Response Records: Answers to Hit Songs
March 31, 2012 3:04 PM   Subscribe

Before hip-hop beefs, there were response records, also known as answer songs, usually replies to well-known songs. There are a few key eras: blues and R&B recorded music in the 1930s through 1950s, including a number of responses to "Work With Me, Annie" (1954), recorded by Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, with answers including "Annie had a Baby," and "The Wallflower" by Etta James; and Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog" (1953), with a quick response by Louis Innis and Charlie Gore, made a mere week after the original was released, and Rufus Thomas' "Bear Cat" (1953), Sun Records' first hit. Country, rock & roll, doo-wop and pop music picked up where the blues left off, with most activity in the 1950s to 60s. Two examples from this era are "Are You Lonesome To-night" and "Who Put The Bomp," and responses to both. The most well known from the next decade was Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" (1974), a response to Neil Young's "Southern Man" (1970) and "Alabama" (1972). Until the 2000s, no answer songs had charted as high as the original hits. That changed with Frankee's "F.U.R.B. (Fuck You Right Back)" (2004), a response to Eamon's "Fuck It (I Don't Want You Back)" (2003), which was the first answer song to reach number 1 in the UK. Six years later and across the pond, Katy Perry's "California Gurls" was a response to "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z. It was the first answer song to reach No. 1 in the Billboard Hot 100. More Responses inside.

The most popular era for coverage on the internet was the 1960s for doo-wop and pop answer songs, as covered by the Answer Song Jukebox (music linked as Real Audio files) and Ask Mr. Music's list of notable answer songs (no audio). Music Pop Hits page of Answerback Songs (MP3 and WMA) includes a list of original tracks and their answer songs. Rewind the Fifties has a collection of answer songs, parodies, and death tunes (no audio), and Ace Records collected 28 answer songs recorded by girl groups of the 60s, and the linked page includes some samples.

Disregarding the distinction of decades or genres, this Yahoo Music Playlist Blog pairs 34 songs with their responses, plus a few extensions of the Neil Young-Lynyrd Skynyrd "storyline." WMFU's Dave the Spazz collected 28 answer songs and shared them online as MP3s and Real Audio streams.

The Frankee vs Eamon response "battle" brought answer songs back to public interest, and with it an article from The Guardian: Discs at Dawn, which claims 1986 as a "golden year for response records. The article cites Gwen Guthrie's "Ain't Nothing Goin' On But the Rent" and the answer song, Wally Jump Jr's "Ain't Gonna Pay You One Red Cent." There was also round two in The Bridge Wars, Boogie Down Productions' "South Bronx," a response to MC Shan's "The Bridge," which came out in late 1985. Shan shot back with "Kill That Noise" in 1987. There was also a response to Madonna's "Papa, Don't Preach" called "Madonna, Don't Preach" that apparently got some small amount of radio play in '86, but there's not much record of it online. Beyond these, it's not too clear why 1986 was special, but I digress.

Thomas and his "Bear Cat" were covered previously, though most of the links are dead. Here is an archived version of tribute page to Thomas.

"Work With Me Annie" was included in the 2010 New Yorker holiday party mix.

A nation of state-specific answers to California Gurls.
posted by filthy light thief (53 comments total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
For those unwilling to consume this post link-by-link, note that the response record The Wallflower might be better known as Roll With Me, Henry. I was introduced to it, long before I ever heard Work With Me, Annie, via the movie Sister Act.
posted by The Confessor at 3:16 PM on March 31, 2012

"Son, you're gonna drive me to drinkin'... if you don't stop drivin' that Hot Rod Lincoln."

I heard a non-Commander Cody version of this song today, and wondered what this answer song genre was called.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:17 PM on March 31, 2012

1986 also brought us Miss Thang's Thunder & Lightning, a response to Oran Juice Jone's The Rain - with such classic lines as "that [rabbit] coat had to be destroyed last week after it bit the neighbor's child," and "that ugly gold El Dorado love mobile you call transportation."
posted by penguinicity at 3:18 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

MonkeyToes, I heard a song and the response on a little local station, I was hoping to find a Covers Project-like site for answer songs, but no such luck. That's what spawned this rambling post.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:30 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Until the 2000s, no answer songs had charted as high as the original hits.

Kitty Wells 'It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels' was the answer to Hank Thompson's 'The Wild Side Of Life'. Both reached number one on the country charts, though Thompson held that place for fifteen weeks as opposed to Kitty Wells' six.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:31 PM on March 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

Fantastic post!

I love answer songs, especially ones from Jamaica. Some of my dancehall and calypso faves are listed in this comment on a 2008 post about the Roxanne, Roxanne answer series.
posted by jack_mo at 3:34 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the correction, PeterMcDermott.

