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The band OK Go is famous for pulling absurd stunts to create unforgettable music videos. Its breakout “Here It Goes Again” featured band members dancing in sync across running treadmills. “This Too Shall Pass” featured a warehouse-sized Rube Goldberg Machine. Then “Upside Down & Inside Out” was filmed on an airplane during the weightless portion of a dive.

OK Go truly outdid itself for a music video aired during the 2012 Super Bowl. In an ad sponsored by Chevrolet, the team drove a Sonic through a desert, using the car to strike a series of jury-rigged instruments set by the side of the track. When I first watched the video I thought, that’s cool, I wonder what they’ll do next? But it wasn’t until OK Go released a recent making-of video that I realized the enormity of the undertaking of Needing/Getting.

The band says the process began with “days” spent in a warehouse hitting different random items with other items. Once they had some idea what found “instruments” they wanted to use for each sound, they needed to map a track. How far do you spread out the instruments? That depends how fast the car is going.

OK Go driving a Chevrolet Sonic through the desert for the band's Needing/Getting music video.
Chevrolet Sonic | OK Go via YouTube

The song Needing/Getting has about 450 drum beats. And for every beat the car had to strike some object or another. Then there’s harmonizing. The result was 1,000 separate instruments spread along a 1.5-mile track. But to “play” the song with the car, the musicians had to drive at precise speeds, while all doing various tasks. The lead singer even went to stunt driving school.

How do you “play a piano with a car? You tune two octaves of the keys to a single note, stand the piano up on end, build a special spring-loaded arm, then race by the instrument and try to “whack” it without crashing. The guitars were much the same, each tuned to a different note then hung from a fence. If you can hit hundreds of these in a single take, you have something that sounds like a song.

One of the secrets to the song’s success was a series of different arms attached to the car’s body with hydraulics. Some were small arms for more delicate instruments (such as the xylophone roadway at the song’s opening). Others were bigger, heavier arms (to, say, strike huge salad bowls hung overhead). Other band members pulled levers inside the car to swap arms while Damian drove.

This multi-arm approach allowed the car to “play” the huge variety of instruments that gave the song its sound. That’s how OK Go ended up with 55 pianos, 288 guitars, and 1,157 other random objects spread across the desert.

Some parts of the song have one instrument you can hear, others have harmonies. So the band settled on several different speeds. The chorus required an exact speed of 34 mph. Other segments were 44 mph, 16.5 mph, etc. And they even decided to drive backwards while singing so they could re-use track segments. As if the entire thing wasn’t complicated enough.

Damian, the lead singer, took three days of stunt driving lessons so he could handle racing the car around the Mojave Desert at precise speeds. Even so, the team did blow up one engine during filming. Luckily, Chevy was very accommodating. Not only did the automaker fix the blown engine, but it actually sent engineers to set up the car. They are the ones who designed the multi-arm hydraulic system.

The final beat of the song comes from Damian skidding the car sideways through a plate of glass. The team only brought two plates, and while setting up they accidentally broke one. What’s wild is they couldn’t run over the final day of filming. Band member Andy was leaving for his honeymoon at 4:30 pm, so getting the shot wasn’t optional. But in the words of OK Go, “We love an all-or-nothing situation.”

And in the end, they “got” the shot they “needed” for the Needing/Getting music video.

Next, find out how James Bond ‘No pulled off an impossible helicopter stunt or, watch the entire Needing/Wanting video below: