I just want to say thank you

(This column originally was posted on Nov 24, 2016.  I have modified it slightly by adding a few different Thanksgiving-related songs I’ve discovered since then.)

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Every holiday has its traditions, and Thanksgiving is no exception.  Roast turkey and stuffing.  Cranberry sauce.  Football on TV.  Football in the back yard.  Black Friday strategizing.  Spirited (sometimes contentious) family debates around the table.  Perhaps most important, heartfelt expressions of gratitude.

And there’s one more tradition, at least in my home.  Thanksgiving is the day I find my copy of the Arlo Guthrie album with the 18-minute story-song called “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” recorded in 1967.  It’s a partly serious, mostly whimsical telling of a true story that happened “two Thanksgivings ago, two years ago on Thanksgiving” in and

around alices-restaurantStockbridge, Massachusetts.  It involves Guthrie and some friends, especially Alice, who cooked “a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat,” a ton of garbage, and a cop named Officer Obie.

Frankly, the rambling piece is only marginally about this holiday, but the hip FM radio stations in most cities would always play it on Thanksgiving morning, and ever since, I make a point of cranking up the volume at my house and singing along when Arlo instructs us to do so.

Other than “Alice’s Restaurant,” though, I’ve noticed that Thanksgiving doesn’t have many songs to commemorate the day, at least not compared to Christmas with its hundreds and hundreds of carols and secular Yuletide music.

But wait.  Hack’s Back Pages has done some digging, and I’ve found a few that fit the bill.  These 15 songs about Thanksgiving aren’t so much about the history of the holiday as they are songs that feature lyrics that focus on thanks or gratitude, and I think we could all do better at showing our appreciation for the blessings in our lives.

I’ve offered a sample of lyrics and a little background trivia behind each tune, and there’s a Spotify setlist at the end so you can listen along.

Here’s hoping you have plenty to be grateful for, and are surrounded by family and/or friends with whom you can share the day.  Peace.

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55dc153b2c6c20e32265ffecadf302551b2e9c64“My Thanksgiving,” Don Henley, 2000

Henley collaborated with former Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch to write several songs for his overlooked 2000 album “Inside Job,” including this poignant tune about a man looking back with regret on his years gone by, and the blessings he didn’t appreciate at the time.  But it’s never too late to be grateful:   “And I don’t mind saying that I loved it all, I wallowed in the springtime, now I’m welcoming the fall, for every moment of joy, every hour of fear, for every winding road that brought me here, for every  breath, for every day of living, this is my thanksgiving…”

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“Gratitude,” Earth, Wind & Fire, 1976

With disco music on the rise, Earth, Wind & Fire could seemingly do no wrong in 1975-76, and their mostly-live LP “Gratitude” topped the charts for three weeks, sparked by the #1 single “Sing a Song.”  The Grammy-nominated title track, written by group leader Maurice White, exemplified his focus on positivity and spiritual peace:  “Want to thank you, want to thank you, we just want to give gratitude, got plenty of love we want to give to you with good music, and we’re trying to say that the good Lord’s going to make a way…”

sdity“I Thank You,” Sam and Dave, 1967, and ZZ Top, 1980

“You didn’t have to love me like you did, but you did, and I thank you, you didn’t have to hold me like you did, but you did, and I thank you…”  Isaac “Theme From Shaft” Hayes and David Porter wrote this soul classic in 1968, and Sam & Dave’s recording reached #9 that year.  Texas blues rockers ZZ Top covered it in 1980, and later, Bon Jovi, Bonnie Raitt and Paul Rodgers also recorded cover versions.

brook-benton-thank-you-pretty-baby-vintage-r-b-mercury-sheet-music-and-lyrics_933068“Thank You Pretty Baby,” Brook Benton, 1959, and Nat King Cole, 1964

