Songs About Songs
By Madeline Bocaro
© Madeline Bocaro, 2020. No part of this site may be reproduced or reblogged in whole or in part in any manner without permission of the copyright owner.
Some songwriters feel the need to write about music.
After all, music is their passion!
‘Roll Over Beethoven’ is a song in praise of its own format. The lyrics, ‘Dig to these Rhythm & Blues’ instruct classical composers Beethoven and Tchaikovsky to roll over in their graves because Rock N’ Roll is here to stay – and their music is old news! ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ was originally by Chuck Berry and released on Chess Records in 1956. The singer promotes his own record by writing letters to the local DJ. It has been covered by countless others, most famously by The Beatles on their 1963 album With the Beatles and a later fantastic version by ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) which features strings playing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony at the intro before it rocks out!
Listen– Chuck Berry 1956: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOrMg3pY7hw
Listen – The Beatles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hz5jXwOXgKQ
Listen – ELO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxXl4oS9wss
‘Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)’ is a classic doo-wop hit released in 1961 by Barry Mann backed by The Halos. The co-writers are Gerry Gofffin and Barry Mann. The singer is on a quest to find and congratulate the guy who put the nonsense words into some hits of the day, including ‘Rama-Lama-Ding-Dong’ by The Edsels and ‘Blue Moon’ by The Marcels. They should also investigate Manfred Mann’s ‘Doo wah Diddy’ and the nonsense words in Little Richard’s lyrics!
(Actually, there is some sense behind the gibberish in ‘Tutti Fruitty’. On the BBC’s Southbank Show in 1985, Little Richard said that he was replicating a drum rhythm when he sang, ‘Wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom!’)
Who was that man? / I’d like to shake his hand
He made my baby fall in love with me
When my baby heard
Bomp bah bah bomp
Bah bomp bah bomp bah
Every word went right into her heart…
‘The Same Old Song’ was written by Holland-Dozier-Holland. This was a huge Motown hit for The Four Tops in 1965. The song was allegedly written, recorded and released in 24 hours. This was one of John Lennon’s all-time favorite songs. In 1971, John would do the same thing with his rush-released single ‘Instant Karma’. The ad for Lennon’s single reads, “Ritten, Recorded, Remixed 27th Jan. 1970”.
‘A Lover’s Concerto’ was a big hit by The Toys in 1965. The tune is based on a minuet by Bach and the lyrics sing the music of nature.
How gentle is the rain
That falls softly on the meadow,
Birds high up in the trees
Serenade the flowers with their melodies
‘The Sound of Music’ is from the blockbuster movie of the same name with a Rodgers and Hammerstein score. The 1965 film stars Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp. Andrews sings the title song as she ecstatically spins in circles on a hilltop, exclaiming ‘The hills are alive with the sound of music’…. Patti Page recorded the song, released just prior to the Broadway musical in 1959 which starred Mary Martin as Maria.
Listen – Patti Page: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8Uqj7SA-V8
Watch – Julie Andrews: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fH2FOn1V5g
I prefer the rockier version of another song from The Sound of Music, ‘Do-Re-Mi’ by Sparks on their second album A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing (1973).
Listen: Sparks – Album version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLK-b9zBXtY&list=RDTLK-b9zBXtY&start_radio=1
Watch: Sparks – Live on German TV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RtNgDnD9kk
Watch: Julie Andrews: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drnBMAEA3AM
The Ronettes sang ‘I Can Hear Music’ on their 1966 single. It was written by the team of Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector. It was covered by The Beach Boys in 1969.
‘Little Bit O’ Soul’ was originally released in 1965 by The Little Darlings. The hit record we all know and love was by The Music Explosion in 1967. The guitar lines are based on Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’. My favorite cover version is by The Ramones on their 1983 album Subterranean Jungle.
Listen – The Music Explosion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgGjvZcNpKs
Listen: The Ramones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNOfFaTokUQ
‘So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ by The Byrds (written by Jim McGuinn / Chris Hillman) is on their 1967 album Younger Than Yesterday. The lyrics mock bands like The Monkees who were assembled according their looks and personalities – before they learned to actually play their instruments. Patti Smith’s wonderful version on her 1978 album Wave rocks much harder.
Listen – The Byrds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMoop0rn780
Listen – Patti Smith: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P90gHagiMvc
The Mamas and the Papas recorded the Rodgers and Hart song ‘Sing For Your Supper’ in 1967 on their album The Mamas and the Papas Deliver. The song was originally from the 1938 Broadway hit musical The Boys From Syracuse. There are several double-entendres in the gay lyricist’s words here, insinuating that singing is not the only thing a ‘songbird’ must do in order to be wined and dined by a man, especially the line about the swallow swallowing.
