What songs reference their music in the lyrics?
May 20, 2022 1:35 PM   Subscribe

Can you give me examples of songs where the lyrics reference what is happening in the music?

I'm thinking of songs like:
Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen -> "The fourth, the fifth, The minor fall, the major lift"
Regulate by Warren G -> "The rhythm is the bass and the bass is the treble."

What other examples come to mind?
posted by being_quiet to Media & Arts (77 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: There's a line in Farmer Refuted from Hamilton that goes: "Don't modulate the key/To not debate with me" as one of the debate partners starts to modulate the key.
posted by jeoc at 1:42 PM on May 20, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Robbie Fulks' Fountains of Wayne Hotline is an absolutely delightful tribute to 90's alt rock power pop band Fountains of Wayne. In the song, Fulks is having trouble finishing his song, so he calls the eponymous hotline, where grizzled operators coach him on how FoW would develop the song. "What you need to do now is employ the radical dynamic shift... full band entry, fortissimo, while maintaining consistent apparent volume on the vocal track."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:42 PM on May 20, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: In "Touch the Sky" by Kanye West & Lupe Fiasco, a verse ends with the line "Now let me end this verse right where the horns are" and then there's horns.
posted by chudmonkey at 1:43 PM on May 20, 2022

Memphis Soul Stew (a lot of people have covered or interpolated it, like e.g. the Geto Boys)
posted by box at 1:46 PM on May 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Car Seat Headrest - Bodies

"Is it the chorus yet? No. It's just the building of the verse, so that when the chorus does come it will be more rewarding."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:48 PM on May 20, 2022

Best answer: The line "How strange the change from major to minor" in Cole Porter's 'Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye'.
posted by misteraitch at 1:48 PM on May 20, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: James brown "Hit it"

The fa so la song.
posted by bdc34 at 1:49 PM on May 20, 2022

Best answer: Came here to mention "Fountains of Wayne Hotline" ("oh, that Gerald") and was not disappointed -- thanks, DirtyOldTown!

In a similar vein, "The Grunge Song" by comedy band The Vestibules; and to an extent Todd Snider's "Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues."
posted by Shepherd at 1:53 PM on May 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Chudmonkey mentioned Kanye's "Touch The Sky", and that reminded me of his virally-famous "Lift Yourself", which has a set of lyrics towards the end - spoken-word over a background chorus singing "Lift yourself on your feet" over and over:

"This next verse, this next verse though
These bars
Watch this some shit go..."

...Although, the "next verse" consists of Kanye saying things like "Poopy-di scoop, Scoop-diddy-whoop, Whoop-di-scoop-di-poop, Poop-di-scoopty scoopty-whoop" over and over.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:55 PM on May 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This Is The Hook
posted by The Bellman at 1:55 PM on May 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

The Monster Mash?
I was working in the lab, late one night
When my eyes beheld an eerie sight
For my monster from his slab, began to rise
And suddenly to my surprise
He did the monster mash
(The monster mash) It was a graveyard smash
(He did the mash) It caught on in a flash
(He did the mash) He did the monster mash
in other words, is a song that is about a scientist listening to the 'real' Monster Mash
posted by Ahmad Khani at 2:02 PM on May 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Does do-re-mi count?
posted by sillysally at 2:02 PM on May 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Digital Underground - The Humpty Dance: Awww yeah that's the break y'all look at that bass groove right here...

Neneh Cherry - Buffalo Stance: Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce the hi-hat"...

