There are songs about love and songs about heartache, songs about happiness and sadness, songs work and play, the Sun and the Moon, Pac-Man and Superman… there are virtually songs about every subject and/or topic imaginable. Some artists like The Beach Boys seem to stick with recurring themes like surfing, girls and cars, while other artists like The Beatles cover an endless variety of subjects from submarines to serial killers. It’s likely that if one looked hard enough, they could find a song about anything, even about songs themselves.
The song about song is quite a unique anomaly. A song written about a song, or songs is art reflecting art, and perhaps again reflecting art in the way Norman Rockwell depicts the artist in the painting in the painting.
It was interesting to find that the 1970s had a surge of songs about songs, or singing songs, which became the focus of this list. I suppose a better working title could have been ‘Songs About Songs from the Seventies’, but then I couldn’t resist closing my list with Elton John’s “Sad Songs (Say So Much)” from 1984, which brought my list of ten songs to a 90% 1970s ratio. It was equally interesting that all ten selections had been Top 10 hits.
Regardless of relevance or importance, here is a list of ten songs about songs and, as pointless and silly as such a list may seem, as Paul McCartney says; “Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs, and what’s wrong with that?” So here is our list of songs… about songs.
“Your Song” by Elton John
Although “Your Song” is the lowest charting song on our list, peaking at #8 in 1970. It also marks history as Elton John’s first charted song, before he was the mega-musician that we all know him as today. Elton, after apologizing for the simplicity of the song itself beckons “I hope you don’t mind how I put down in words, how wonderful life is while you’re in the world”. It’s okay Sir Elton… please keep writing songs for us.
“Old Fashioned Love Song” by Three Dog Night
“Just an old fashioned love song, coming down in three part harmony” is the opening line which sings not only of the what ho and why, but even the how of the technical structure of the song itself. Three Dog Night’s 1971 #4 hit is one of the purest of all the songs about songs on the list, in that is doesn’t stray off the topic of the song itself.
“Song Sung Blue” by Neil Diamond
Charting at #1 in 1972 is our first song about a song specifically about how the song was sung, and that’s almost a tongue twister. At the same time Neil points out that “everybody knows one”, referring to both the song and the blue – or blues, and how the mere singing of it can change ones mood.
The power of song… about song.
“Sing” by The Carpenters
I try very hard to keep personal opinion out of my song lists, but if ever heard an angel sing, it was Karen Carpenter. This song peaked at #3 in 1973, but was immortalized by both Karen and the Muppets of Sesame Street in an English/Spanish rendition. Over and over, Karen asks us to simply sing. To sing a simple song of happy not sad, and not to worry if others are listening, but just to sing, much like the metaphor of a song decades later would say “I hope you dance”. A children’s choir joins Miss Carpenter in the second verse, adding to it’s childlike simplicity and reinforcing its positive plea and preaching the power of song.
“Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Roberta Flack
The haunting melody and echoing melancholy lyric of this 1973 #1 hit empowers the ‘song’ with a physicality. Here the ‘song’ is truly a metaphor, as if the music itself was the weapon “strumming my pain with his fingers” and “singing my life with his words”, musically cutting, yet somehow beautiful. Although covered and re-released in 1996 by the Fugees, it only reached #2.
“Sing A Song” by Earth, Wind and Fire
Another song on our list professing the medicinal healing power of song. This danceable funky 1975 hit climbed to #5 on the Billboard chart and was Earth, Wind and Fire’s second biggest charting hit since going to #1 nine months earlier with “Shining Star”. Sing a song, it will make your day.
”I Write The Songs” by Barry Manilow
Ominous orchestral opening, followed by the instantly recognizable voice of Barry Manilow, who’s apparently quite old, old enough to have written the first song – words and music. Barry is music, and in addition to the songs that make the young girls cry, there’s a subtle hint that in all likelihood, Barry wrote all of the songs. Ever. Gotta love Barry for writing a song about all of the songs that is endearingly egotistical. The irony here is that although Barry Manilow truly did write an entire library of amazing music, he didn’t write this #1 hit from 1975.
“Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” by B.J. Thomas
This 1975 chart topper is the second #1 hit for B.J. Thomas (the first being “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” in 1969). Listening to this song from beginning to end, and being somewhat studied at this point in songs on the subject of songs, it is charmingly pure, as the lyrics have B.J. pleading with the radio to play another somebody done somebody wrong song, a melody so sad that it makes everyone else cry because, he just cannot bear crying alone. That’s the spirit, heartbreak songs all around!
“Silly Love Songs” by Paul McCartney and Wings
It seems Paul McCartney couldn’t resist writing his own song about songs. Silly Love Songs is an argument not just for songs, but for love itself… because love isn’t silly at all. Urban myth has it that John Lennon and Paul McCartney spent a Saturday together in New York City in April of 1976. As the story goes, a cynical Lennon asked McCartney straight out; “Are you ever going to stop writing silly little love songs?” This song went to number one the week of May 22, 1976. Not so silly at all.
“Sad Songs (Say So Much)” by Elton John
Elton John opened our list in 1970 with “Your Song”, and here he closes it, with “Sad Songs (Say So Much)”, making Sir Elton the uncontested Knight of Songs About Songs. This time, Elton’s 1984 #5 hit profoundly declares that when times are tough, and all hope is gone, we should turn to music – particularly sad songs – to find sense in the chaos. This song could easily be brushed aside as post creative peak for the piano man, but within it’s lyrics lie great wisdom. Turn to song for guidance and companionship in times of darkness, and we will be reminded that others have shared the same experience.
I hope you had as much fun reading and listening to the songs on this list as I had making it. Feel free to click below to listen to the selections listed above, or check out some of our other fun song lists.
To hear all of the selections listed above, click below!
Cutting Edge @ June 13, 2012