5 Famous Songs Written In Response To Other Songs
Sometimes, it takes a song to inspire another song.
As I said before, music is a message. Usually, it is about a person, thing or an event. However, there exists a somewhat rarer class of songs that were written and released in response to another song.
Whether as a tribute, a passing reference or a scathing criticism, there have been various talented artists whose creative juices were further fuelled by the existing work of their peers. In this article, we will dive deep into why these 5 songs were written, explore their exact connection to the songs that inspired them and where possible, analyse the relationship between the musicians in question.
Without further ado, let’s begin!
5. Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division
Depending on how you interpret the word “Joy Division”, it would be extremely fitting or extremely ironic that a band with that name would become renowned for its extremely sullen and depressing lyrics.
Fuelled by the melancholic creativity of lead singer Ian Curtis, Love Will Tear Us Apart was an especially bleak song even by the band’s standards. Referencing Curtis’ marital issues and his struggles with epilepsy. What makes the song even more dark was the fact that Curtis would commit suicide before the song’s official release.
One would imagine that such a song would be inspired or written in reply to an equally heavy tune. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, Love Will Tear Us Apart is actually a reference to the Captain and Tennille hit, Love Will Keep Us Together that was written almost a decade prior.
Written by Neil Sedaka, Love Will Keep Us Together was the typical cheery love song one would expect from him. It could not be any more different from the grim, brooding Joy Division song which makes reference to its title. Despite that, it was quite the clever play on words and was fitting to the song’s context.
In the midst of his marital problems, Curtis entered a relationship with another woman whom he had a strong emotional bond with but could not have a physical relationship with due to being on medication. He felt that his emotional love for her was only driving that further from one another and titled the song to show that love does not always bring people together.
Love Will Tear Us Apart would eventually reach Platinum status and is hailed as both a post-punk anthem and one of the most iconic songs to ever come out of the 80s. Although it probably would have done well without needing to be a reply to the cheerful love song it derives its title from, it certainly has helped add a bit more mystique to this already intriguing number.
4. Don’t Worry Baby by the Beach Boys
It’s no secret that Brian Wilson was a huge fan of The Ronettes. Calling their hit song Be My Baby his most favourite song of all time, Wilson was well known for having obsessively listened to the song at every opportunity and dissecting every bit of the song’s structure. What is slightly less well known however is how it directly influenced one of the Beach Boys most famous songs.
Written and released just under a year from Be My Baby, Don’t Worry Baby was almost a follow-up to the earlier hit. Initially offered to The Ronettes themselves, Phil Spector rejected the song and gave it back to Wilson for him to work on alongside The Beach Boys.
Featuring their traditional vocal harmonies and keeping with the time’s popular themes of girls and cars, Don’t Worry Baby was noticeably different in its tone. While most car songs of the time were fuelled by the confident bragging of the hero having the fastest ride and the prettiest girl, Don’t Worry Baby had a kind of vulnerability that was uncharacteristic of such songs.
While Be My Baby was written from the perspective of a woman affirming her love for her partner, Don’t Worry Baby could be looked at from the man’s perspective. The main subject of this song is a man who unconfidently enters a drag race and soon regrets it. Throughout the whole song, his girlfriend constantly reassures him that everything is ok and comforts him even during a moment of passion.
Unlike most songs which pay tribute to another song’s message or title, Don’t Worry Baby was composed to reference Be My Baby in its musical structure as well. Written in the same key as The Ronettes’ hit, both songs also feature a similar opening of a drum, followed by other instruments and then vocals as well as a similar structured chorus too.
Don’t Worry Baby is a prime example of how one iconic song can be used to directly inspire another one. That being said, it would probably take someone with the creative genius and obsessive dedication of Brian Wilson to bring such a song to fruition.
3. Silly Love Songs by Paul McCartney
Now this is an interesting one as there are references stacked upon references here. In the immediate aftermath of the breakup of The Beatles, a massive rift developed between the band’s primary creative contributors John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Aside from bitter legal battles, Paul McCartney would write the song Too Many People as a verbal blow to his former bandmate. Although Lennon himself would claim that various songs in McCartney’s Ram album were intended to insult him, McCartney has only admitted that Too Many People was his only dig at Lennon. In response to these slights, Lennon would write How Do You Sleep?. An equally scathing tune against McCartney, Lennon criticised his estranged friend for what he believed to be his inability to write anything aside from sappy love songs citing Yesterday and Another Day as the only exceptions.