Lynyrd Skynyrd - Sweet Home Alabama: Turn it up

SNAP! - The Power: Dig it like a cymbal, rhyme devil on the heavenly level Bang the bass, turn up the treble

The Beatles - While My Guitar Gently Weeps
posted by tonycpsu at 2:03 PM on May 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Sing a song ...
posted by yqxnflld at 2:05 PM on May 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Barr - The Song is the Single is partly about the writing of the song itself and includes some asides like "end piano" right before the piano ends etc. Vocals, drum, bass, kinda art-pop. One of my faves.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:06 PM on May 20, 2022

Best answer: In the song Every Day Carry by Dry Cleaning, "Droopy flute solo comes in now," just before a droopy flute solo.
posted by The Half Language Plant at 2:08 PM on May 20, 2022

The theme song for the Gary Shandling Show? "This is the music that you hear/as you watch the credits")
posted by Morpeth at 2:09 PM on May 20, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key, Billy Bragg and Wilco with Natalie Merchant.
posted by headnsouth at 2:09 PM on May 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

I don't know if this is a little too obvious, but Weird Al's parody of George Harrison's (cover of) "I Got My Mind Set On You" is titled This Song Is Just Six Words Long.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:10 PM on May 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

The song "G for Jesus" by the delightful country punk, Nick Shoulders , is a song, in the key of G, about playing a song in G. For Jesus.
posted by voiceofreason at 2:12 PM on May 20, 2022

NWA's 'Something 2 Dance 2,' a sonic throwback to Dre and Yella's World Class Wreckin Cru days.
posted by box at 2:13 PM on May 20, 2022

In Johny Rivers' Summer Rain he sings the line, "Everybody just kept on playing Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". At that moment his band plays a riff from that song.
posted by JonJacky at 2:17 PM on May 20, 2022

Kris Delmhorst: Galuppi Baldassare (lyrics are on the page)
posted by polecat at 2:17 PM on May 20, 2022

DO RE MI! ("Do a deer, a female deer")
posted by DMelanogaster at 2:18 PM on May 20, 2022

Another +1 for FOW Hotline, from which we got the name of our cat: (Oh, that) Gerald.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:19 PM on May 20, 2022

King Crimson, Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With

And when I have some words
This is the way I'll sing
Through a distortion box
To make them menacing, yeah

Yes, I'm gonna have to write a chorus
I’m gonna need to have a chorus
And this would seem to be as good as any other place to sing it till I'm blue in the face

posted by Daily Alice at 2:20 PM on May 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Stardust The whole song is sort of about the melody, ends with a line about the memory of the refrain, and then plays the refrain.
posted by thivaia at 2:23 PM on May 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Just remembered Lou Reed, "Walk on the Wild Side", where the original leads into the chorus with "and the colored girls go doot de doot..."; per Wikipedia, there was a censored release for US radio that changed it to "and all the girls sing..." (and remove the reference to giving head).
posted by Shepherd at 2:30 PM on May 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

G turns to D by Sloan is a great one. It’s a song about writing the song that it is. Plus it’s a nice little rocker.
posted by ordinary_magnet at 2:31 PM on May 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Dance to the Music, Sly and the Family Stone

All we need is a drummer
For people who only need a beat, yeah
I'm gonna add a little guitar
And make it easy to move your feet
posted by rekrap at 2:32 PM on May 20, 2022 [7 favorites]

Oh, I like coffee and I like tea, but I don't especially like Blues Traveler's 'Hook.'
posted by box at 2:34 PM on May 20, 2022 [8 favorites]

If we never meet again, baby, remember me
How my lone guitar played sweet for you that old-time melody
And the harmonica around my neck, I blew it for you, free
No one else could play that tune
You know it was up to me

Bob Dylan, Up To Me
posted by el_presidente at 2:41 PM on May 20, 2022

I think that "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen might fall into this category but I don't know enough about music to know whether there is, indeed, the first, fourth, the major fifth, the minor fall, and the major lift.

I love the song "G Turns to D" by Sloan. Oh! Which, on review, ordinary_magnet has already cited.
posted by kensington314 at 2:44 PM on May 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Elliott Smith's "Waltz #2" takes place in a karaoke bar. In the first verse, someone's singing The Everly Brothers' "Cathy's Clown," and in a later verse, Linda Rondstat's "You're No Good." The lyrics in that verse quote the chorus of that song.