That's what I get for not verifying information from Wikipedia
posted by filthy light thief at 3:39 PM on March 31, 2012

jack_mo, I didn't know that the Roxanne Wars have their own Wikipedia page.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:40 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Kitty Wells 'It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels' was the answer to Hank Thompson's 'The Wild Side Of Life'. Both reached number one on the country charts, though Thompson held that place for fifteen weeks as opposed to Kitty Wells' six.

I came in here to say exactly this, especially since country music was not the most receptive to female vocalists at the time (that were not in a duet or group). It was also a pretty "aggressive" song for a woman in 1952 (and Kitty Wells was not sure she wanted to perform it).
posted by oneirodynia at 3:40 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

That Jan & Dean answer to Who Put The Bomp (same as 11th FPP link) is just egregious. On the other hand, I just listened to the original, and while I'd remembered it being catchy, the talky bit at the end is possibly worse than the Jan & Dean answer.

But great post.
posted by axiom at 3:48 PM on March 31, 2012

Thanks for the correction.

Meh, I was being a pedant. I also love the answer song. Great post.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:50 PM on March 31, 2012

Don't forget that Romeo Void's "A Girl In Trouble (Is A Temporary Thing)" was a direct response to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean".
posted by hippybear at 3:57 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

re: the Yahoo Music Blog on response songs..

First, sequels by the same artist should be in a separate category from response songs, so get Chuck Berry and Charlie Daniels outa there...

Of course, "Killing Me Softly (With His Sing)" HAD to be a response to somebody's song. And I had heard it was written about Don McLean, but there was no consensus as to which song, but obviously NOT "American Pie".

I'm old enough to remember "King of the Road" and "Queen of the House", which was a different lyric to the same melody. Which I guess is how Weird Al's "Achey Breaky Song" qualifies... he almost never referred directly back to the original song or its artist in one of his parodies (unlike other, less-successful parodists); the most famous exception was "Smells Like Nirvana", but he also did the never-formally-released-but-massively-bootlegged-after-performing-it-on-the-Dr.-Demento-Show "It's Still Billy Joel to Me". Then again, half of Al's repertoire could be considered a response to the Talking Heads' album "More Songs About Buildings And Food".

And re: the WFMU collection, I am delighted to learn there exists a song titled "I'm In With The Out Crowd" (and by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, no less!)
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:03 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I Hate California Girls.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:06 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Back when I was in a band I wanted to do the opposite of this, i.e. writing a song that a hit song would thus become the answer to, Jeopardy!-style. I was unsuccessful at writing a decent "We Gotta Change That Bird."
posted by Navelgazer at 4:08 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Navelgazer, I sense a MeFi Music challenge!
posted by filthy light thief at 4:13 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love this post!

My favorite answer song pair:

Barenaked Ladies - Be My Yoko Ono

Dar Williams - I Won't Be Your Yoko Ono
posted by nicebookrack at 4:16 PM on March 31, 2012

And let's not forget "I Wanna Be A Homosexual" by Screeching Weasel, an answer to Sloppy Seconds' "I Don't Wanna Be A Homosexual".

I should link, but I'm on my phone, and lazy.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:17 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's also the least neccessary answer song of all time: Dodie Stevens - Yes, I'm Lonesome Tonight.
posted by jonmc at 4:40 PM on March 31, 2012

There's Camera Obscura's 2006 response/answer to Lloyd Cole's "Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken".
posted by IvoShandor at 4:53 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

My personal favorite is Trinity's Three Piece Suit, and the response it inspired from Althea and Donna - Uptown Top Ranking.
posted by anewnadir at 4:57 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Feargal Sharkey also had UK Top 5 hit in 1986 with "You Little Thief". This song had a link with "A Good Heart": "You Little Thief" was written by Benmont Tench, a member of Tom Petty's band, about his relationship with McKee in response to her writing "A Good Heart" about him.
posted by therubettes at 5:02 PM on March 31, 2012

I was unsuccessful at writing a decent "We Gotta Change That Bird."