Sing for your supper, and you’ll get breakfast
Songbirds always eat
If their song is sweet to hear
Sing for your luncheon, and you’ll get dinner
Dine with wine of choice
If romance is in your voice
I heard from a wise canary
Trilling makes a fellow willing
So, little swallow, swallow now
Now is the time to
Sing for your supper and you’ll get breakfast
Songbirds are not dumb
They don’t buy a crumb of bread it’s said
So sing and you’ll be fed
I heard from a wise canary
Trilling makes a fellow willing
So, little swallow, swallow now
‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ is a gorgeous psychedelic tune sung by Donovan with his reverberating vocals drenched in echo. This was a hit single for him in 1968, from his album of the same name. Donovan wrote the song in India while studying Transcendental Meditation with The Beatles.
Unenlightened shadows cast
Down through all eternity
The crying of humanity
‘Tis then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man Comes singing songs of love
Then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man Comes singing songs of love
‘Different Drum’ was written by Michael Nesmith of The Monkees. This is ironic because at first, The Monkees were a manufactured group who had a team of writers. Nesmith wrote this in 1965 but the hit was made in 1967 by the group The Stone Poneys featuring Linda Ronstadt on vocals. I think Linda sounds exactly like Mama Cass on this song.
‘Sing a Simple Song‘ was the b-side of the 1968 single ‘Everyday People’ from the great and funky Sly & The Family Stone. The lyrics illustrate that a song is the remedy to all the world’s problems.
Read my Sly Stone story: When Sly was Fly
‘What Have They Done To My Song Ma’ is on Melanie Safka’s 1970 album Candles in the Rain. It’s a mixture of styles; old-fashioned German ooom-pah, honky-tonk piano and French chanson. It may be a commentary about the recording industry’s molding and restrictions of an artist in order to make hits. It has been covered by many artists, including Nina Simone, The New Seekers and Miley Cyrus.
See my story about another fabulous Melanie song:
The Aretha Franklin hit ‘Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)’ was written by Ahmet Ertegun (President of Atlantic Records) and Betty Nelson who was Ben E. King’s wife. King had recorded the song first. (He also had a hit with Lieber/Spector’s tune ‘Spanish Harlem’ – written about Phil Spector’s wife, Ronnie of the Ronettes who grew up in Harlem). Aretha’s version released in 1970 hit No. 1 in America. This is a wonderful song – about a song that brings back painful memories.
Leon Russell composed, played all the instruments and recorded ‘A Song For You’ for his debut album in 1970. It has been covered extensively by many – including Cher, Willie Nelson, Whitney Houston, Ray Charles and Amy Winehouse.
‘Your Song’ by Elton John / Bernie Taupin in 1970 is on Elton’s second album. It was first a b-side which became more popular than the single ‘Take Me to the Pilot’. Earlier in 1970, the song had been recorded and released by Three Dog Night on their album It Ain’t Easy. Elton John had been their opening act at the time.
Watch – Elton John: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrznwpD-2tk
‘An Old-Fashioned Love Song’ was another song about a song from Three Dog Night – on their album Harmony in 1971. It was composed by Paul Williams and rejected by The Carpenters.
Listen – Three Dog Night: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HT4kcC8FSw
‘Can You Hear the Music’ is a gorgeous track on the Rolling Stones’ album Goat’s Head Soup which just got a nice remastering in 2020. This song is magical with its Indian ambiance at the start and middle eight.
‘It’s Only Rock N’ Roll’ ’ on the album of the same name is the Stones’ song about itself. I love the video with the band drowning in soap bubbles!
‘Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)’ was a hit for The New Seekers in 1971. The tune was originally written to sell Coca-Cola with the lyrics ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke…’ This was the famous Coke television commercial with a slowly gathering chorus of multi-racial young people ascending a hilltop. The singing group was actually called The Hillside Singers.
‘I am Your Singer’ is on Wild Life (1971) the first album by Paul McCartney’s Wings. It’s sung by Paul and Linda. I am not going to include McCartney’s ‘Silly Love Songs’ because it’s just stupid.
‘Song Sung Blue’ was a hit, written and recorded by Neil Diamond in 1972, based on a Mozart piano concerto. It first appeared on Diamond’s album Moods. It’s about how singing the blues can eventually make you happy.
