Friday Five: Songs that Mention Other Songs


I love when songs mention other songs, mainly because they seem to give us insight into the teen years of our favorite songs.

Necessarily, these songs tend toward the nostalgic. Let's face it, if you're throwing around references to other songs, you'd better be referring to something more than just the song, or you're just being a show-off.

Don McLean - American Pie

The many references in "American Pie" add to its specific brand of nostalgia. Of course the song mourns the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, but it uses those tragedies as a frame for a more general longing for the past, for the joy of teenage years. And so McLean cites the hits of his own teen years, including "Book of Love," "Eight Miles High," "Jumpin' Jack Flash," and "That'll be the Day."

Big Star - Thirteen

"Won't you tell your dad, "Get off my back"?
Tell him what we said about "Paint it Black"."

One of the most sweetly wistful songs ever written, I don't think anyone can beat Alex Chilton's evocation of a first crush, when everything seems possible, and the most important fights we pick are with the parents of our loved ones over the music we love.

Okkervil River - Plus Ones

No one wants to hear about your 97th tear, so dry your eyes or let it go uncried, my dear. I am all out of love to mouth into your ear, and not above letting a love song disappear before it's written. And no one wants a tune about the 100th luftballoon that was seen shooting from the window of your room, to be a spot against the sky's colossal gloom and land, deflated, in some neighbor state that's strewn with 99 others.

If this list were a contest, this song would win, hands down. Will Sheff takes 6 famous "number songs" and adds +1 to all of them, telling us the tale of the 97th tear, the 100th luftballon, the 51st way to leave your lover, the 9th mile high, 8 chinese brothers, and many, many more.

The B-52's - Deadbeat Club

Going down to Allen's for
A twenty-five cent beer
And the jukebox playing real loud,
"Ninety-six tears"
We're wild girls walkin' down the street
Wild girls and boys going out for a big time

This is the second song on our list that references "96 Tears." Which is an absolutely terrible song, if you ask me, but hey. "Deadbeat Club" is one of my favorites songs of all time, a surprisingly sober number for the normally outré band.

Watch for the Michael Stipe cameo!

Jimmy Eat World - Praise Chorus

"Praise Chorus", from Bleed American, throws around a litany of song titles in the bridge, including "Crimson and Clover," Madness's "Our House," Bad Company's "Rock 'N Roll Fantasy," They Might be Giants' "Don't Let's Start," and Motley Crue's "Kickstart My Heart." It's far from my favorite JEW song, but when that bridge kicks in, its hard to deny the surge of happiness in your heart. Also, it's a very danceable tune.

Honorable Mention (I know I'm only allowed 5, but I gotta let this one in):

Def Leppard - Rocket

First of all, I'm still working hard to spread the gospel of the Leppard (and I suspect that I always will, and that's a topic for another blog post. In one phrase: one-handed drummer). Second, this song mentions some of of the very best of British pop: "Benny and the Jets," "Ziggy Stardust," "Jack Flash," "Jean Genie," "Killer Queen," and more. This is not my favorite Def Leppard song, but it does sound most like something that would come out of the synthesizer in Masters of the Universe.

Weigh in! What are your favorite songs that mention other songs?

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12 Responses to “ Friday Five: Songs that Mention Other Songs ”

  1. Neil Young - Borrowed Tune (1975)

    "I'm singin' this borrowed tune

    I took from the Rolling Stones,

    Alone in this empty room

    Too wasted to write my own"The borrowed tune is Lady Jane, though he never mentions it by name. 

  2. David Bowie: Young Americans. 
    "I heard the news today, oh boy."

  3. ooooh that is a damn good song.

  4. nice! i never picked up on that one.

  5. Glass Onion - The Beatles

  6. great blog. You are on my blogroll.

  7. Thanks so much!

  8. good one!

  9. A doubly thematic Friday Five for you:


    Traubert's Blues - Tom Waits


    of Tom’s earliest ballads of the wretched and the lost. This might have
    been a cheat since he's using "waltzing matilda" in its original
    sense of going walkabout, but then he works in a few bars of the song at the


    the Band Played Waltzing Matilda - the Pogues


    MacGowan took Eric Bogle's folk tune about a maimed ANZAC soldier and made it
    his own. There is an ocean of bitterness, rage and sorrow built up in this
    song. If you can sing it with dry eyes you're made of sterner stuff than I am.


    Seemed Tired Last Night - the Hold Steady

    did 'She's Got Legs' into 'Ain't Too Proud To Beg' into something by
    the Dixie Dregs. They faked their way through Fairytale of New York, when
    the band stopped playing we howled out for more!

    A song rich in
    references of several kinds. There's a great page over at NPR with
    annotations of the lyrics.


    of New York - the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl

    A bit of
    knowledge courtesy of Wikipedia:

    MacGowan and MacColl sing, "The boys of the NYPD choir still singing
    "Galway Bay".
    The New York
    Police Department (NYPD) does not have a choir, but it does
    have a Pipes and Drums unit
    that is featured in the video for the song. The NYPD Pipes and Drums did not
    know "Galway Bay" and so played a different song for the music video,
    and the editor put it in slow motion to fit the beat.

    The song also
    references an Irish ballad called ‘The Rare Old Mountain Dew', just to clear
    things up for anyone who thought the drunk tank was moved to song by the
    pleasures of fizzy pop.


    the final one that's not like the others but is here because I love it:


    the Indie Disco by the Divine Comedy

    makes my heart beat the same way as at the start of 'Blue Monday'

    the last song that they play.

    lyric you'd laugh at if it weren't so delightful. 'Tainted Love' makes an
    appearance too.



  10. Well done! You win the prize! I was aware of the Tom Waits song, but I wasn't aware of all the references that snaked off from it.

  11. Late to the party but I was browsing and (totally unconstructively) wanted to say: I LOVE that Okkervil River song. 'No one writes a tune/about that hundredth Luftballoon' is already a wonderful line, and so many more follow it.

  12. I'll look forward to your Def Leppard post.  I'm old enough that I was in college when the drummer lost his arm and we all wondered if the band was done for good.  I was on a roadtrip with a friend, almost literally in the middle of nowhere, and all of a sudden the DJ on the radio announced he was playing the first song off Def Leppard's newest album Hysteria.  We both looked at each other to see if either of us had even heard that there was an album coming out.  It was a very welcome return.  The album turned out to be a massive one, too.


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