In the ’50s, Benton was a songwriter for crooners like Nat King Cole until he was persuaded to record his songs himself, thus beginning a solid career as a solo artist, charting a dozen Top Ten hits in the 1959-1962 period, and throughout the ’60s on the R&B chart, culminating in the #4 hit “Rainy Night in Georgia” in 1970.  He and Cole both recorded this song of appreciation for the woman the singer so clearly loves:  “Thank you for your loving ways, thank you because you’ve been so kind, I’m gonna just take my time and thank you honey, because you’re mine, all mine…” 

led-zeppelin-ii-1400175028“Thank You,” Led Zeppelin, 1969

This is one of a half-dozen acoustic-based ballads released by the undisputed kings of hard blues rock.  Carried along mostly by delicate electric and acoustic guitars and subtle organ, the song features a pretty melody sung by Robert Plant, who wrote the lyrics as a loving tribute to his wife:  “And so today, my world it smiles, your hand in mine, we walk the miles, thanks to you it will be done, for you to me are the only one…”

71YGmjVtw0L._SL1500_Kind and Generous,” Natalie Merchant, 1998

The former lead singer of the alternative band 10,000 Maniacs went out on her own in 1995 with “Tiger Lily,” but it was the 1998 follow-up LP, “Ophelia” that was Merchant’s commercial acme, reaching platinum status and peaking at #8 on the US Top Albums chart.  One reason why was “Kind and Generous,” an uncharacteristically happy song (for Merchant) that made it to #3 on the US Adult Top 40# and #18 on the traditional Top 40.  The lyrics are just about bursting with gratitude:  “You’ve been so kind and generous, I don’t know how you keep on giving, for your kindness, I’m in debt to you, for your selflessness, my admiration, and for everything you’ve done, you know I’m bound… I‘m bound to thank you for it…”

r-4456576-1386950644-4182-jpeg“Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” Sly and The Family Stone, 1970

“Dance to the music, all night long, everyday people, sing a simple song, mama’s so happy, mama start to cry, papa still singin’, you can make it if you try, ah, I want to thank you for lettin’ me be myself again…”   Sylvester Stewart, known worldwide as Sly Stone, wrote the lyrics to most of the group’s songs, including this one, the third of four #1 singles the pop/funk/soul band charted between 1968 and 1971.  The lyrics offer a virtual word salad of disjointed thoughts and images but keep coming back to the chorus, where he expresses gratitude for being allowed to just “be myself again.”  Translation:  After all the posturing, it’s good to get back to the real person inside.

thank_you_for_being_a_friend_-_andrew_gold“Thank You For Being a Friend,” Andrew Gold, 1978

Most of the instruments you hear behind Linda Ronstadt’s vocals on her mid-’70s hit albums were played by musical virtuoso Andrew Gold, who went solo in 1977 and had a top ten hit with “Lonely Boy.” The next year, “Thank You For Being a Friend” followed as a modest #25 hit, but it’s better known (in a version recorded by Cynthia Fee) as the theme song to the popular sitcom “The Golden Girls” (1985-1992).  In a 2010 appearance by Betty White on “Saturday Night Live,” it was affectionately sung to her by past and present cast members:  “And when we both get older, with walking canes and hair of gray, have no fear, even though it’s hard to hear, I will stand real close and say, ‘Thank you for being a friend’…”

b4f7585036a2a8f80b5dfe1dc1eafbb7“Thank You,” Dido, 2000

British singer-songwriter Florian “Dido” Armstrong exploded out of the box in 1999 with her “No Angel” album, which peaked at #4 in the US and went on to sell an astonishing 22 million copies worldwide.  The #3 hit “Thank You” was spurred on by its use in the TV show “Roswell,” the film “Love Actually” and, most prominently, as an element in Eminem’s huge hit rap song “Stan,” which was on the charts simultaneously with Dido’s single.  Its lyrics show gratitude to her boyfriend for being there when she needed him most:  “Push the door, I’m home at last and I’m soaking through and through, then you handed me a towel, and all I see is you, and even if my house falls down now, I wouldn’t have a clue, because you’re near me, and I want to thank you for giving me the best day of my life, oh just to be with you is having the best day of my life…”