Funny thing, but you can sing it with a cry in your voice
And before you know, it get to feeling good
You simply got no choice
Me and you are subject to the blues now and then
But when you take the blues and make a song
You sing them out again
The super funky ‘Anti Love Song’ by Betty Davis (then married to Miles Davis) was released on her debut album in 1973, with Santana’s Neal Schon on guitar, Sly’s drummer Greg Errico and Larry Graham on bass amongst other notable players. The ferocious Betty later dated Eric Clapton and Robert Palmer.
Watch the trailer for a great documentary about Betty, made in 2017:
‘God Gave Rock and Roll to You’ was a rock anthem written by Russ Ballard and performed by his band Argent – a hit for them in 1973. It was also recorded by KISS in 1991 with different lyrics. Sadly, the epic organ/guitar intro was hardly ever played on the radio.
Watch: Live on Old Grey Whistle Test: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsG5V-o6uxY
‘I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)’ was a big hit single for The Moody Blues in 1973 (from their 1972 album Seventh Sojourn). The song features a Chamberlin replicating a saxophone.
‘Killing Me Softly with His Song’ was a Grammy winning No. 1 song performed by Roberta Flack in 1973 on her album Killing Me Softly.
The song’s lyricist Lori Lieberman released her own version in 1972. The lyrics (strumming my pain with his fingers, singing my life with his words, killing me softly with his song…) were inspired when Lieberman attended a performance by ‘American Pie’ singer Don McLean. The song was famously recorded by The Fugees in 1997 with a cool trip-hop beat and featuring a sitar.
Listen – Roberta Flack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEbi_YjpA-Y
Listen – Lori Lieberman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGlGJp3IarQ
Watch: Lori Lieberman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e15EoYeo9ms
Interview with Lori Lieberman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9iAbZU5ewo
Listen – The Fugees: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-RBJNqdnoM
‘The Song Remains the Same’ is on the Led Zeppelin album Houses of the Holy released in 1973. The lyrics illustrate that no matter where you are, music is the same for everyone.
The album art was created by Aubrey Powell, inspired by Sci-Fi writer Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End. (Clarke was later found to be a pedophile.) Two naked young children were used for the photo shoot with their images multiplied. Their names were Stefan and Samantha Gates. The open gatefold sleeve pictured one child raised up in a sacrificial ritual.
Sweet Calcutta rain
The song remains the same
Ooh, ooh, oh, oh
‘Sing’ by The Carpenters was a big hit in . If this wasn’t syrupy enough, it also features a chorus of children. This is because it was originally written for the kids’ TV show Sesame Street in 1971 as a singalong with the show’s popular puppet troupe, The Muppets! The composer Joe Raposo was a staff writer on the show. Barbara Streisand recorded the song in 1972, but The Carpenters’ 1974 version is the most popular as the first single from their 1973 album Now and Then.
‘I Love Rock N’ Roll’ was originally by the British band Arrows (famous for their UK television show) in 1975 R.I.P. singer/bassist Alan Merrill – March 2020. Joan Jett had a smash hit with the song – sung about an octave higher – in 1982.
Watch – Arrows: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UETTaHaAnaQ
Watch: Joan Jett: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMsazR6Tnf8
‘Rock N’ Roll Love Letter’ was an unsuccessful second single from Tim Moore’s album Behind the Eyes. (Moore played drums in the band featuring Todd Rundgren’s first appearance, Woody’s Truck Stop. He was a protégé of Frank Zappa, and a songwriter alongside Daryl Hall in the era of Philadelphia Soul). A version by Scottish band The Bay City Rollers became a hit in 1976. There were several more cover versions. My favorite is by The Records in 1979. The British pop band had a hit with the jangly tune, ‘Starry Eyes’. They were Rachel Sweet’s backing band on her 1978 tour.
Tim Moore: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGfMzzTSC1c
The Records: https://youtu.be/ybnk2NNG45w
Bay City Rollers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJMYWengCNo&feature=youtu.be
Dirty Angels recorded the first cover in 1975 https://youtu.be/QNnCP4XAvhs
Another cover by The Scratch Band, 1978 – https://youtu.be/mbGwXqF4HSM
‘This Song’ is on George Harrison’s album Thirty Three & 1/3 released in 1976. The former Beatle had been famously sued for adapting the tune of ‘He’s So Fine’ by the Chiffons for his song ‘My Sweet Lord’ and lost the case. George wrote ‘This Song’ as a parody of plagiarism law suits.
