Werewolves of London (“Draw blood” and other noises!)
    -James Taylor & Carly Simon – Mockingbird (James Taylor seems to drift into a broad New York accent!)

    Listen to George Martin’s “In My Life” album because almost every song has some sort of ad lib (Jim Carrey on I am the Walrus, Robin Williams on Come Together).

    Oh, and Kula Shaker, right at the end of Smart Dogs.

    If I must tell you, I do tend to add all words and sounds when singing along to a song!

  4. “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the Scottish way…” comes to mind – when any tribute acts to a certain band play up here in Aberdeen! 😉

    When I saw Ray Davies last year, he did the last verse of “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” in the “style of Johnny Cash”… It was very funny! And I hear through the grapevine that while playing down south, it was played in the style of The Wurzels! 😀

    I still sing the song in the style of Mr. Cash… it works, somehow!

    My favourite live ad-libbers are Crowded House – they always seem to play for the moment at hand, whether it be charming a Glaswegian audience with compliments on their national drink, to holding impromtu competitions on stage.

    A personal highlight for me was at last year’s Hard Rock Calling festival – as England were admitting defeat, lead singer Neil Finn kept singing “And we know…”, and letting the crowd sing “…they wont win!”

    I’m not sure which side were the “they” he was referring to mind you, but funny nonetheless!!

  5. A tough topic F’ed.

    My blank mind is turning to live recordings which seem to me a most likely source and one that springs to mind is Paul McCartney on his “Back In the World” album where he forgets the words to “Carry That Weight” and says he can’t be bothered to learn them before the end of the tour.

    We also have Jimi Hendrix’s preference for inserting “kiss that guy” into Purple Haze at any excuse.

    Thinking of Hendrix, there is also the legendary ad-lib on the Lulu show of cutting short Hey Joe and playing Sunshine Of Your Love in tribute to the Cream who had announced their break-up. Can’t see that happening on prime-time TV these days.

    And maybe Roger’s tirade at the famously disinterested fans at THAT show on the Animals tour. The encore was also an ad-lib of sorts – 12 bar blues with Snowy White deputising while our David sat at the mixing desk (or so I believe).

    Ian Gillan throws in a chortle or two on Made in Japan (tired bloggers will find I often manage to get a reference in to this album) and although it’s something of a drill indulges in vocal sparring in imitation of Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar. There’s also a mighty long intro to Lucille while Blackmore retunes his mangled Strat.

    Indeed if acts of petulance can be regarded as ad-libbing Blackmore was notoriously moody and (as captured on Live in Europe) refuses to play when he notices cameras on stage and leaves Jon Lord to do all the work – rather disappointing on the big opening number!

  6. Oh, while reading this post, I just thought of Pink Floyd and the Marseillaise thing and was rather proud to mention it, till I realised it was your last example! So of course, I am angry at you! I can just add that David played the first few notes of our national anthem at the beginning of ‘Run Like Hell’ in Strasbourg at Stade de la Meinau in September 1994, which is probably of no interest to anyone. 😉

    But thanks for always being educational. I learned new English expressions today : ‘ad lib’ and ‘with no further ado’ . Still don’t understand ‘has been given many a moniker’. :!

  7. Cab Calloway — the jazz standard call-and-response that goes “Hidey Hidey Hidey-O, Odey Odey Odey-O, Eedy Eedy Eedy-O” Legend there is that he forgot the words during a concert one night and made that up, the audience spontaneously started calling it back to him.

    Miles Davis’ 1959 classic album “Kind Of Blue” was almost entirely improvised. Wouldn’t change a note.

    The Beatles “I Am The Walrus” features a radio broadcast of Shakespeare’s King Lear because, when they were at the mixing board, it happened to be on the radio and Lennon liked the way it sounded there, so they mixed it in.

    The flute solo in “California Dreamin'” was improvised. There was gonna be a guitar solo there, but John Philips happened upon this flute player there in the studio and invited him to do the solo.

    Floyd were not above an occasional ad-lib either. “Seamus.”

    1. Re: “Hidey Hidey Hidey-O…”

      That reminds me, Dan; the name of the cartoon character, Scooby-Doo, is alleged to have come from Sinatra’s ‘Strangers In the Night’ – specifically the scat-style ad-libbed refrain of “Dooby-dooby-doo.” Talk about a moment of inspiration.

      I think we’ll have to include a post for funny noises in song one of these days…

  8. I loved the ad lib of Shine On when the band played with glasses during the intro. Surreal.

    How about the stunned band during On The Turning Away. I guess Richard and David got a kick out of that faux pas.

  9. Tom Petty and the Heatbreakers with “Breakdown” live. He has the tendency to let the audience sing entire verses TO HIM and he adds an ad lib tantrum in there also. I must say it is a good time!

  10. One of the finest bit of ad libbing that I remember involved The Soft Machine.

    They were due to play a session for the BBC and, as the story goes, the lyrics to ‘Moon in June’ were partly re written by Robert Wyatt as he sat in the corridor just prior to doing their set.