116233675“Thanks,” James Gang, 1970

Joe Walsh was just 22 when he became the guitarist, singer and chief songwriter of Cleveland’s heroes, The James Gang.  Walsh’s songs “Funk #49” and “Walk Away” became national hits, and Walsh himself went on to become a major star in his own right, first as a solo act and then as a member of The Eagles.  On the 1970 album “James Gang Rides Again,” the lyrics to Walsh’s track “Thanks” took a somewhat resigned, matter-of-fact approach to life:  “Thanks to the hand that feeds you, give the dog a bone, thanks to the man that gives you, haven’t got your own, that’s the way the world is, woh-oh…”

r-6223553-1414122226-9323-jpeg“Thank You Friends,” Big Star, 1974

The critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful Big Star released three albums in the early ’70s, which eventually received attention in the ’80s when bands like R.E.M. and The Replacements mentioned them as a major influence.  Lead singer Alex Chilton, who had wowed the US when he sang the #1 hit “The Letter” with The Box Tops at age 16, wrote most of their material, including this joyous tribute to good friends:  “Thank you friends, wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you, I’m so grateful for all the things you helped me do, all the ladies and gentlemen who made this all so probable…”

the-beatles-second-album-cover“Thank You Girl,” The Beatles, 1963

“You’ve been good to me, you made me glad when I was blue, and eternally, I’ll always be in love with you, and all I wanna do is thank you girl, thank you girl, thank you girl for loving me the way that you do, that’s the kind of love that is too good to be true…”   This formulaic early Lennon-McCartney song was written as the follow-up single to their first #1 hit in England, “Please Please Me,” with “From Me to You” slated for the B-side.  In the end, though, “From Me to You” won out, and “Thank You Girl” became the B-side.  In the US, it appeared on the Capitol album “The Beatles’ Second Album” in 1964.  Said Lennon in 1980:  “One of our efforts at writing a single that didn’t work.”  Said McCartney about it in 1989:  “A bit of a hack song, but all good practice.”

thank_you“Thank U,” Alanis Morissette, 1998

Morissette was only 21 when her “Jagged Little Pill” LP spawned four hits and ended up selling 16 million copies in the US alone.  Things had exploded so fast for her, she said, that she needed to take some time off.  “When I did stop, and I was silent, and I breathed, I was just left with an immense sense of gratitude, and inspiration, and bliss, and that’s where the lyrics to ‘Thank U’ came from.”  It reached #1 in her native Canada and #17 here:  “How about me not blaming you for everything, how about me enjoying the moment for once, how about how good it feels to finally forgive you, how about grieving it all one at a time, thank you India, thank you Providence, thank you disillusionment, thank you frailty, thank you consequence, thank you thank you silence…”

5fe9d8e8f08344bb2a2666f05968ec13-640x640x1“Grateful,” Anthony Hamilton, 2016

In this blog, I don’t generally focus on recent songs, but sometimes exceptions are necessary.  The talented R&B composer-singer Anthony Hamilton, widely praised by critics and nominated for multiple industry awards, rose to prominence in 2003 with his album and title song “Coming Where I’m Comin’ From.”  Hamilton has the respect of his musical peers, who have flocked to collaborate with him these past dozen years.  His 2016 release “What I’m Feelin'” includes the heartfelt album track “Grateful,” which is well worth seeking out:  “Here I am, a new man, the best days of my life, and it goes without saying, you’ve turned it all around, introduced me to love, when I had given up, and I’m so grateful for you…  The way you changed my life, I owe it all to you, I found real love in you, all because of you…

r-2883539-1364799570-9512-jpeg“Danke Schoen,” Wayne Newton, 1963

Bert Kaempfert, a German orchestra leader who wrote Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E” and Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” also wrote Wayne Newton’s biggest hit, which was supposed to be Bobby Darin’s follow-up to “Mack the Knife” in 1963 until Darin heard Newton sing it and gave it to him.  (Language lesson:  The rough translation of the German “danke schoen” is “thank you kindly.”)  The song got a second life in 1988 when it was featured in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” when Ferris sang it (lip-synching Newton’s recording) from a parade float:  “Thank you for seeing me again, though we go on our separate ways, still the memory stays for always, my heart says danke schoen, danke schoen, my darling…”

 

 

Roy Orbison singing for the lonely

“Here’s another clue for you all, the Walrus was Paul…”

In the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and pretty much ever since, popular songwriters have reveled in the occasional practice of inserting references to other musical artists in the lyrics, delighting their listeners with sometimes cryptic, sometimes overt mentions of well-known colleagues in the rock music arena.

The Beatles never went so far as to mention other artists, but they referred back to themselves more than once.  On 1968’s “The White Album,” John Lennon used his nonsensical song from the previous year, “I Am the Walrus,” to make a tongue-in-cheek reference to Paul McCartney in the lyrics to “Glass Onion” (see quote above).

peter_paul_mary-i_dig_rock_and_roll_music_s_3When folk music started morphing into folk rock in the mid-’60s, folk artists like Peter, Paul and Mary found themselves waning somewhat in popularity.  The solution:  Paul Stookey collaborated with songwriters James Mason and Dave Dixon to write “I Dig Rock and Roll Music,” a whimsical tune that name-dropped several of the rising (and established) stars of the new genre, and the result was a comeback #9 hit for the trio:  “I dig The Mamas and The Papas at the Beat, Sunset Strip in L.A., they’ve got a good thing going when the words don’t get in the way…”  “I dig Donovan kind of in a dreamed out, tripped out way, his crystal images, hey, they tell you ’bout a brighter day…  And when The Beatles tell you they’ve got a word ‘love’ to sell you, they mean exactly what they say…”

arthur-conley-sweet-soul-music-atlantic-11Similarly, R&B singer Arthur Conley teamed up with Otis Redding in 1967 to rework the old Sam Cooke song “Yeah Man” with new lyrics that called out several of the hot soul singers of that period.  The result, “Sweet Soul Music,” was a #2 hit on the pop charts and a Top Ten hit in Europe:  “Spotlight on Lou Rawls, y’all… Spotlight on Sam & Dave, y’all… Spotlight on Wilson Pickett, now…  Spotlight on Otis Redding, now… Spotlight on James Brown, y’all, he’s the king of them all, y’all…”

220px-The_South's_Gonna_Do_It_-_Charlie_DanielsThe musical fraternity of artists from the American South have supported each other throughout their careers, perhaps never as overtly as on The Charlie Daniels Band’s 1975 anthem “The South’s Gonna Do It,” which references no less than eight groups from that region:   “Well, the train to Grinder’s Switch is runnin’ right on time, and them (Marshall) Tucker boys are cookin’ down in Caroline, people down in Florida can’t be still when ol’ Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s pickin’ down in Jacksonville, people down in Georgia come from near and far to hear Richard Betts pickin’ on that red guitar…  Elvin Bishop sittin’ on a bale of hay, he ain’t good lookin’, but he sure can play, and there’s ZZ Top, and you can’t forget that old brother (Wet) Willie‘s gettin’ soakin’ wet, and all the good people down in Tennessee are diggin’ Barefoot Jerry and C.D.B...”

THE_MAMAS_AND_THE_PAPAS_CREEQUE+ALLEY-604509The Mamas and The Papas chief songwriter John Phillips wrote the 1966 autobiographical song “Creeque Alley” that told the background story of how he, Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot all used to hang out (and perform) with artists who later went on to greater fame in other bands.  Six verses of lyrics delve back to when they sang in Greenwich Village clubs and eventually worked their way to Los Angeles:  (John) Sebastian and Zal (Yanovsky) formed the (Lovin’) Spoonful, Michelle, John, and Denny gettin’ very tuneful, (Roger) McGuinn and (Barry) McGuire just a-catchin’ fire in L.A., you know where that’s at…”

Unknown-74In “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” Billy Joel’s #1 hit from 1989, he assembled a virtual grocery list of celebrities and events that marked the years from roughly 1950 to the late 1980s.  He didn’t comment on them, he just rattled them off, like a CNN feed line across the bottom of the TV screen.  A few of these were fellow musicians:  “Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland…”  Buddy Holly, Ben Hur, space monkey, Mafia…”  Chubby Checker, Psycho, Belgians in the Congo…”  Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion…”

Don_McLean_-_American_Pie_(album)_CoverartAmerican Pie,” one of the biggest hits of 1971-72, famously chronicles the development of rock and roll from its mid-’50s infancy through the end of the ’60s.  Most of McLean’s lyrics use code words to identify the artists he’s singling out — “the jester” (Bob Dylan), “the king” (Elvis Presley), “the players” (The Rolling Stones) and “the marching band” (The Beatles).  Perhaps most easily identifiable was his allusion to Mick Jagger in the phrase “Jack Flash sat on a candlestick,” and the reference to The Byrds and their hit single in this line:  “Helter skelter in the summer swelter, the birds flew off to the fallout shelter, eight miles high and falling fast…”