‘Thank You For the Music’ is by the otherworldly ABBA for The Album in 1977. This was released in 1977 at the height of Disco and Punk Rock. ABBA were definitely in their own world. It was later released as a single in 1983.
Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing
Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing
Who can live without it? I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance, what are we?
So I say thank you for the music
For giving it to me
Watch – Official video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dcbw4IEY5w
In 1979, Sparks released their album No. 1 In Heaven, produced by Donna Summer’s producer Giorgio Moroder. It was perhaps the first synth-pop album ever made. The sounds were all synthesized, but a live drummer was retained. This included the single ‘The No.1 Song in Heaven’. Sparks again recorded the song in 1997 with vocals by Jimmy Somerville, orchestrated by Tony Visconti. I have always loved the lines:
This is the No. 1 song in heaven
Why are you hearing it now, you ask
Maybe you’re closer to here than you imagined
Maybe you’re closer to here than you care to be
Watch – 1979 promo video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6I6yr7WDeg
Watch – 1997 Single version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ro5iI-RhKxM
See my review of the 1997 single re-make
My story all about the Sparks album No.1 in Heaven
‘Pop Muzik’ was a hit single in 1979. The composer was a British guy named Robin Scott who called himself M. His boyfriend sang the vocal.
Listen to the countdown
They’re playing our song again
I can’t get jumping jack
I wanna hold get back
Nick nack paddy wack
The Clash included the reggae track ‘Revolution Rock’ (written by Danny Ray) on their third album, London Calling in 1979. They altered the lyrics to reflect more of a punk rock scenario and added some Mariachi style horns.
Revolution rock, it is a brand new rock
A bad, bad rock, this here revolution rock…
Everybody smash up your seats and rock to this
Brand new beat
This here music mash up the nation
This here music cause a sensation
Tell your ma, tell your pa everything’s gonna be all right
Can’t you feel it? Don’t ignore it
Gonna be alright
Revolution rock, I am in a state of shock
So bad, bad rock, this here revolution rock
Here is Paul Simonon’s smashed bass guitar which appears on the cover of London Calling…
Read My tribute to Joe Strummer:
‘Harmony in My Head’ was a single release by the Buzzcocks in 1979. It later appeared on their Singles Going Steady compilation album, jam packed with great songs! I always loved seeing this band live!
Whenever I’m in doubt about things I do
I listen to the high street wailing sounds in a queue
I go out for my walking sailing social news
Don’t let it get me down I’m long in the tooth
‘Cause it’s a harmony in my head
It’s a harmony in my head
It’s a harmony in my head
It’s a harmony in my head
The fabulous ‘Waltzinblack’ by The Stranglers is a weird and creepy instrumental with utterances from some weird creatures and critters. This is a perfect song to play during a theatre interlude for a double-feature showing of Freaks and Carnival of Souls! It’s the first track on their 1981 album The Meninblack, which was allegedly written on heroin.
‘This Is Not a Love Song’ was a single by Public Image Ltd. released in 1983. This was Sex Pistols singer Johnny Rotten (John Lydon’s) post-Pistols band. He spends most of the song telling us what it is not.
‘Tower of Song’ was written by Leonard Cohen for his album I’m Your Man in 1988. It’s actually a song about songwriting. It was recorded using a toy synthesizer – in only one take. In the lyrics, Cohen mocks his own imperfect voice with the line, ‘I was born with the gift of a golden voice.’ This has been covered by many, including Nick Cave, Marianne Faithfull and Tom Jones.
‘The Song That Doesn’t End’ is by puppeteer Shari Lewis & her sidekick Lamb Chop. It appears on Lambchop’s album and was also the theme song of Shari’s 1992 PBS television show Lamb Chop’s Sig-Along, Play-Along. It doesn’t have many lyrics, but it never ends.
Here is a 10-hour version to drive you crazy…
This is the song that doesn’t end.
Yes, it goes on and on, my friend.
Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was,
And they’ll continue singing it forever just because…
(repeat to infinity…)
(Lamb Chop still performs around the world (with Shari’s daughter) including at military bases where she performs with the USO). Read more:
‘When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way’ is an interesting song by Sparks on their 1994 album Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins. The singer, Russell Mael sings the classic song (based on a French melody with lyrics by Paul Anka). Lyrically, Russell alternately contemplates singing ‘My Way’ in the heavenly style of its original singer Frank Sinatra (1969) or in the alternately hellish style of, by Sid Vicious of The Sex Pistols who made his own sneering, scathing recording of the song released in 1979 on Sid’s solo live album Sid Sings. Either way, it doesn’t seem to matter – as long as he gets to sing ‘My Way’.
