You really know you’ve made it as a recording artist when a band name themselves after one of your songs. I’m thinking ‘Radiohead’ (named for a talking heads tune) or ‘Pretty Girls make Graves’ (after a Smiths song). Just below that though, in rock-kudos terms is having a full song devoted to you. Sometimes it’s a tribute, sometimes it’s a critique and sometimes it’s just for the hell of it. Whatever the reasons, it must always be at least a little flattering for the subject. There’s a lot of songs like this out there, os let me know if I’ve missed anything essential!
1. Weezer – Buddy Holly
I have a soft spot for American college-rockers, Weezer. I love the juxtaposition of the rock guitar lead-in and the slang rap-style opening lines. The song is actually about a Chinese girlfriend that the lead-singer once had. Everyone said they were too different to get along (I suppose like Buddy Holly and Mary Tyler Moore), but he didn’t care. Great video too.
2. David Bowie – Song for Bob Dylan
In this tribute/parody of Dylan’s own tribute to Woody Guthrie (Song to Woody) Bowie sums up Dylan. He describes his voice as ‘like sand and glue’ and tells of Dylan’s bedsit fame. It’s hard to tell if this song represents a loving tribute or a scathing critique – but its’ pretty accurate either way.
3. LCD Soundsystem – Daft Punk is Playing at My House
This one is quite self-explanatory. I’m not sure if Daft Punk ever turned up to play at someones house, but this is a fair portrayal of what might happen if they did.
4. Waylon Jennings – Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way?
This is less a tribute to Hank Williams than a criticism of the way country music, and it’s attendant lifestyle had changed since Hank’s heyday. I first heard it as part of the Crazy Heart soundtrack, which I’d urge you to check out. It’s not just a criticism of the genre’s mid-70s excess, it’s also a regretful look at Waylon Jennings’s own life as a country music star. Superb.
5. Pavement – Unseen Power of the Picket Fence
Over a typical Pavement lo-fi dirge, Stephen Malkmus sets out his stall right away… “There’s some bands I’d like to name-check, And one of them is R.E.M”. He goes on to tell us that Time after Time is his least favourite song of theirs. Informative stuff and it ends very strangely.
6. The House of Love – The Beatles and the Stones
Once again, its hard to know if this song presents a veiled criticism of the 60s generation, or is a gushing tribute. I’d probably go with the latter, if only because of the House of Love’s haircuts, but you can read it either way.
7. CSS – Lets Make Love and Listen to Death From Above
I saw CSS years ago in Dublin’s Ambassador Theatre. It was a terrific gig and Lovefoxx (that’s their lead singer) did her customary ‘tasseled-jumpsuit vs. strobe light wig-out’ during the breakdown. Awesome stuff indeed. Anyway, it’s CSS’s best tune by a mile and never fails to get a dancefloor moving. All this and it’s a tribute to Death From Above 1979, an incredible rock duo from Toronto.
If you’d like to listen to all the tunes consecutively – you know, like an old mixtape – check out the youtube playlist.