Scholars of music history will recall that "We Gotta Change That Bird" was an answer song to Freebird -- specifically, to Mr. Skynyrd's assertion that "this bird you cannot change". It was The Oliver's first #1 hit, and the highest-grossing single of 2021. It touched off the national craze for spraypainting birds. When asked what it felt like to have a light on them after years of being dormant, a spokesman for re-formed The Olivers insisted, "I.... feel.... GOOD!"
posted by Afroblanco at 5:11 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

original - ode to billie joe by bobbie gentry

answer - "clothes line saga" by bob dylan, which unfortunately, i can't find online, although there are cover versions - suzzy and maggie roche
posted by pyramid termite at 5:12 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also have to take minor issue with OP's use of "Across the pond"; that phrase normally refers to the Atlantic ocean and relations between The US and the UK.
posted by anewnadir at 5:14 PM on March 31, 2012

whoops, once again falling victim to my inability to construct long sentences. Disregard the above.
posted by anewnadir at 5:14 PM on March 31, 2012

I don't know if it would qualify as a response or a parody, but the Velvet Underground's "Who Loves the Sun" seems inextricably linked to "Here Comes the Sun" by the Beatles.

And then there's "Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth" by the Dandy Warhols, followed up with "Not if You Were the Last Dandy on Earth" by the Brian Jonestown Massacre.
posted by LionIndex at 5:29 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

No mention so far of Peter Schilling's "Major Tom"?
posted by kenko at 5:37 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Open CLOSED! (fixed links)
posted by infinitewindow at 6:03 PM on March 31, 2012

True story:

I very recently started dating a girl called Annie. I start reading the thread, and I'm listening to 'work with me Annie' and thinking - hmmm, this would be fun to send to her.

Then I listened to 'the wallflower'. It turns out, my first name's Henry. So now I'm thinking: 'wow if we ever get married, I know for sure what songs we'll play'

Thanks for the thread, filthy light thief! :)
posted by Riton at 6:08 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you respond to your own song?
Ween's tender pledge of eternal love at the end of a relationship, Birthday Boy...
...followed years later by realizing the hell you actually got away from, Baby Bitch
("wrote Birthday Boy for ya, babe...")
posted by stifford at 6:43 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Jamaican music has a million of these, but here's my favorite pair off the top of my head:

Prince Buster - Judge Dread
Lee Scratch Perry - Set Them Free
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:56 PM on March 31, 2012

Protest song "Eve of Destruction" garnered, as its reply, the very similar right-wing "Dawn of Correction".
posted by darth_tedious at 7:15 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Great post!

Here's another relatively recent response song: The Brian Jonestown Massacre's "Not If You Were The Last Dandy on Earth"

A response to the Dandy Warhols' "Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth"

The whole weird relationship between the two bands was chronicled in the documentary Dig!
posted by mcmile at 7:58 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

If I recall correctly, Blondie's "Accidents Never Happen" may have been a response to Elvis Costello's "Accidents Will Happen".
posted by gimonca at 8:06 PM on March 31, 2012

And Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was a response--of a sort--to The Captain and Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together."
posted by mcmile at 8:30 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

1964, a cash in on by Beatlemania, but still a pretty good song: "I'll Let You Hold My Hand" by the Bootles.
posted by mcmile at 8:41 PM on March 31, 2012

Yay...a post about answer songs was once on my "should post about this on Metafilted list" once upon a time. Couldn't have asked for a better post. Maybe I should just send my list of ideas to filthy light thief. If I can find the initial notes, I'll see if there are any left that no one has mentioned and post them in here.

(Or maybe I'll put them in an answer post.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:04 PM on March 31, 2012

Ooh, I'll play:

Paul McCartney "Too Many People"

anwered by

John Lennon, "How do you Sleep" (cites: "Sgt Pepper", "Yesterday", "Another Day" and the 'Paul is Dead' conspiracy)

answered by

Paul McCartney, "Let Me Roll It" (seen as Paul's pastiche of John Lennon's style)

= = = = =

Paul McCartney, "Hey Jude"

answered by

Georg Harrison,"Isn’t It a Pity" (Structurally similar to "Hey Jude" - a Beatles track that Paul and George were at loggerheads over, is exactly one second longer, and quotes Hey Jude's "na na-na na-na-na na" out chorus.)

= = = = =

Merle Haggard, "Okie from Muskogee"

answered by
The Youngbloods, "Hippie from Olema"
Pure Prairie League, "I'll Fix Your Flat Tire, Merle"

= = = = =

Finally, a guy who answers himself: Steve Miller

"Enter Maurice" is where Miller first speaks of the pompatus of love; the opening lines are lifted -- misheard -- from the Medallions' "The Letter".

"Space Cowboy" cites "Living in the USA" and "Gangster of Love" (covering Johnny 'Guitar' Watson); uses a similar guitar riff as The Beatles' "Lady Madonna"; and lifts another melody from a bebop tune I can't recall for the 'doo doo doo doo" part.

The Gangster is Back" answers "The Gangster of Love".

The spoken introduction to Miller's cover of the Clovers' "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash" cites "Gangster of Love" and "Space Cowboy".