Here it is, the revenge to the tune: you're no good
You're no good
You're no good
You're no good
Can't you tell that it's well understood?

posted by emelenjr at 2:44 PM on May 20, 2022

Maya Rudolph - Key Change Baby

Sorry that the video/audio is not great, it’s someone recording Netflix from their phone.

I believe the song comes from a Netflix Valentines Day special from a few years ago with Michael Bolton and Adam Sandberg.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 2:47 PM on May 20, 2022

Springsteen's Thunder Road does his lil "I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk" and then cue the guitar, talking. He's not really singing about that moment, but it's illustrative in a similar way.

Dylan's I Shall Be Free No. 10 ends with this funny lil verse about the song and where he references what he's doing with the guitar:
You're probably wondering by now
Just what this song is all about
What's probably got you baffled more
What this thing here is for
It's nothing
It's something I learned over in England
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:51 PM on May 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Pay TV's "Refrain Refrain" is essentially a whole song about constructing a formulaic pop song.
posted by subocoyne at 2:58 PM on May 20, 2022

So I slept in the hobo jungles
Roamed a thousand miles of track
Till I found myself in Mobile Alabama
At a club they call Big Jack's
A little four-piece band was jammin'
So I took my guitar and I sat in
I showed 'em what a band would sound like
With a swingin' little guitar man
Show 'em, son

Jerry Reed, Guitar Man
posted by el_presidente at 3:06 PM on May 20, 2022

The chorus of Harry Chapin's Stranger with the Melodies is
Hold that D chord on the old guitar
Till you've found the G
Drop it down to old E minor
Till the A chord rolls back home around to D
Which is the chord progression of the chorus.
posted by darchildre at 3:32 PM on May 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Sexy Back, Justin Timberlake & Timbaland (lyrics)

take it to the bridge
posted by JoeZydeco at 3:39 PM on May 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

NOFX - Please Play This Song on the Radio

[Verse 1]
We wrote this song
It's not too short, it's not too long
It's got back-up vocals in just the right places
It's got a few "oozin'-ahs,"
And it takes a little pause
Just before I sing the F-word

Please play this song on the radio

[Verse 2]
Almost every line is sung in time
And almost every verse ends in a rim
Only problem we had was writing enough words
(Ooh, ah)
But that's okay, because the chorus is coming up again now

Needless to say, the music matches what the lyrics are describing.
posted by ejs at 3:56 PM on May 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

I think you'll find more in this previous question.
posted by daisyace at 4:51 PM on May 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

John Cale Experiment Number One has some chord changes called out and stuff.
posted by ovvl at 5:42 PM on May 20, 2022

The Wailin' Jennys: One Voice

Charlie Daniels: The Devil Went Down to Georgia

The devil opened up his case and he said, "I'll start this show"
And fire flew from his fingertips as he rosined up his bow
And he pulled the bow across the strings
And it made a evil hiss
Then a band of demons joined in
And it sounded something like this

posted by polecat at 5:48 PM on May 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Manhattan Transfer’s Offbeat of Avenues plays with song’s beat.
posted by PussKillian at 5:57 PM on May 20, 2022

Response by poster: These are incredible! Thank you everyone! I had to stop marking answers but you are all awesome!
posted by being_quiet at 7:53 PM on May 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

3 Kinds of Bass - Bass Outlaws
posted by Mitheral at 7:53 PM on May 20, 2022

Come All Ye, Fairport Convention.

"Our fiddler, he just loves to play
And that's why he plays so good"...

etc. Everyone gets a mention, even you and me!
posted by inexorably_forward at 8:11 PM on May 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Bob Marley & the Wailers' Zion Train has the instruction "to the bridge."
posted by a humble nudibranch at 8:29 PM on May 20, 2022

Matilda, by PUP, is sung from the perspective of the lead singer's old guitar, which he plays on the bridge immediately after the line "Can you hear me now?"
posted by valrus at 8:59 PM on May 20, 2022

Marianas Trench - Pop 101 ft. Anami Vice

Pop music 101
Some simple instructions, for a good first impression
Now lets start with verse one
A minor chord, tensions grow
Fade in the bass like so
Now with momentum go
And bring the beat back

posted by alchemist at 9:22 PM on May 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

The Herman's Hermits song I'm Henry VIII I Am includes the line "second verse same as the first." It applies to both music and lyrics, so maybe fits in your parameters?

