Here’s a playlist of 42+1 songs and their notable answer song counterparts. A few knock-offs, a couple of pastiches, and a bunch of well-crafted tunes that take a more considered and artistic approach to their inspiration.
Answer songs, or response songs. A phenomenon that’s surely always been with us, but which in pop terms reached a peak in the quick-fix, production-line hits of the 1950s-60s, with dialogues like Tell Laura I love Her / Tell Tommy I Need Him and Are You Lonesome Tonight? / Yes I’m Lonesome Tonight. Even Carole King served up more than her fair share, with Short Mort answering a hit titled Tall Paul, and Oh Neil! replying to Neil Sedaka’s Oh! Carol.
None of those are on this list, BTW.
I said these are “notable” songs, not great ones, because reasons. To wit:
- There’s often a disparity in quality here. No Pigeons doesn’t pack the same punch as No Scrubs, but it was a bona fide hit in its own right. It’s not always the answer that doesn’t measure up to the original though – Lennon’s How Do You Sleep? has the edge over McCartney’s Too Many People, and Althea & Donna’s Uptown Top Ranking is far more of a classic cut than the Three Piece Suit that it’s heavily based on.
- Some of these tunes are, umm, let’s say lyrically problematic. There’s a reason you don’t hear He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss) around the place so much. Nas’s Ether and Ice Cube’s No Vaseline are both solid responses to diss tracks, while also leaning way too heavily on the homophobic slurs, if you ask me.
I was perversely unable to remove the Spokesmen’s nauseating Dawn of Correction, a riposte to Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction, and that rare thing: a right-wing protest song. The songwriters have the audacity to applaud the nuclear stand-off between USA and USSR because it encourages diplomacy, and hey, who’d be so nuts as to press the button anyway? Hard to say if that’s worse than the part where they say the struggles of the civil rights movement are no big deal because voter registration has improved. Actually, they’re both worse.
It wouldn’t have worked to sit songs and answers next to each other – some are just too damn close for that. Instead it’s an onion of a playlist (if you will), with the Rolling Stones in second position being answered by Liz Phair in second-to-last. The list pivots around Bo Diddley’s I’m a Man, which he recorded in response to the opening track, Muddy Waters’s (I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man. Waters returned the favour, answering Bo Diddley’s own answer song with the immortal Mannish Boy…
- (I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man (1) – I’m a Man (22) – Mannish Boy (43)
- Tumbling Dice (2) – Never Said (42)
- My Guy (3) – My Girl (41)
- Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken? (4) – Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken (40)
- Cry Me a River (5) – Sweet Dreams My LA Ex (39)
- Three Piece Suit (6) – Uptown Top Ranking (38)
- The Girl Is Mine (7) – The Boy Is Mine (37)
- Takeover (8) – Ether (36)
- Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth (9) – Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth (35)
- Maneater (10) – Maneater (34)
- Oh, the Divorces! (11) – Become Someone Else’s (33)
- Too Many People (12) – How Do You Sleep? (32)
- Judge Dread (13) – Set Them Free (31)
- No Scrubs (14) – No Pigeons (30)
- Eat for Two (15) – Me in Honey (29)
- Eve of Destruction (16) – Dawn of Correction (28)
- 100 Miles and Runnin’ (17) – No Vaseline (27)
- He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss) (18) – And Then You Kissed Me (26)
- Empty Chairs (19) – Killing Me Softly with His Song (25)
- New York (20) – London Boys (24)
- Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag Pt.1 (21) – Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag (23)