Watch – Sparks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8dqCQ2MHfQ
Listen – Frank Sinatra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQzdAsjWGPg
Watch – Sid Vicious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDyb_alTkMQ
The Verve released the strings-laden ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ in 1997 on their album Urban Hymns. The band were sued by The Rolling Stones, as the song includes a sample from an orchestral version of ‘The Last Time’. The Stones settled he case by adding Jagger/Richards to the songwriting credits, but years later signed over the publishing rights to Richard Ashcroft of The Verve.
‘I’ve Got That Tune’ is by the band Chinese Man released in 2006. They are actually a French trip-hop/reggae group comprised of three Caucasian guys. This is a version of the 1932 song ‘Hummin’ to Myself’ by Washboard Rhythm Kings (a group of varying jazz musicians). This very cool old-fashioned track is manipulated by Chinese Man with a cool beat and some scratching. This tune was used by Mercedes-Benz in an ad. The Chinese Man band mascot has worldwide disciples spreading the zen spirit with their music around the world. The song was also covered by Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks.
Watch their cool video starring Betty Boop! – Chinese Man: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqjeNSNuNPM&feature=youtu.be
Listen: Washboard Rhythm Kings Hummin’ to myself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6q5TY0v9rY
More Sparks Songs about Songs…
The glorious ‘A Song That Sings Itself’ from Sparks’ 1984 album Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat.
Yet another Sparks song about a song is ‘I Can’t Believe that You Would Fall for All the Crap in This Song’. This is from their album Exotic Creatures of the Deep (2008) A sizzling, chugging, distorted electric guitar sound underscores Sparks’ seething sarcasm of the trite love song. It also refuses to be a ballad, further protesting the constraints of the genre. Only Sparks would write a modern love song to mock all love songs. If not for the lyrics spelled out in the title, it would surely be a radio hit…but then, it would not be a Sparks song!
On their 2020 album A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip, Sparks include ‘Stravinsky’s Only Hit’. In many ways, Ron Mael as a composer must empathize with Igor Stravinsky. If only these two unique geniuses could have met in this lifetime to commiserate. The premise of ‘Stravnsky’s Only Hit’ (an operetta in itself) is that Stravinsky is upset that a popular lyricist has enhanced one of his masterpieces, adding choruses and verses. After Igor wins a Grammy for his hit song, he resentfully celebrates in an erratic drunken dance (which is impossible to dance to). There are “La ha ha’s” which Ron has borrowed from Alban Berg. Stravinsky is not fond of his muzak sell-out which plays at the mall. The maestro remains bitter. It’s art imitating life, as the composer’s ‘Infernal Dance’ from his ballet, ‘The Firebird‘ has since been widely sampled in pop music.
In actuality, Stravinsky’s response to the wild success of his 1910 masterpiece, The Firebird was to blow everyone’s minds with The Rite of Spring, which Leonard Bernstein described as “the best dissonances anyone ever thought up, and the best asymmetries and polytonalities and polyrhythms and whatever else you care to name.”
A couple of blasts from the past:
‘Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart’ is a gorgeous melody written in 1934 for the Broadway play Thumbs Up! It was popularized by Judy Garland in the late 1930s . Other cover artists include Bing Crosby, Barry Manilow, Frank Sinatra, Rufus Wainright and many more. A version by The Trammps was a hit in 1972.
Never could carry a tune, never knew where to start
You came along when everything was wrong and put a song in my heart
Dear when you smiled at me, I heard a melody
It haunted me from the start
Something inside of me started a symphony
Zing! Went the strings of my heart
Listen – Judy Garland (the 2nd half swings!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkyFN9WdZNE
Ralph Kramden & Ed Norton write a hit song in The Honeymooners ‘lost’ episode The Songwriters (aired Dec. 11, 1954). ‘My Love Song to You’ was actually a radio hit written by Roy Alfred / Al Frisch and sung by Bob Manning. Unfortunately, The Honeymooners lost episode featuring this song is not on YouTube.
Listen: Bob Manning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwh31UKJIbg
© Madeline Bocaro 2020. No part of the materials available through madelinex.com may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated, reblogged or reduced to any electronic medium or machine-readable form, in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of Madeline Bocaro. Any other reproduction in any form without the permission of Madeline Bocaro is prohibited. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without prior written permission of Madeline Bocaro.
See more in my Playlist category:
About A Song
Eat to the Beat