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March 3, 2014 3:56 PM   Subscribe

What are some successful songs that were attempts to write a song like another band? For example, Kurt Cobain was trying to sound like Pixies with "Smells like Teen Spirit" and The Offspring's "All I Want" was an attempt at a Bad Religion song.
posted by michaelh to Media & Arts (48 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if it was intentional on the part of the artist, but I've always thought Ray LaMontagne's Beg, Steal, or Borrow sounded a hell of a lot like a lost Joni Mitchell song. The melodic progression, the cadences, all really echo her earlier stuff, like from the "Blue" era.
posted by shiu mai baby at 3:59 PM on March 3 [4 favorites]

I seem to recall reading that pretty much all the songs of Oasis were attempts to write Beatles songs.
posted by town of cats at 4:00 PM on March 3

"I Can't Explain", by the Who, is strongly influenced by/emulative of the Kinks.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 4:02 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

Speaking of the Beatles, Back in the USSR and the Beach Boys.
posted by nat at 4:05 PM on March 3 [2 favorites]

Lo Fidelity All Stars were trying to do a go-go record with this remix of Battle Flag.
posted by empath at 4:07 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

Helter Skelter was inspired by a review of a Who song which discussed how hard it was.

Lady Madonna is an attempt at a Fats Domino-type song.
posted by goethean at 4:09 PM on March 3

Re: Lady Madonna - Fats Domino himself later covered that song, which is just so meta that my mind has been blown.
posted by wats at 4:10 PM on March 3

Half of the Beatles' catalog will fit :)

"Two of Us" was an attempt to sound like the Everly Brothers. In the anthology version, Paul shouts to John, "Take it, Phil!" just before his cue.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 4:18 PM on March 3

What modern songs sound like they could have been done by The Beatles?
posted by Iridic at 4:19 PM on March 3

Talking of The Offspring, Tehran is an attempt at doing The Dead Kennedys.
posted by Jimbob at 4:22 PM on March 3

More notorious than successful, Have You Heard the Word? is Maurice Gibb channeling John Lennon. Listen at your own risk.

I seem to recall reading that pretty much all the songs of Oasis were attempts to write Beatles songs.

Don't know about that, but there was time when people referred to Squeeze as the new Beatles.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:23 PM on March 3

"Get Rhythm" by Johnny Cash was written specifically for Elvis Presley, who declined it, leaving Cash to record it himself.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:25 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

Pretty much everything Weird Al Yankovic has ever written, both parody and original songs (a lot of which are self-described "style parodies").
posted by jozxyqk at 4:28 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

Blur's "Song 2," though probably their biggest hit, was meant to be a parody of the then-hot American grunge sound.
posted by kickingtheground at 4:31 PM on March 3 [3 favorites]

Of course, the Beatles' "Back in the USSR" was a parody of the Beach Boys sound.
posted by gingerest at 4:32 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

Da Funk was Daft Punk attempting to sound like west coast hip hop.
posted by empath at 4:33 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

Mark Knopfler was trying to emulate ZZ Top's sound when he wrote Money for Nothing.
posted by popcassady at 4:41 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" was written the style of Elvis Presley as a tribute to The King.
posted by drlith at 4:43 PM on March 3 [3 favorites]

Nick Lowe's "Rollers Show" = Bay City Rollers.
posted by davebush at 4:57 PM on March 3

Paul Weller says that most of the Jam album Sound Affects was a conscious attempt to cross Revolver-era Beatles with Wire and XTC.
posted by scody at 4:58 PM on March 3

The Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby" was intended to sound like Phil Spector's The Ronettes.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:58 PM on March 3

Oh, and the Jam's song A Town Called Malice is a clear Motown homage.
posted by scody at 4:59 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

Kurt Cobain was trying to sound like Pixies with "Smells like Teen Spirit"

Well yes in spirit, but the band acknowledged the main riff shares some DNA with Boston's "More Than A Feeling." Meanwhile, "Come As You Are" is incredibly similar to "Gouge Away" by the Pixies.
posted by naju at 5:04 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

Sowing the Seeds of Love by Tears for Fears is deliberately Beatlesesque
posted by goethean at 5:05 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure this is what you're looking for, but one round of one Masters of Song Fu competition had the two finalists (Jonathan Coulton vs Paul and Storm) write a song in the style of the other artist.
The following challenge applies to our Masters of Song Fu only. As Masters, it is expected that they have achieved a musical voice all their own - but does their mastery extend to assuming the voice of another artist? With that in mind, Each Master is tasked with writing a song in the style of their opponent. The Masters will be judged on how accurately they write a song in their opponent's style without it becoming a simple parody. When listening to their entries, you must genuinely believe that they were written by the original Master. Got that? The Master's songs must also be no shorter than 1m45s.
Paul and Storm wrote a song called Live and JoCo won with a song called Big Dick Farts A Polka.
posted by anaelith at 5:11 PM on March 3

Can't believe I didn't think of this one right off the bat - Rundgren/Utopia: Deface the Music.

