Hitmakers: The songwriting secrets of The Killers' Mr Brightside

Hitmakers: The songwriting secrets of The Killers' Mr Brightside

The Killers’ Mr Brightside has been named as the most streamed song on Spotify in the UK in the 15-year history of the streaming platform.

Back in 2019, guitarist Dave Keuning spoke to Music Week about the making of the Las Vegas rockers’ beloved indie anthem...

I wrote Mr Brightside in my closet. I had my amp set up in there – it was fairly soundproofed with all my clothes – and I had my Big Muff guitar pedal on.

I was exploring different chord voicings and shapes and was playing this one voicing over and over again. I decided to change the bass note and move it around in different directions – up, down, sideways, diagonal – and then into the pre-chorus.

I remember playing the riff and thinking, ‘This is a really good intro, it sounds like the beginning to a story’ and I made a demo because it just felt good. It was four tracks of guitars, including the main guitar part, and that was enough for Brandon [Flowers, Killers frontman] to sing over it and come up with his own ideas.

I had [the demo] for about three months before I met Brandon. I’d placed an advert in the Las Vegas Weekly [newspaper] saying, ‘Looking to start or join a band’ and named a few influences like Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins and Beck. We don’t sound anything like Beck, but I specifically included him because of the variety of his music. I wanted someone like that who I could play different styles with, and I like Beck, too.

Oasis caught Brandon’s eye. We both liked Oasis, ’80s music, New Order, The Cure and U2, and that was our common ground. There wasn’t a ton of other musicians to pick from that were even close to that in Vegas, there were a lot of metal guys and stuff.

I love playing Mr Brightside live, the crowd erupts every time we start playing the riff

Dave Keuning

When we first met I said, ‘Here’s a tape with a few of my song ideas on it’. He came back the next day or maybe the next practice and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got some lyrics to your song’ and they are still the lyrics to this day.

We put the arrangement together at that second practice and I was like, ‘Wow, that chorus was fun!’ I wanted to play it again just so I could hear it. There is a real energy to it that still resonates today.

Mr Brightside is the only [Killers] song where the verse lyrics repeat themselves, which is interesting. That might be why it’s so catchy – everyone knows those lyrics because you get to say them twice and they are pretty anthemic. I don’t remember if we wrote [the outro] that day or shortly after, but it was within a month. It’s not a chorus, but it’s just as good – it’s a different kind of chorus.

I knew it was good right away. The only thing I didn’t know was if we’d get our chance because there are a lot of great bands out there that don’t. But I believed that if we could get a record deal we would get our shot to show it to the world – and we did.

I love playing Mr Brightside live, the crowd erupts every time we start playing the riff – at least since 2004 – but it was pretty big in the early days too. Obviously people didn’t know it, but they would comment that they liked it and we had an early demo version that was downloaded from a website quite a bit, so it was well-liked from the get-go.

It’s a great song. The chorus is timeless and I’m proud that it has lasted so long. Some songs don’t survive the test of time and there are others you never get sick of. And apparently Mr Brightside is one that people never get sick of, because it’s been around this long.

Writer’s Notes

Publisher Universal Music Publishing Group
Writers Brandon Flowers, Dave Keuning, Mark Stoermer, Ronnie Vannucci Jr
Release Date 29.09.03
Record label Vertigo
Total UK sales (OCC) 5,146,333 

Photo: Anton Corbijn

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