The Joker cites "Space Cowboy", "Enter Maurice", "Gangster of Love", and The Clovers, "Lovey Dovey".

Fly Like An Eagle recycles the guitar riff from "My Dark Hour".
posted by Herodios at 10:05 PM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Incomplete without mention of the seemingly neverending Roxanne, Roxanne phenomenon of the mid 80's.
posted by billyfleetwood at 10:07 PM on March 31, 2012

Pretty sure these aren't dupes:

Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler, "Ballad of the Green Berets" answered by
Bob Segar, "Ballad of the Yellow Beret"

The Who, "My Generation" answered by
Generation X, "Your Generation"

"Tell Laura I Love Her", answered by
"Tell Tommy I Miss Him", both by somebody or other.

The Angels, "My Boyfriend's Back" answered by
some guy, "Your Boyfriend's Back"

Chuck Berry, "Maybellene" answered by
Big John Greer, "Come Back Maybellene"

Chubby Checker, et al, answered by
Gary U.S. Bonds, "Copy Cat"

Elvis Presley, "Little Sister" answered by
LaVerne Baker, "Hey Memphis"

Sam Cooke, "Bring it on Home to Me", answered by
Carla Thomas, "I'll Bring it on Home to You"

Peter Frampton, "I'm in You" answered by
Frank Zappa, "I have been in You"'
posted by Herodios at 10:44 PM on March 31, 2012

Barenaked Ladies - Be My Yoko Ono

Dar Williams - I Won't Be Your Yoko Ono

A coincidence, as this answer askme attests.
posted by zamboni at 11:00 PM on March 31, 2012

Wasn't McCartney's Silly Love Songs a response record (of sorts) to John Lennon and perhaps some others who teased McCartney about writing songs with "lightweight lyrics?"
posted by bz at 11:18 PM on March 31, 2012

Dylan's Gotta Serve Somebody answered by Lennon's Serve Yourself
posted by Sailormom at 11:34 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nina Simone's Revolution as a response to The Beatles' Revolution
posted by iotic at 11:50 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Everybody Was in the French Resistance...Now released an entire album of answer songs, including "G.I.R.L.F.R.E.N (You Know I've Got A)", their response to Avril Lavigne.
posted by Hartster at 12:32 AM on April 1, 2012

The Smiths: William, It was Really Nothing
The Associates: Stephen, You're Really Something

posted by Infinite Jest at 12:52 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pure Prairie League, "I'll Fix Your Flat Tire, Merle"

actually, this song was first done by big brother and the holding company on their post-janis joplin album "be a brother"
posted by pyramid termite at 3:50 AM on April 1, 2012

One of the oddest compilation LPs I've got is called Death, Glory, and Retribution ... it's a weird mix of protest songs, splatter platters, and answer songs. Not quite sure what curatorial spirit thought they all needed to be on the same disc together, but on it, you'll find And Then I Kissed Her, the Beach Boys' somewhat lackluster response to the Crystals' And Then He Kissed Me, Queen of the House answering Roger Miller's King of the Road, He'll Have to Stay answering Jim Reeves' He'll Have to Go, You Should Know I'm Still Your Baby answering Bobby Vee's Take Good Care Of My Baby, (Gary Please Don't Sell) My Diamond Ring answering Gary Lewis & the Playboys' This Diamond Ring, Billy I've Got to Go to Town answering Kenny Rogers' Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town and the Isley Brothers' Surf and Shout, a nakedly commercial surfing-themed rerelease of their own hit Twist and Shout (from a land-locked Cincinnati band!).
posted by orthicon halo at 7:04 AM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Warren Zevon's "Play It All Night Long" possibly qualifies as an answer song to Lynyrd Skynyrd's answer song:

Grandpa pissed his pants again
He don't give a damn
Brother Billy has both guns drawn
He ain't been right since Vietnam

"Sweet home Alabama"
Play that dead band's song
Turn those speakers up full blast
Play it all night long

posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 8:02 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dave the Spazz covers it, but I just can't get enough Neil Sedaka & Carole King...I lose it every time I hear CK's New Yawk accent sneak in on the "there's nothing left to dooooo" line.
posted by mintcake! at 8:55 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

El Sabor Asiatico, the Yahoo Music Blog agrees with you, and points to two more follow-ups: Drive-By Truckers "Ronnie And Neil" and "The Three Great Alabama Icons."
posted by filthy light thief at 4:45 PM on April 1, 2012

Can someone confirm whether Ben Folds' "Landed" is a response to Elton John's "Rocket Man"?
posted by Neale at 3:31 AM on April 2, 2012

« Older No Chevy, Just Chase.   |   Guardian feature on the future of computing... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments