Songs that channel other artists?
September 10, 2010 11:38 AM   Subscribe

What pop songs are pastiches of other songwriters' or performers' styles? I am not looking for parodies or comedy songs.

A good example would be R.E.M.'s "At My Most Beautiful" (wiki): Michael Stipe has said he was "trying to write a Brian Wilson song", or words along those lines.

I'm looking for songs written by songwriters with a specific other songwriter's style in mind; especially if the songwriter has publicly acknowledged this fact.

I am not looking for songs that "sound a bit Dylanesque" or "have Aerosmith guitars". Also not for samples, covers, mere references, suspected plagiarism etc. Obviously, no Weird Al.

Some more examples:

Something like "Listening to Otis Redding at Home During Christmas" by Okkervil River wouldn't work, because it merely covers part of Otis' song and doesn't (as far as I can tell) explicitly strive to be an Otis song, or a song Otis would write.

"All I Want" by LCD Soundsystem would be a bit dubious: elements of it obviously channel Bowie but I don't really see how the song as a whole channels Bowie's style.

On the other hand, Springsteen's "Waiting On a Sunny Day" is fine, because of his introduction of the song on Storytellers:
Just pure pop songwriting is a lot of fun. It's fun to play with the words in it, in a simple fashion, like... "it's raining, but there ain't no cloud up above, must have been a tear from your eye..." That's right.

Now the master of this of course was Smokey Robinson. And when I write these, I tend to kinda... sometimes I think about singing 'em in. And it gives me an idea of the phrase like if Smokey was gonna sing it.
Sorry for being strict on the parameters but I wanted to make very clear what it is I'm asking. I hope I have.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane to Media & Arts (56 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The entirety of The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs is a series of pastiches. Stephin Merrit has stated, for instance, that Papa Was a Rodeo is meant to be a Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood song.
posted by griphus at 11:42 AM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Kurt Cobain said that Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit was explicitly meant to sound like a Pixies song:

I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily that I should have been in that band— or at least a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:45 AM on September 10, 2010

R. Kelly wrote "You Are Not Alone" as an attempt to use elements of what he thought of as an ideal Michael Jackson song. It worked - Jackson loved it, and recorded it.

"Krafty" by New Order is them trying their hand at writing and performing a Kraftwerk song.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:54 AM on September 10, 2010

AFAIK Robyn Hitchcock has never said he meant to write a Stones song
but listen to Rock and Roll Toilet and judge for yourself.
posted by jet_silver at 11:57 AM on September 10, 2010

Paul McCartney's Let Me Roll It was a conscious effort to sound like John Lennon.
posted by Crane Shot at 11:59 AM on September 10, 2010

Not a song, but Springsteen has said that he wanted "Born to Run" to sound like "Roy Orbison singing Bob Dylan, produced by Spector."
posted by tommasz at 11:59 AM on September 10, 2010

Also, this is borderline, but Tom Lehrer's Clementine is the traditional folk song done as Cole Porter, Mozart, a "cool school" jazz composer, and Gilbert and Sullivan would have written and performed it.
posted by griphus at 11:59 AM on September 10, 2010

Lots of Beatles songs. "Got to Get You Into My Life" was McCartney imitating The Lovin' Spoonful. "Back in the USSR" is supposed to be like The Beach Boys. "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" is meant to sound like a Dylan song.
posted by JohnMarston at 12:08 PM on September 10, 2010

Ween. Hear me out.

Ween is a band that produces a lot of crap, absolutely. They also write a lot of silly stuff, and stupid stuff, and boring stuff. However, when they take on a genre, they own it; for example "12 Country Greats" has a quality (in the songwriting, the production, the instrumentation and the sincerity of the delivery) on many tracks that even their best attempt to derail it with tongue-in-cheek lyrics fails to dilute the charm and sentimentality.

On their first album, God Satan Ween, they bounce effortlessly from one genre to the next, and occasionally a song is an obvious and loving -- if still silly and somewhat infantile -- homage to a great artist (such as "L.M.L.Y.P.", paying tribute to Prince.)

Since that release there have been some clunkers ("Pure Guava", for instance, which includes their only real radio hit "Push Th' Little Daisies" but is mostly unlistenable) and some outstanding works ("White Pepper", containing a few clunkers but also the surprisingly sincere love songs "Even If You Don't" and "Stay Forever", and the charmingly self-referential "Exactly Where I'm At".)

Plus, their catalog is sizable, so if you become a fan you'll have a lot of exploring to do, which is nice.

Here's a review of God Satan Ween that takes a similar tone to my comments above: " matter how absurd Ween are being, they always manage to accomplish a seemingly contradictory task: sounding exactly like every band operating within the genres they attack while sounding only like themselves."
posted by davejay at 12:11 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

er, apparently God Satan Ween isn't their first album, so please ignore that
posted by davejay at 12:17 PM on September 10, 2010

L.E.O. - A pop supergroup joke band, which recorded an album of ELO-soundalike original songs.

Billy Joel, "Laura" - Billy does Beatles

Also maybe getting a bit close, but the soundtrack to "Walk Hard" is full of great genre songs. They're not really parodies, but they are supposed to be funny. (By the way, the bizarre SMiLE-era-Beach-Boys-style song on that soundtrack is by Van Dyke Parks).
posted by overeducated_alligator at 12:17 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Black Country Rock" was David Bowie trying to sound like Marc Bolan, although it does verge close to parody in the last verse with an overt vocal imitation.
posted by Devoidoid at 12:17 PM on September 10, 2010

no wait, it was! so ignore my thing about ignoring that thing
posted by davejay at 12:19 PM on September 10, 2010

Horse With No Name by America is a deliberate Neil Young soundalike.
posted by essexjan at 12:30 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about anything by Lenny Kravitz? Everything I have ever heard from him sounds like an attempt to sound like someone (John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, etc.), or to sound like something (60s or 70s music, funk, etc).
posted by I am the Walrus at 12:34 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sumisu by Farin Urlaub is a homage to the Smiths (see Wikipedia).
posted by Skybly at 12:37 PM on September 10, 2010

Scarlett Johansson and Pete Yorn's Break Up album was inspired by Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot's albums.

"Elastic Love" by Christina Aguilera is the product of going to M.I.A for a songwriting collaboration. I dislike M.I.A. and am a huge Christina Aguilera fan, so it's no surprise this was the only track I hated on the album.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:48 PM on September 10, 2010

Anything by Flight of the Conchords - the references are so obvious you won't be able to miss them.
posted by Dragonness at 12:50 PM on September 10, 2010

Pretty much the entire repertoire of Dread Zeppelin probably counts.
posted by crapmatic at 12:51 PM on September 10, 2010

White Lion's "Blue Monday" was guitarist Vito Bratta's tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughn, written shortly after (or possible on the same day as) SRV died.
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:59 PM on September 10, 2010

I am pretty sure Speechless is a Freddy Mercury pastiche.
posted by everichon at 12:59 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Dukes of Stratosphere were a side project of XTC, doing homages and pastiches of just about every subgenre of 60s psychedelic rock. The Beatles references are the most obvious but just the tip of the iceberg. Check them out, they're fantastic.
posted by xil at 1:02 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Warren Zevon - 'Gorilla You're a Desperado', 'Desperados Under the Eaves' and some others have Eagles influence.
posted by lois1950 at 1:03 PM on September 10, 2010

They Might Be Giants "Man, It's So Loud in Here" is totally a New Order song.
posted by Failure31 at 1:05 PM on September 10, 2010

The Beatles - "I'm Down." Paul McCartney was directly channeling Little Richard. (Little Richard actually gave Paul screaming lessons.)

The Beatles - "Lady Madonna." Ringo Starr has said Paul McCartney was not just imitating Elvis Presley in this song -- he was Elvis. (Of course, Elvis didn't write any songs, but it's an imitation of Elvis's style, along with whoever wrote his songs.)

The Beatles - "I am the Walrus." John Lennon famously said he wrote this song because he figured: "If Bob Dylan can write that crap, so can I." (I'm paraphrasing -- you can find the actual quote in the book Beatlesongs. You can also find Ringo's comment on "Lady Madonna" in that book.)

The Beatles - "Tell Me What You See." This sounds to me like an homage to Buddy Holly. Compare it to the Beatles' cover of Holly's "Words of Love," which they had just released on their previous album. Also, the keyboard riff evokes the lead guitar in Holly's "Heartbeat."