Also in the "maybe this isn't what you want" category, the Peter, Paul, and Mary song I Dig Rock and Roll Music has verses about the Mamas and the Papas, Donovan, and the Beatles in which the music imitates the sounds of those bands. So it's not directly talking about the music, but it's very obvious to anyone who would recognize it, which, when the song came out, would be everyone.
posted by FencingGal at 5:05 AM on May 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also in the 'maybe this isn't what you want' category, Ice Cube's 'Jackin' For Beats' is a song about how he steals people's beats, in which he... rhymes over beats from other rappers' songs.

Artists like Sticky Fingaz, T.I., The Game, and Atmosphere would later record their own versions.
posted by box at 5:11 AM on May 21, 2022

Bernard Carney's "Here is the Chorus" (performed by Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer here) is 100% self-referential:
I have a line of a verse it sets the mood it sets the time
I colour it with images and maybe it will rhyme
And now it gains momentum getting stronger on the way
The chorus is approaching and it's what i want to say

Here is the chorus it’s the title of the song
Here is the chorus and it’s taking you along
It sums up all the verses and the themes that they contain
Here is the chorus and I’m singing it again
(full lyrics)
posted by scruss at 5:37 AM on May 21, 2022

Bob Dylan. Sitting on a Barbed Wire Fence. Toward the end ...

"I know you're gonna / think this song is just a riff ..."
posted by philip-random at 8:15 AM on May 21, 2022

Pavement - Gold Soundz "And we're coming to the chorus now..."
Camper Van Beethoven - Take the Skinheads Bowling "There's not a line here that rhymes with anything"
posted by Windopaene at 8:24 AM on May 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

The Cat Empire, One Four Five.
posted by jackbishop at 9:08 AM on May 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

The Four Tops' "It's the Same Old Song" famously references the fact that it's built from the same chords as their previous hit.
posted by aws17576 at 11:00 PM on May 21, 2022

Rhythm of Love by the Plain White T's:

My heart beats like a drum
A guitar string to the strum
posted by poppunkcat at 4:43 AM on May 22, 2022

Counter example: the Sparks song 'I Predict' is about someone whose predictions are either obvious and banal, or hopelessly wrong. The last refrain is:
'And this song will fade out/And this song will fade out/And this song will fade out/I predict'
This repeats several times. The song does not fade out.
posted by Hogshead at 8:24 AM on May 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

In Missy Elliott's Work It she says "Put my thing down, flip it and reverse it," followed by that exact line but backwards.

In Lizzo's newest single, About Damn Time she says "Wanna get up, wanna get down" and her voice goes up on "up" and down on "down"
posted by radioamy at 11:51 AM on May 22, 2022

Extra credit, music major edition: Failing: A very difficult piece for solo string bass. (First google result; not an endorsement of that specific performance).
posted by fedward at 11:56 AM on May 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Fiona Apple's Werewolf contains the line, "There's nothing wrong when a song ends in a minor key."
posted by Mister Moofoo at 12:04 PM on May 22, 2022

This is the song that never ends.
It just goes on and on, my friend.
Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was.
And, they’ll continue singing it forever, just because
This is the song that never ends…
posted by CathyG at 8:55 PM on May 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Oh, I like coffee and I like tea, but I don't especially like Blues Traveler's 'Hook.'

