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“This Next Song Is About…Me!”

January 28, 2014

Musicians often write songs about other musicians—the Commodores’ “Night Shift” is about Jackie Wilson, for example. And sometimes, the musicians who had songs written about them cover those very songs.

Songs about Me• The Barenaked Ladies’ hit “Brian Wilson” isn’t the most respectful song about the songwriter and major creative force behind the Beach Boys. The song references Wilson’s period in the ‘70s when agoraphobia, drug addiction, and obesity kept him housebound. The chorus of “Brian Wilson” is: “lying in bed / just like Brian Wilson did.” Still, Wilson thought “Brian Wilson” was a pretty good song. When he began recording music and touring again in the 1990s, he made the song part of his set list. A version appears on his 2000 live album Live at the Roxy Theatre.

• Humorous “psychobilly” singer Mojo Nixon is best known for a song called “Don Henley” must die. Why does he want that to happen? To prevent future reunions of the Eagles, whom Nixon evidently loathes. (“Don’t let him get back together with Glenn Frey” is one lyric.) But in 1994, the Eagles did reunite. Letting bygones be bygones, Henley surprised Nixon a few years later by hopping on stage during the song. Nixon, however, changed the song, for one night only, to “Rick Astley Must Die.”

• In 1970, Neil Young released one of his most popular songs, “Southern Man.” The lyrics take Southerners to task for the South’s history of racism and slavery. Two years later, the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote and recorded “Sweet Home Alabama,” partially in response to “Southern Man”—it wasn’t meant as an attack on Young, merely to show that the South had many positive qualities. Still, there is the lyric “I hope Neil Young will remember / a Southern man don’t need him around anymore.” Despite the in-song rivalry, Young and Skynyrd front man Ronnie Van Zant were mutual fans. Van Zant liked to put on a Young T-shirt specifically for live performances of “Sweet Home Alabama.” In turn, Young has often performed “Sweet Home Alabama” in concert.

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Vampire Weekend’s song Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa references Peter Gabriel, who covers it and sings his own name.

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