The Beatles - "Back in the U.S.S.R." Homage to the Beach Boys and Chuck Berry's "Back in the USA." Berry's song is trenchantly ironic when you consider the racial context (he's a black man in the '50s singing about how you can have all these great things in the USA), and the Beatles put a Cold War twist on this (they're playing the role of Americans who love the Soviet Union in the '60s). Sorry if this is going too much into Weird Al territory.

The Beach Boys - "Surfin' USA." Gee, do you think they had recently listened to Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen"? Actually I'm not even sure this fits your criteria since you said no plagiarism.

To my ears, Prince's "Paisley Park" and "Raspberry Beret" are deliberate homages to the Beatles and other poppy '60s songwriters. (Prince was/is a huge fan of '60s rock.)

I'm pretty sure Billy Corgan has acknowledged that he drew heavily on My Bloody Valentine, especially in the early years of the Smashing Pumpkins. Listen to MBV's "Only Shallow" and then SP's "Rocket"! It sounds almost like the same band.

I'll probably be pillaried for saying this, but I think Radiohead was trying to create their version of Prince's "When Doves Cry" when they wrote "Idioteque." They're both dominated by thumping drums and intense vocals, plus some plinky keyboards. I have no idea if Radiohead or anyone else has pointed this out.

Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" strikes me as a modern-day equivalent of Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine."

The Arcade Fire have been very clear that a lot of their music is deeply indebted to Bruce Springsteen. The influence is obvious on "Keep the Car Running."

Another Arcade Fire example: I personally think "My Body Is a Cage" is an homage to Phil Collins's "In the Air Tonight." I've never seen anyone else draw this connection -- I just think there's a similar emotional tenor and songwriting sensibility.

Beck's whole album Midnite Vultures is an homage to Prince.

Soundgarden's "Outshined" (along with so many of their songs) is inspired by Led Zeppelin.

Of Montreal's mastermind, Kevin Barnes, admits he's been profoundly influenced by David Bowie. As one fairly random example of many, try "So Begins Our Alabee."

Some Of Montreal songs (especially on the album Satanic Panic in the Attic) are in the vein of what I would call Queen's "genteel" style. Compare "Your Magic is Working" to "Old Fashioned Lover Boy."

It's hard to imagine Yeasayer without Talking Heads.

Jet - "Look What You've Done." This is an, er, "homage" to the Beatles/John Lennon, especially "Sexy Sadie." This another one where I'm not sure if you'd consider it inspiration or plagiarism.

People are going to hate me for saying this, but I honestly think Sara Bareilles's "Love Song" is inspired by Paul McCartney. You'd never confuse the two, of course, but you can imagine Paul writing and performing it. She has his same quality of nonchalant effervescence.
posted by John Cohen at 1:05 PM on September 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Cat Power's Song to Bobby references, refers to directly, and is a stylistic tribute to Bob Dylan.
posted by telegraph at 1:07 PM on September 10, 2010

I just linked this in another thread, but COOKIES! by Lisa Dank is a pretty overt attempt to write a modern 80s Madonna song

Here's a blog post that talks a little about the idea of throwback songs in relation to it
posted by rollick at 1:09 PM on September 10, 2010

Many of "Weird Al" Yankovic's original songs are pastiches. In some cases, this is really obvious -- "Dare to Be Stupid" is clearly a Devo pastiche with the video to prove it. "Bob" is, obviously Bob Dylan. "Close But No Cigar is Cake.

In others, it's a little more subtle -- "Everything You Know Is Wrong" is kind of a stealth-pastiche of They Might Be Giants. (Very specific lyrical/topical references, and that baritone sax bridge couldn't be more obvious.)

The List of Weird Al songs on Wikipedia does a nice job of cataloging these, just search for "in the style of".
posted by dryad at 1:34 PM on September 10, 2010

Bell X1's "The Great Defector" is straight-up Talking Heads pastiche. Sample.
posted by jbickers at 1:41 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

In the liner notes to one of the re-releases of her self-title albums, I read Lucinda Williams had said that the song Like A Rose came out of an attempt to write a song that was reminiscent of Nico's songs in The Velvet Underground. You would never guess it to listen to it cold, but if you listen to it back to back with I'll Be Your Mirror, it's actually obvious.