    There is certainly a version of this session, complete with altered lyrics, available on CD. And, assuming the above story is true, it really is quite brilliant the way the lyrics were changed to make reference to playing at the BBC, the length of time they were given to play, etc.

  11. Off topic, just found your blog and have to say, I’ve decided the song I want played at my funeral is “Comfortably Numb” from the “Delicate Sound of Thunder” album. The entire song, and especially the ending that goes on and on until it utterly fulfils, is what I want people to be left with of me.

    David, I’m your age, your music speaks to my soul and always has. It’s what it is to be a human in this world. Can’t thank you enough for being on the planet at the same time, singing life with your guitar.

  12. A difficult topic. Here is what came to my mind.

    – The Beatles, “Get Back”. I especially like the final “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition”, but I’m not sure it can be actually considered an ad lib, since I’ve just read in Wikipedia that it originally featured in another version of the song (the rooftop concert).

    – Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil”, which starts with that typical Jagger’s screaming.

    – Guns N’ Roses, “Pretty Tied Up”. The (funny, in my opinion) voice that says “The Perils of Rock n Roll Decadence”, which is the subtitle of the song and, in general, all Axl’s strange screams and sounds.

    Speaking about Guns N’ Roses, there would be also the “Civil War” final sentence, “What’s so civil about war anyway?”, even though I ignore if it was spontaneous or not.

  13. Feel quite out of my depth here but have to give it a stab.

    Jimi’s improv/musical ad lib of The Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock is for me, hands-down the most memorable. Sociologists and the lay person will debate the merits of that performace ad nauseum and there’ll never be a definitive view.

    After Jane S. Piddy, the last track on the Cold Fact album by Rodriguez, during the recording session he ad-libbed:

    “Thanks for your time
    And you can thank me for mine
    And after that’s said
    Forget it
    Bag it, man

    The spoken words came in several seconds after Jane. S. Piddy ended and what a surprise to most of us who were too lazy (or off on some destination) to change the LP on the cheap turntable.

    Ry Cooder’s cover of Look at Granny Run Run is filled with a handful of grunts and croaks – both instrumental and vocal [should’ve been used in a commercial for a specific pharmaceutical!].

    One of my favourites is the laughter on Rare Earth’s Smiling Faces Sometimes (the version that appears on the Ma album).

    Gosh, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s live performances of Free Bird; Yngwie Malmsteeen’s instrumental ad libs come to mind but I’m shy on specifics… am going to do some homework (since I didn’t revisit the intro from last week where FEd specifically stated that ad libs were to be the next topic).

    And yes, I sing along to and animate all I hear … everywhere it’s polite to do so — even if only in my head.

    1. And yes, I sing along to and animate all I hear … everywhere it’s polite to do so — even if only in my head.

      You’re making me feel less crazy. Thanks for that. 😉

  14. Not quite sure if they count as ad libs, but maybe:

    – The Beatles, ‘Get Back’ – Their last performance on top of a roof, McCartney mocking the police – here.

    – Pearl Jam, ‘Daughter’ (Lollapalooza 2007) – The following lyrics were sung to the tune of ‘Another Brick in the Wall’: “George Bush, leave this world alone.” and “George Bush find yourself another home.” 😉 – here.

    – David (with Pink Floyd), wishing a Happy Birthday to Rick (in French) at the end of ‘Learning To Fly’ at Stadium du Nord, Villeneuve d’Ascq, on 28 July 1988.

  15. How about Clare Torry’s part in Great Gig In the Sky and, of course, any other lady singers who have done similar with the song since?

    I thought it might count as ad libbed because I remembered the band saying about it that they wanted something, told her to do something and they were gob smacked by what she did.


    1. Not doing well with this one, can’t think of any. :!

      Maybe the Stones’ Love in Vain from the Paradiso, Amsterdam show. They released it on a live album called Stripped. Keith fluffed his guitar work and they had to start again. He wittered on about, “hating when that happened” and something about an “archipelago” . Others will have to tell me which musical term he was trying to say, someone else in the band says, “Arthur who?”

  16. Oh, and there’s:

    – Little Feat’s track “Down on the Farm” where the croaking frog is told to ‘shut up’
    – Ringo Starr belting out “I’ve got blisters on my fingers” on “Helter Skelter”
    – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ antics on “I Put A Spell On You”
    – Eartha Kitt’s purring on “Just An Old Fashioned Girl” from her Platinum & Gold Collection
    – The cough on the track “Angeline” by Faithless (off the Reverence album)

    Just had a hearty chuckle remembering the song “Je t’aime…” — it was banned where I grew up (kind of reminds me of the Priest ringing his bell in ‘Cinema Paradiso’). Having lots of ex-pats bringing amazing music to our shores, somehow this ‘salacious’ little number with lots of ad-libbing made its way to my ears. Didn’t have the foggiest back then. :v

  17. Does Ashlee Simpson’s ad libbed jig when they queued up the wrong song to lip sync on Saturday Night Live count? It may not have been a great moment, but it was certainly memorable.