McCartney would then counter Lennon’s attack with Silly Love Songs. Addressing both Lennon’s attack and his critics, McCartney questioned what was wrong with writing a good love song. Despite the title and the numerous teasing “I Love Yous” in the chorus, it was not a love song in itself and that was what gave McCartney the last laugh.
Proving both Lennon and his critics wrong, the somewhat disco influenced song with its upbeat bass line and cheerful lyrics shot up to number one on the charts. It was McCartney’s 27th number one hit and allowed McCartney to break the record of having the most number one hits in history. McCartney holds that record to this day and the song that got him there was not a sappy love song by any means.
Silly Love Songs serves to show that sometimes the best way to be inspired is to be provoked into writing something good. Clearly, a bit of verbal jousting does have the potential to yield some extremely fruitful results.
2. The Rain Song by Led Zeppelin
Carrying on with songs written thanks to a challenge by an Ex-Beatle, Led Zeppelin’s Rain Song was a similar story albeit with the animosity between the two artists involved being significantly toned down.
At the time, Led Zeppelin were most well-known for their intense, 7 minute plus, heavy metal epics. They defined the heavy metal genre and had no reason to ever need to switch up their sound. That was until their drummer John Bonham met George Harrison.
While the two musical icons conversed with one another, Harrison mentioned that while he was impressed by Led Zeppelin’s music and the members’ ability to constantly put on long, high energy live shows, he felt that the band was missing something by not writing ballads and questioned if they were able to do so.
When Bonham reported this conversation back to his bandmates, Led Zeppelin’s guitarist Jimmy Page, took it as a challenge and soon went to work on composing a ballad. Thus, The Rain Song was born.
Not one to forget where the inspiration behind the song came from, Page borrowed heavily from Something in The Rain Song’s opening. It was a clever nod to the conversation that Bonham and Harrison had as Page made a clear reference to one of Harrison’s most well-known songs and a great ballad in its own right.
The Rain Song would, in more recent years especially, be looked back on very favourably. Critics praised the sentimental tone of the song while Plant’s vocals, Page’s guitar work, Bonham’s ability to depart from a harder sound and John Paul Jones’ skill on the synthesiser were met wide acclaim It goes to show that sometimes, a friendly challenge may be what a band needs to take a new step to new success.
1. Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Arguably the most recognisable reply song of all time, Sweet Home Alabama became Lynyrd Skynyrd’s most iconic song and is one of the greatest country rock songs of all time. It remains popular today among both music fans and meme lovers.
Sweet Home Alabama references not one but two Neil Young songs: Southern Man and Alabama. In Young’s songs, he speaks very strongly against the South’s support of slavery and strongly condemns both its people and their way of life. While Young did have a valid message, there were some who felt that they were being unfairly lumped in with the people Young was condemning and justifiably so.
One such group of people was Lynyrd Skynyrd. While not from Alabama themselves, the band was raised with Southern values and were especially popular in the South. They sought to show that Southern Pride did not automatically equate to having racist or pro-slavery views, praising the Southern way of life but also condemning racist figures such as George Wallace, the Alabaman Governor who supported segregation.
Unlike other songs on this list, Sweet Home Alabama had an entire verse where they called out Neil Young by name and condemned him for what they felt was an unfair generalisation of the entire South. Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant had stated that he felt that Young was “shooting all the ducks in order to kill one or two” and felt it necessary to call him out on his views. The band sought to set the record straight that the South was far more than a melding pot from hatred and racism.
In later years, Young himself would admit that he should have been more specific about who exactly he was calling out and conceded that his lyrics would have been considered offensive to those who felt that they were being unjustifiably attacked simply from being a Southern person. Calling his words “too easy to misconstrue”, Young has expressed a dislike for the words he had written.
Sweet Home Alabama remains a popular anthem not just for Southern Pride but for standing up against an unfair stereotype. While its meaning may continue to be misinterpreted from time to time, it was written with noble intentions and demonstrates the power of a song to address social issues.
That does it for this list! If you made it this far, let me thank you for taking the time to read this. As with my other lists, I will consider doing a follow-up if I come across equally interesting stories of a similar nature. Do share your thoughts or similar stories of your own as I really love reading them! Until then, take care!