I found that to be incredibly helpful for me, as a songwriter, actually. I allowed myself to try "copying" certain songs I liked, and found how far down a different and awesome road that took me down.

Cool question! I think that is more what you're getting at, right?

There are some more obvious homage songs, Fight Test by The Flaming Lips sounds a lot like Father and Son by Cat Stevens -- I always assumed it was supposed to be an answer to that song. Not sure what the story is there, though, maybe someone else knows?

The song Uprising by Muse has several callouts to songs, musically, I am almost sure it is done on purpose as an homage, both to Call Me by Blondie, and Detroit Rock City by KISS, I think there are other songs in there I've noticed as well.
posted by pazazygeek at 1:47 PM on September 10, 2010

The album 1972 by Josh Rouse channels a bunch of different artists from the early 70's.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 2:40 PM on September 10, 2010

pazazygeek's mention of Flight Test sounding like Father and Son reminds me of my staunch belief that Pixies' "Wave of Mutilation" is a response to or continuation of Otis Redding's "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay."
posted by entropone at 3:05 PM on September 10, 2010

There's also Hard Luck Woman by Kiss, which features Peter Criss doing his best Rod Stewart impression.
posted by Crane Shot at 3:10 PM on September 10, 2010

Not sure what the story is there, though, maybe someone else knows?

They nicked it. They got caught. They settled.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:34 PM on September 10, 2010

"Fountains of Wayne Hotline" by Robbie Fulks is exactly what it sounds like. A frustrated songwriter calls the hotline for help writing a song a la Fountains of Wayne, and the song then unfolds precisely like a Fountains of Wayne song should. (Previously)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:24 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

The soundtrack for Velvet Goldmine has quite a few original songs written to sound like Glam Rock... mostly Bowie-esque, since his songs were off limits.
posted by Swisstine at 5:13 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

In Re: Chan Marshall's "Song to Bobby", what about Bob Dylan's "Song To Woody"??

Also -- you said that using samples doesn't count? Because I wouldput forth every hip song using samples
posted by custard heart at 5:22 PM on September 10, 2010

Sorry should have read "hip hop song". I should know better than to write on my phone.
posted by custard heart at 5:23 PM on September 10, 2010

Mick Jagger said "Satisfaction" came from trying to sound like "Dancing in the streets". Tears for Fears' "Sowing the Seeds of LOve" is a Beatles tribute, and sounds just like "I am the Walrus".
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 5:36 PM on September 10, 2010

Utopia's album Deface the Music (Amazon - Wikipedia) is a pastiche of Beatles pop -- the album is arranged to chronologically parallel the Beatle's entire career. Homage, not parody.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 9:19 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Deborah Harry has stated that she wanted to write a song like "Mickey's Monkey" and the result was "Eat to the Beat."
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:31 PM on September 10, 2010

Here Comes The Sun King on Abbey Road:
In an interview in 1987, Harrison said that the recording was inspired by Fleetwood Mac's "Albatross". "At the time, 'Albatross' (by Fleetwood Mac) was out, with all the reverb on guitar. So we said, 'Let's be Fleetwood Mac doing Albatross, just to get going.' It never really sounded like Fleetwood Mac… but that was the point of origin."
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:49 AM on September 11, 2010

This is great, guys. Thanks all, and keep 'em coming if you have more.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:26 AM on September 11, 2010

Thought of a couple more:

It's been said that Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) used the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus" as a reference point for their whole sound.

George Harrison - "When We Was Fab." This is an oddity in that he's taking off his own band, you-know-who.
posted by John Cohen at 9:46 AM on September 11, 2010

"The Honeymoon Song" by Everclear on Songs From An American Movie, Vol. 1. is a lovely homage to the Beach Boys.
posted by Brody's chum at 1:16 PM on September 11, 2010

Baby Britain by Elliott Smith is pretty clearly Beatles-inspired, and even mentions the album Revolver in the lyrics.
posted by dephlogisticated at 3:58 PM on September 11, 2010

Beach Baby is clearly a Beach Boys inspired piece of fluff. (But very pleasant fluff.)
posted by wittgenstein at 5:55 PM on September 11, 2010

Billy Joel's Nylon Curtain has several songs that echo John Lennon.