The concept of the album was to pay homage to The Beatles and create songs which sounded very similar to the Fab Four's tunes throughout the various stages of their career.
posted by davebush at 5:21 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

For the longest time I thought that Tweeter and the Monkey Man was a Bruce Springsteen song. I was delighted to find out that it was actually The Traveling Willburys attempt at out-Springsteening Springsteen at his own game. I am told Springsteen often covers the song live, just to confuse matters.
posted by AndrewStephens at 5:38 PM on March 3

Speaking of Springsteen, "State Trooper" was written in the style of NYC art-punk band Suicide.
posted by mcmile at 5:48 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

Weird Al's parodies are usually copying the target song note-for-note, but I did come in here to say he did make some amazing original stuff like his DEVO homage Dare To Be Stupid.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:39 PM on March 3 [2 favorites]

Stuck In the Middle With You and I'm a Loser are Stealers Wheel's and the Beatles' takes on Dylan, respectively.
posted by eponym at 6:40 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

Queen Bitch by David Bowie is an attempt to sound like the Velvet Underground. So is the less-imaginatively-named Jonathan Richman song Velvet Underground.
posted by ManInSuit at 7:00 PM on March 3

I don't think it was exactly a meant as a tribute but A Simple Desultory Phillipic was Paul Simon's crack at Dylan.
posted by klanawa at 7:10 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

And the Four Tops's "Reach Out, Ill Be There" is the Holland-Dozier-Holland attempt at Dylan.
posted by neroli at 7:10 PM on March 3

The Magnetic Fields album 69 Love Songs is pretty much all pastiche, and "Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits" is a particularly hilarious Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark tribute.
posted by neroli at 7:25 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

The Magnetic Fields - Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits ----> Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
The Magnetic Fields - No One Will Ever Love You Honestly ------> Fleetwood Mac
The Dirty Projectors - Two Doves -------> Nico
Cornershop - Good To Be On The Road Back Home, Again -----> Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra (at least that's what it sounds like to me)
posted by hydrophonic at 7:26 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

Much of Ween's entire catalog, but L.M.L.Y.P (Prince) and Gabrielle (Thin Lizzy) spring most immediately to mind.
posted by Lorin at 8:33 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

Very obscure, but I've thought that Stuart Davis' Dharma Drama was an attempt to sound like Ed Kowalczyk's Live.
posted by goethean at 8:43 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

Possibly not what you're looking for as it's more of an affectionate parody, but a damned funny one: Robbie Fulks, Fountains of Wayne Hotline.
posted by Decani at 3:32 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]

Elastica's Connection and Waking Up sound very similar to Wire's Three Girl Rhumba and The Strangler's No More Heroes. So much so that they were sued.

Also the climbing riff in Radiohead's Just bears more than a passing resemblance to Magazine's Shot By Both Sides (which was itself reworked by Buzzcocks into Lipstick). Radiohead are noted Magazine fans - they had John Leckie produce The Bends because he'd worked on Magazine's Real Life.
posted by permafrost at 3:42 AM on March 4

"The Great Defector" by Bell X1 is essentially a Talking Heads pastiche.
posted by jbickers at 6:11 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]

Iirc, Brian Eno's King's Lead Hat was a Talking Heads homage.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:30 AM on March 4

I don't know if it's considered a "successful" song, but I'd always heard Led Zeppelin's The Crunge was an attempt to make a James Brown-ish type song.
posted by bondcliff at 6:49 AM on March 4

I don't know if it was a deliberate attempt but Trouble by the Jayhawks may as well be by the Beatles, sound-wise.
posted by mikepop at 7:33 AM on March 4

Eef Barzelay has said that Moment In The Sun was his attempt at writing a terrible Jewel song.
posted by Twicketface at 7:58 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]

Meanwhile, "Come As You Are" is incredibly similar to "Gouge Away" by the Pixies.

Come As You Are was subject to the threat of a lawsuit by Killing Joke, who felt that the riff was pretty much stolen from their song Eighties. Kurt Cobain was apparently very conscious of the similarity, so much so that Nirvana almost held off on releasing it as a single.
posted by peteyjlawson at 1:26 PM on March 4

Iirc, Brian Eno's King's Lead Hat was a Talking Heads homage

Indeed it was, a big clue being in the fact that the title is an anagram of "Talking Heads". :-)
posted by Decani at 4:01 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]

Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive" was based on Syd Barrett trying to rewrite Love's "My Little Red Book" based only on a description of the song by his manager Peter Jenner.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:00 AM on March 5

I believe I have read somewhere (and my ears would agree) that the very early Wailers were trying very hard to sound like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and similar artists of the day.
posted by Rykey at 4:49 PM on March 5

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