Lots of musicians admit to their influences, but how many actually take the time to write a song about them? Well, we've got at least 15 for you. There are, of course, plenty of others – two that didn't make the cut were Local H's "Eddie Vedder" and Fatboy Slim's "Michael Jackson," mostly because I don't actually own either of them – and there are lots more once you start bringing in song titles that aren't just the name of a singer (like, say, the Television Personalities' "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives"), but being specific like this proved more challenging…and, therefore, more fun.
"Jeff Lynne," Paul Melancon (Camera Obscura)
We'll start off with a song that demonstrates that if you're going to pay tribute to an artist by titling a song after them, the least you can do is actually make the song sound like their work. Melancon succeeds so ridiculously well at this task that you'd like to think that, someday, Lynne will reunite ELO and cover the song. Hey, come on, it's possible: if the guy had the ego to think that his band could still fill stadiums as recently as 2001, surely he's got enough of an ego to sing a song that someone else wrote about him.
"John Lennon," The Outfield
A caveat to the above comment: if you're going to try and make a song sound like the artist you're titling it after, try not to make it suck. Personally, I'm not one of the people who spews venom at this track – it just strikes me as a well-intentioned, if slightly overdone, tribute to Lennon's more psychedelic era – but, man, there are a lot of people who really loathe it! But it could be worse, you know. If I'd been more lenient with the concept, the Cranberries' "I Just Shot John Lennon" could've been in contention for inclusion.
"Paul McCartney," SR-71
You See Inside)
I know our senior editor, David Medsker, well enough to know that he can't possibly read this piece without thinking, "Whatever, dude, but if it were me, I'd have gone with the Scissor Sisters' ‘Paul McCartney' instead." Suffice it to say that this isn't the only place where our tastes diverge.
"Joe Strummer," Cowboy Mouth
Maybe this, then, will help redeem me in Herr Medsker's eyes, given that he's a longtime fan of these guys, who put on a notoriously phenomenal live show. Plus, what obsessive music fan can't relate to a song about a guy who's going to break up with his girlfriend because she doesn't know who Joe Strummer is?
"Alex Chilton," The Replacements
(Pleased To Meet Me)
I don't think there's any point in being embarrassed by the fact that I knew this Replacements song before I knew who Alex Chilton was. If I'm gonna be embarrassed, it's gonna be because I had Chilton's High Priest album for almost a decade before I ever got around to checking out Big Star.
"Buddy Holly," Weezer (Weezer a.k.a.
The Blue Album)
I love the song. I love the video. And I don't think I was the only one who was shocked when the kids went crazy for Weezer. I mean, God bless ‘em, but they look like a bunch of geeks! It just goes to show you that, once in a blue moon (or a Blue Album), good tunes win out over good looks.
"Johnny Cash," Carter the Unstoppable
Sex Machine (A World Without Dave)
There are a lot better songs in the Carter USM discography than this tribute to the Man in Black, but the last lines of this track are what sealed its inclusion: "Now in the chapel there's a preacher / With a porno star's moustache / He's gonna send my soul to Jesus / With a song by Johnny Cash."
"Frank Sinatra," Cake (Fashion Nugget)
"While Frank Sinatra sings ‘Stormy Weather,'" sings John McCrea, "the flies and spiders get along together." I'm sure Ol' Blue Eyes would've been glad to know that his voice has had such a profound effect on the insect and arachnid communities. Ultimately, though, he probably would've been more impressed that the song was used to close an episode of "The Sopranos."
"Phil Ochs," Josh Joplin Group (Useful
Josh and his group didn't get near enough love with their fantastic "Camera One" single from this album, but farther into the record lies a brilliantly bitter song about musical trends. "Fifty fans can't be wrong, can they?" asks Joplin, in a clever reference to Phil Ochs' attempt to spread his politically-charged folk by sporting a gold lame suit, a la Elvis Presley. "Our surveys say what the kids want today is Sugar Ray," Josh goes on to sneer, "but, Phil, you can't be killed." Let us hope the same goes for Mr. Joplin as well.
"Ray Charles," the Old 97s (Early
All I'm saying is, I don't want to live in a world where we can't have a good chuckle about the fact that a song called "Ray Charles" features the lyric, "Love is blind."
"Grant Hart," the Posies (Amazing
A pretty decent punk-pop song from the Posies album so good that it got the band dropped from DGC Records. Apparently, a band called Kpop wrote a song for Bob Mould as well. Why no love for Greg Norton, people? I mean, come on: you could write an entire concept album around the guy's mustache alone!
"Lightin' Hopkins," R.E.M. (Document) I almost hate to include this song, mostly because it's easily the weakest song on Document…but, still, just about any R.E.M. song from the IRS Records years is worth including on a mix disc. Yes, even "Underneath the Bunker."
"Bob Dylan," Nine Days (Madding Crowd)
You probably haven't thought much about these guys since they had their one massive hit in 2000 with "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)," but if you liked them enough back then to own their album, you might remember this song. Or you might remember the very brief flurry of angry discussion amongst Dylan fans over the fact that Nine Days somehow managed to score permission to use actual samples from "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" within their tribute to the man and his music. But, realistically, you probably only remember the aforementioned hit. (If you should happen to be curious what the band's been up to, though, just click here.)
"Johnny Rotten," William Pears (William
William Pears are French – why do you think they have that outrageous accent? – but please don't hold that against them. Besides, if you're really looking for a reason to dislike them, you'll sooner fall back on the fact that, as pop bands go, they're pretty damned twee at times. Still, you have to admire a band that pays tribute to the lead singer of the Sex Pistols via a song that's about as close to the antithesis of punk rock as you can get.
"Brian Wilson," Brian Wilson (Live
at the Roxy Theater)
You probably spent this entire list looking for Barenaked Ladies, but, honestly, how can you beat the concept of Brian Wilson actually singing "Brian Wilson"?