  18. One of my favorites is a live version of Hendrix doing “Like a Rolling Stone”, as he mentions “that he’d like to play a song by Bob Dylan, yea, that’s his grandmother sitting over there… ahh, now let me play my guitar a bit” and later on when he forgets some of the lyrics, he spouts “Yea, that’s right, I missed the words, you don’t have to remind me.”

    Or who could forget his version of “Wild Thing”? Where he injects Mitch Mitchell into the lyrics? “Ahhh, he didn’t know, uhhh, she was cumming.” Awesome front man!

  19. Of course Jimi Hendrix.

    Lulu show 1969 – told to play Hey Joe and suddenly burst into Sunshine Of Your Love.

  20. Firstly how are we all? Hope all are well and… Happy Days.

    I was watching Gdansk earlier, specifically Echoes. It’s a shame David wont play this again. He’s actually not bad at it. Only bit I would change would be the start. Apart from that, quite orgasmic.

    One question Federico, on the home page there is a video of This Heaven. This is the second of such videos. However I recall there being quite a few videos of such. When will this get updated?

    Finally, let’s all hope Swansea win tomorrow, and England lose in rugby.

    Shane to score first…?

    Much love, Happy Days,
    Simon J

    1. One question Federico, on the home page there is a video of This Heaven. This is the second of such videos. However I recall there being quite a few videos of such. When will this get updated?

      Pass, but a very good win for Swansea if not for France.

  21. Hi all, my first time on here so please be gentle with me, most of the ad libs I could think of have already been posted in one form or another but here’s a couple not already mentioned, please forgive any expletives. 😮

    Talking of Jimi, what about the many ad libs in his version of Gloria, the one that springs to mind is when he says “Noel Redding’s also got a girl named Gloria, even though she did look like home made sin and her breath smelled like whooped pussy.”

    Bon Scott at the end of Night Prowler, says “Shazbut Nanoo nanoo” from Mork and Mindy.

    Not really an ad lib but it amused me at the time, back in the days of vinyl on the run off track (that bit at the end of the LP that made the arm return) there was often a serial number stamped in the vinyl, for my sins at uni in the mid 80s I was into the indy scene especially The Chameleons their second album “What Does Anything Mean Basically” on the run off track on side A it said “What Does Anything Mean” and on the B side “You Bastard”.

    Finally definitely an ad lib but certainly not famous, the singer in my old blues band used to get so drunk he couldn’t remember the words to his own songs. One that I do remember is this line: “I’m going down to the rooftop (insert riff) up to the sweetshop” – he doesn’t even remember being there! Happy days.

    Hi David, hope you do read this. I have seen you on every tour in England since 1980, hope to see you again soon.

    R.I.P Syd and Rick, great blog BTW FEd.


  22. What about the Bowie-Jagger version of “Dancing in the Street”? I casually heard it this morning and I think there might be some ad libs in it, for example at the beginning, or when Mick Jagger sings “Back in the U.S.S.R. / No matter where you are”. I’m not sure they are actually ad libs, though.

    I also heard about Italy v Wales, yesterday. Did you enjoy the victory, FEd? :/

    Only joking. 😉

  23. At a U2 concert in Glasgow a few years ago, Bono asked the audience for total quiet, started to clap his hands, then said into the microphone: “Every time I clap my hands, a child in Africa dies.” From the front of the crowd a voice pierced the silence: “Well, f*cking stop doing it then, ya evil bastard!” 😉

  24. FEd,

    simply EVERY adlib used in “Shine On” in every version all over the world by PF or during the solo versions.

    But “Shine On” is (with “Echoes”) MY PREFERRED AND BELOVED TRACK, so…

    Many kisses (back to Italy),

  25. You’re In My Heart by Rod Stewart contains the term, “ad lib”:

    “The big bosomed lady with the Dutch accent
    Who tried to change my point of view
    Her ad-lib lines were well rehearsed
    But my heart cried out for you
    You’re in my heart, you’re in my soul”

    I know it’s not what you asked for Fed but very often you ask us for a song with the word “—–” in it.

    Innit… ghastly word, innit? :))


  26. Some Pink Floyd Ad Libs…

    Playing “Run Like Hell” in South America during a torrential downpour, the backing singers sang “Rain Like Hell”.

    Rehearsing for the U.S. leg of one of the later PF tours, DG sang “Shine on you crazy b*stard”.


  27. Hi Fed and all.

    It is a long time ago and I’m not sure if he was ad libbing but at the Wall concert in Earls Court I remember Roger banging on about life and how fast life flies by. Well, that was 30 years ago. It does Roger, don’t it?


  28. I hope to hear more ad libs from you. I read it and it was kind of refreshing, learning something new. Thanks for sharing.

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