THE RECORD PROFESSOR PART 4
You Know A Song is a Hit When Other Artists Start Answering
Imagine if a singer like Usher or Christina Aguilera decided to record a song like "I Was Born This Way, Too," to answer Lady Gaga's hit, or "My Life Would Definitely Suck Without You" to reply to Kelly Clarkson. Won't happen, right? But it sure used to.
In the formative years of Rock and Roll, it was pretty common for songs to be recorded and records to be released that actually referenced an earlier hit by another artist. In our last The Record Professor, we talked about the seminal protest song, "Eve of Destruction," and offered up another quiz: WHO "ANSWERED" EVE OF DESTRUCTION ON RECORD? You could guess Dodie Stevens, Skeeter Davis, or the Spokesmen. I shoe-horned the Weavers as a possible answer, too--the second time in as many quizzes(even though they were never the correct answer to either quiz)--because the group was so influential and powerful before rock was even invented.
The Weavers, talk about protest songs, were comprised of Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman, and Ronnie Gilbert, one of the most powerful "girl" singers of all time. Their hits included "On Top of Old Smoky," and "Wimoweh," the forerunner to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by the Tokens and later Robert John. The Weavers were an extremely political group, performing quite often at labor rallies and other unionizing activities. Seeger became the best known of the group, especially as a political troublemaker, and is still such a force in music that Bruce Springsteen himself devoted a whole album to Seeger's songs a few years ago. (Seeger and Hays also wrote a little-disguised protest song, "If I Had a Hammer," a hit in the early Sixties for both Trini Lopez and Peter, Paul, and Mary.) Shame on the Grammys for waiting until a few years ago--50 years late--to honor the Weavers with a hall of fame award.
No, the answer to our last quiz was the Spokesmen, the conservative answer to the "radical" Barry McGuire's rendition of the P. F. Sloan song, "Eve of Destruction."
The remaining two choices--Dodie Stevens and Skeeter Davis--were no slouches themselves, however, in the genre of song answers. Stevens answered Elvis Presley with "Yes, I'm Lonesome Tonight," and Davis answered Hank Locklin with "(I Can't Help You) I'm Falling, Too." Locklin's song was "Please Help Me I'm Falling," one of the first country crossover hits to the pop charts in the summer of 1960. Stevens' biggest hit, though, was "Pink Shoe Laces," and "No." "No" was an extremely politically-incorrect song, at least in today's society, when she sang, "...a girl means yes when she says no." You won't hear lyrics like that today, unless it's part of a rap song. Davis, once and forever a country artist--although she flirted with the girl group sound by recording a couple of Carole King songs--was best known for "The End of the World," a country hit that also crossed over into pop--number 2 in 1963.
But back to the Spokesmen. Their answer to "Eve" was "Dawn of Correction," issued on Decca Records a few months after the McGuire song. It referred directly to the earlier song:
You keep sayin' it's the end, but I say you're wrong, we're just on the dawn of correction. The lyrics were written by Johnny Madara and Dave White, who were the members of the Spokesmen. White has his own early rock history--he was one of the Juniors in Danny and the Juniors, who forever will be remembered for the hot "At the Hop." "Dawn of Correction" did not go to the top of the charts like "Eve of Destruction" did, but at least it got significant radio play, which "Eve" did not, and it gave the political conservatives a rallying point against the sentiments of "Eve."
The Sixties were probably the high point for "answer" songs. Even songs that were not political got answered, like "Big Bad John" ("Small Sad Sam" by Phil McLean) and "Runaround Sue" by Dion ("Johnny Don't Run Around" by the Crescents on the Arlen record label).
It also was not uncommon in the Sixties for songs to reference earlier songs that were hits. Matthew Reid had a hit on the Scepter label called "Faded Roses," that mentioned practically every song that was in the Top 20 at the time. Even Sam Cooke, one of the most influential singers ever with his own stuff like "Chain Gang," "Wonderful World," and "A Change is Gonna Come," mentioned hits by other artists in his 1962 top 10 hit, "Having a Party."
Play that song called 'Mashed Potatoes,' play that one called 'I Know.' In the first reference, Cooke was talking about a song by DeeDee Sharp and in the second, a song by Barbara George. The only similarity to today's music, probably, is Kid Rock's "All Summer Long," an obvious tribute to "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynryd Skynrd and "Werewolves of London" by Warren Zevon.
Usually, the rule of thumb today is: Pretend other artists don't exist, and certainly don't copy their songs by answering them. It's okay for Weird Al Yankovic to record "Eat It" to Michael Jackson's "Beat It," but Weird Al is a novelty artist who makes jokes out of other people's songs. He's still at it, making "I Perform This Way" as an answer to the aforementioned "I Was Born This Way" by Gaga.
The only remnants of the Answer Song sometime surface when there is a major, life-changing news story. Alan Jackson wrote "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning" as a response to 9-11, and a few years ago, a song called "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran" came out as an answer to the Iranian hostage crisis. The song was an exact copy of the music to "Barbara Ann" (Bab-Bab-Bab-Bab-Bab-era Ann sung by both the Beach Boys and earlier the Regents).
Still, the Answer Song seems to be part of a bygone era in the history of popular music. Which leads us to our next quiz, offered every Tuesday and Thursday. And it involves something very dear to my heart--a songwriter who began his career teaching students in a classroom.
Who was the only artist to "answer" his own song?