Wikipedia on The Nylon Curtain:
It is unusual for Joel's work in its direct homage to and influence of the music of The Beatles and John Lennon (in particular "Laura," "Surprises," "Scandinavian Skies," and "Where's the Orchestra")
Todd Rundgren has said that the Utopia song "Crybaby" on Oblivion was an attempt to sound like Def Leppard. (I've heard this before, but the only cite I can find right now is in this concert summary.)

Also, I got a bunch of results for a Google search for "trying to write a * song" . There's a lot of stuff that's not relevant, but it turned up these:

Weezer - Undone (The Sweater Song): "Cuomo told Rolling Stone: "I was trying to write a Velvet Underground-type song because I was super into them, and I came up with that guitar riff. ... "

Michael Weatherly - Bitter & Blue: "If you heard the original songs I was writing, it'd be obvious I listened to a lot of Crowded House. I was just trying to write a Squeeze song."

Andy Samford - Black Sun Rising: "I was trying to write a Kula Shaker sounding song, but it doesn’t really sound like them at all."

Bad Religion - The Devil in Stitches: "'I was trying to write a Bruce Springsteen song,' he said."

Jimmy Buffett - Come Monday: "I've always been trying to write songs like Lightfoot. A song of mine like 'Come Monday' is a direct result of me trying to write a Gordon Lightfoot song."
posted by kristi at 6:46 PM on September 11, 2010

The Frames' Sad Songs was reportedly inspired by Bruce Springsteen's music and even includes the lyric "And the better part of everything/was born to run".

The Swell Season's Low Rising is pretty clearly an homage to Van Morrison, according to Glen Hansard and basically every person who has ever heard it.
posted by shannonm at 10:03 PM on September 11, 2010

The Knickerbockers' "Lies" is often mistaken for The Beatles.

Crowded House's "Not the Girl You Think You Are" sounds like a White Album outtake.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:40 AM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Queen's Elvis-y "Crazy Little Thing Called Love".

Several of the songs on Oasis' (What's the Story) Morning Glory? nick The Beatles. "Wonderwall" (the title comes from George Harrison's first solo album). "Don't Look Back in Anger" (Noel Gallagher said "[It] reminds me of a cross between "All the Young Dudes" and [something] The Beatles might have done"). The ending of "She's Electric" is just like "With a Little Help From My Friends." "Champagne Supernova."
posted by kirkaracha at 10:05 AM on September 12, 2010

There are a number of U2/Bono-written songs that fit this bill, although I can only think of two at the moment:

Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad, written for/in the style of Frank Sinatra (here I think it's being performed for a Sinatra birthday celebration).

Slow Dancing: "One day I woke up with a Willie Nelson song [in my head]."

Rattle and Hum, the album, is really just essentially a pastiche of Americana, blues and roots rock sounds, including tributes to and performances from Bliile Holiday, B.B. King, Elvis and John Lennon.

Oh, and then there's The Wanderer, the last track on Zooropa. It was sung by Johnny Cash because, according to Wikipedia, Bono felt it was his song in the same way Slow Dancing was Willie's. (YouTube to a U2 performance. YT for Cash performance.)
posted by tyrantkitty at 5:27 PM on September 12, 2010

Yeah, clearly when I started I could only think of two, and then I thought of more.
posted by tyrantkitty at 5:28 PM on September 12, 2010

Ween is indeed pretty outstanding at doing "covers" of songs that the original artists never recorded. Among my favorites, I have to include Gabrielle, which is a deliberate attempt at Thin Lizzy, and "It's Gonna be a Long Night" which is a pretty great Motorhead tribute.
posted by holterbarbour at 7:20 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sowing the Seeds of Love was mentioned above, but Tears for Fears did another artist pastiche a few years later: Brian Wilson Said.

Teenage Fanclub's entire Bandwagonesque album (and, really, a lot of their other stuff, too) could be considered a tribute to the sound of Big Star.
posted by anthom at 10:30 AM on September 13, 2010

"Rock and Roll Toilet" by the Soft Boys, I think, is aping the Rolling Stones...I could be wrong.
posted by nimmpau at 10:28 AM on September 14, 2010

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