Some deeper background for those who aren't familiar: it's been observed many times by many people that a shocking number of pop songs are just variations on Pachelbel's Canon in D. Hook is an ironic take on that where the similarity to Pachelbel's is blatant, and the lyrics are about the shallowness of pop music: all you need is a good hook. It's an annoying song but conceptually it's savage and kind of brilliant. Blues Traveler actually made a hit song about how easy it is to make a hit song, and most people never listen closely enough to get the joke, which is exactly the point. For the record, I didn't realize it either until someone on Metafilter pointed it out! I think it might have been hippiebear?
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:11 PM on May 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Modulation and I hold a high note, "Title of the Song", Da Vinci's Notebook (lyrics)

Great, fun question!
posted by kristi at 11:08 AM on May 23, 2022

Another Blues Traveler self-reference is the opening line of Just For Me -- "Just another I - IV - V"
posted by 0xFCAF at 1:02 PM on May 23, 2022

David Lee Roth, in "Two Fools a Minute," talks to his bandmates about what's going on in the song: "Take one for yourself, Billy," and Billy Sheehan then takes a bass solo; "Modulate, Daddy, modulate. . . Ahh, sizzlin' to the top" refers to Steve Vai's guitar soloing at that moment in the song; at the end, Roth wonders "Where's the drummer?" and then suggests "Billy, you've gotta drive. . . No, no; we can't let Steve drive," which leads into a final solo from Steve Vai.
posted by vitia at 2:45 PM on May 23, 2022

I heard the Screaming Jets
Dum dum dum dum dum
No more, no more.
No more, no more.
(guitar plays a G chord)
(guitar plays an A chord)
(guitar plays a G chord)
posted by pianoblack at 2:50 PM on May 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Wire, "Map Ref. 41°N 93°W" ("Chorus" before the first chorus)

The Fall, "Smile" from Perverted by Language: Mark E Smith instructs the band to "take it down", and then a few minutes later screams "up... UP UP UP UP UP UP UP UP"

There are quite a few moments like this in early-80s Fall tracks, I can't remember which song has the (negative) example when he mutters "don't improvise for fuck's sake"
posted by mikelynch at 6:33 PM on May 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

"The Ocean" by Led Zeppelin:

Singing to an ocean, I can hear the ocean's roar
Play for free, I play for me and play a whole lot more, more

posted by swift at 8:13 PM on May 23, 2022

Obscure song, but Ruck Rover's excellent song "Tennis" includes:

"Maybe now's a good time for a key-change?" (followed by a key change).
posted by pompomtom at 9:30 PM on May 23, 2022

Beatin' It by Classified is a hip-hop song about making the beat used in the song, with references to (say) moving the hi-hats to the left channel then reflected in the beat.
posted by solarion at 2:05 AM on May 25, 2022

Half of James Brown's songs are just him narrating what the band is doing. E.g. from Funky Drummer:

When I count to four
I want everybody to lay off
Let the drummer go
When I count to four
I want you to come back in

One Note Samba by Antônio Carlos Jobim is sung mostly on one note:

This is just a little samba
Built upon a single note
Other notes are bound to follow
But the root is still that note
Now this new one is the consequence
Of the one we've just been through
As I'm bound to be the unavoidable
Consequence of you
posted by mokey at 9:18 AM on May 25, 2022

I haven’t seen these mentioned here yet:

The original Broadway production of Grease included a number called “Those Magic Changes” where one of the characters verbalizes the chords in the song, C, A, F, G7, etc. Only an abbreviated version of the song made it to the movie or the recent live TV version, but the original can be heard here.

Also, this is slightly out of the range of your question, but back in the early 2000s when MC Frontalot rocked a lot of uncleared samples in his tracks, he did one called “Good Ol’ Clyde” referencing how often Clyde Stubblefield performing on James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” has been used by hip-hop artists. And of course he uses the sample himself, along with some uncleared Casey Kasem vocals and some Tom Waits horns. I can’t locate Frontalot’s MP3s on my phone right now, but someone used it in this YouTube tribute video.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 10:06 PM on May 26, 2022

I happened to hear Motley Crue’s ‘Dr. Feelgood’ on the classic-rock radio station, and noticed that, right before the guitar solo, Vince Neil says/sings ‘Guitar!,’ and upon reflection it seems like that’s something that, at one point in time, happened a lot.
posted by box at 5:09 PM on May 28, 2022

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