the-righteous-brothers-rock-and-roll-heaven-paraiso-del-rock-and-roll-capitolBy the mid-’70s, rock music had already lost several of its stars to untimely deaths, so the time was ripe for a song like “Rock ‘n Roll Heaven,” which calls out the names and hits of four fallen stars.  Just before  The Righteous Brothers recorded it, songwriters Alan O’Day and Johnny Stevenson added a final verse to include two additional deaths, and the song ended up a #3 hit in the summer of 1974:  Jimi (Hendrix) gave us rainbows, and Janis (Joplin) took a piece of our hearts, and Otis (Redding) brought us all to the dock of a bay., sing a song to light my fire, remember Jim (Morrison) that way…”  “Remember bad bad Leroy Brown, hey, Jimmy (Croce) touched us with that song, time won’t change a friend we came to know, and Bobby (Darin) gave us ‘Mack the Knife,’ well, look out, he’s back in town….”

stevie_wonder-sir_duke_s_1One of Stevie Wonder’s biggest hits of the ’70s was “Sir Duke,” which came from the multi-platinum LP “Songs in the Key of Life.”  Wonder was a huge fan of Big Band music and its legends, and the track’s lyrics pay homage to Duke Ellington and four more of his peers from that period:  “But here are some of music’s pioneers that time will not allow us to forget, for there’s (Count) Basie, (Glenn) Miller, Satchmo (Louis Armstrong), and the king of all, Sir Duke, and with a voice like Ella (Fitzgerald) ringing out, there’s no way the band can lose…”

HollandCoverThe Beach Boys were on both ends of the name-dropping bandwagon.  In 1973 for their “Holland” LP, they wrote a suite called “California Saga,” in which they mentioned a stalwart hqdefault-19of the outdoor festival scene: “Have you ever been to a festival, the Big Sur congregation, where Country Joe (McDonald) will do his show, and he’d sing about liberty…”  Soon after, Neil Young referenced California’s favorite sons in his song “Long May You Run,” recorded by The Stills-Young Band in 1976:  “Maybe The Beach Boys have got you now, with those waves singing ‘Caroline,’ (oh Caroline No)…”

220px-The_Royal_Scam_album_coverSteely Dan name-checked two artists in two different songs in their catalog.  First, in the track “Everything You Did” from the 1976 LP “The Royal Scam,” the lyrics outline an argument between a warring husband and wife.  One of them offers R-2600245-1374933046-1601.jpega suggestion to keep others from eavesdropping on their conversation:  “Turn up The Eagles, the neighbors are listening…”  Then on “Gaucho” in 1980, the big hit single “Hey Nineteen” offers lyrics that illustrate the challenges of dating someone considerably younger who may not be familiar with your favorite artists:  “Hey Nineteen, that’s ‘Retha Franklin, she don’t remember the Queen of Soul, it’s hard times befallen The Soul Survivors, she thinks I’m crazy but I’m just growing old…”

Dvk88njW0AAk-WJThe Dutch rock band Golden Earring has had a long history of success in their native Netherlands, but their big moment on US airwaves came with the 1973 Top Ten hit “Radar Love,” a classic tune about a guy who’s always on the road, and dying to get home to his lady.  To drive the point home, the lyrics refer to a long-ago romantic hit by a long-forgotten female vocalist who used to top the charts:  “The radio is playing some forgotten song, Brenda Lee‘s comin’ on strong…”

Unknown-72Soft rock crooner Stephen Bishop enjoyed success in the ’70s and ’80s with hits like “It Might Be You” (from the “Tootsie” film soundtrack) and “Save It For a Rainy Day,” but his biggest chart hit was the 1976 tearjerker “On and On,” which referenced Ol’ Blue Eyes himself in the second verse:  “Poor ol’ Jimmy sits alone in the moonlight, saw his woman kiss another man, so he takes a ladder, steals the stars from the sky, puts on (Frank) Sinatra and starts to cry…”

4ac225c45ac0719eabaf8d7e62bac261British rockers Deep Purple were scheduled to perform at a venue in Montreux, Switzerland, which was to be recorded for a live album, but at a concert held there the previous night, a reckless fan accidentally started a fire.  Deep Purple turned that story into their 1973 signature song, “Smoke on the Water,” and the lyrics called out the band that had been performing:  “We all came out to Montreux on the Lake Geneva shoreline to make records with a mobile, we didn’t have much time, Frank Zappa and the Mothers were at the best place around, but some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground…”

Unknown-73Don Brewer, the drummer for Grand Funk Railroad,  came up with the song “We’re An American Band” and they got studio wizard Todd Rundgren to produce it, resulting in a #1 US hit that broadened the band’s audience.  The lyrics relate the ups and downs of life on the road, where their time spent offstage was sometimes spent in the company of other artists:  “Up all night with Freddie King, I got to tell you, poker’s his thing, booze and ladies keep me right as long as we can make it to the show tonight, we’re an American band…”

511Iw4aV0ALIn 1972, British rockers Mott the Hoople were about to hang it up due to lack of commercial success.  They got a big lift from David Bowie, who penned “All the Young Dudes” for them to record, and it ended up becoming one of the anthems of the glam rock movement on both sides of the Atlantic.  Two references to other artists show up in the lyrics:  “Television man is crazy saying we’re juvenile delinquent wrecks, oh man, I need TV when I’ve got T. Rex…”  “And my brother’s back at home with his Beatles and his Stones, we never got off on that revolution stuff, what a drag, too many snags…”

Club_at_the_end_of_the_streetElton John’s lyricist Bernie Taupin finally got around to referencing another musician on Elton’s 1989 LP “Sleeping With the Past,” which contains songs meant to reflect the style of 1960s R&B.  On the Motown-inspired “Club at the End of the Street,” which leveled off at #28 on the U.S. singles chart, Taupin described the atmosphere you might find in smaller tucked-away venues:  “From the alleyways where the catwalks gently sway, you hear the sound of Otis (Redding) and the voice of Marvin Gaye, in this smoky room, there’s a jukebox plays all night, and we can dance real close beneath the pulse of a neon light…”

lynyrd-skynyrd_sweet-home-alabama_21In the early ’70s, when Neil Young wrote a couple of songs (“Southern Man,” “Alabama”) taking the South to task for its racist history, Lynyrd Skynyrd took exception and wrote “Sweet Home Alabama” in defense of their homeland.  Their lyrics came right out and mentioned Young not once but three times in one verse:  “Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her, well, I heard ol’ Neil put her down, well, I hope Neil Young will remember, a Southern man don’t need him around anyhow…”

51IsE5BzGDL._SS500In 1983, for his LP “Hearts and Bones,” Paul Simon wrote the song “The Late Great Johnny Ace,” which used the name of the often neglected ’50s R&B singer to talk about the night John Lennon was shot:  “On a cold December evening, I was walking through the Christmastide, when a stranger came up and asked me if I’d heard John Lennon had died, and the two of us went to this bar, and we stayed to close the place, and every song we sang was for the late great Johnny Ace, yeah yeah yeah…”

hqdefault-20Back in 1980, when John Mellencamp was going by the name Johnny Cougar, he had his first chart success (#17) with “Ain’t Even Done With the Night,” his first attempt at writing a soul song.  The lyrics speak of the frustration and eager hormones involved in early romance, referencing one of the best singers from that genre:  “Well, our hearts beat like thunder, I don’t know why they don’t explode, you got your hands in my back pockets, and Sam Cooke‘s singin’ on the radio…”

hqdefault-21Thunder Road,” one of Bruce Springsteen’s most celebrated songs from his pivotal “Born to Run” album, tells the tale of a young man longing to break out of his dead-end existence and coax the target of his infatuation to join him on his journey of discovery.  He uses the name of a ’50s icon to push the point home:  Roy Orbison singing for the lonely, hey, that’s me, and I want you only, don’t turn me home again, I just can’t face myself alone again…”

Jackie-Wilson-SaidIn 1972, Van Morrison boldly kicked off his “Saint Dominic’s Preview” LP with “Jackie Wilson Said (“I’m in Heaven When You Smile),” an overt reference to the energetic R&B singer (and his debut single, “Reet Petite” from 1957).  The lyrics use Wilson’s name to start the song, but the rest of it is really just a joyous love tune:  Jackie Wilson said it was ‘Reet Petite,’ the kind of love you got knock me off my feet, let it all hang out, and you know I’m so wired up, don’t need no coffee in my cup, let it all hang out…”

This trend shows no signs of slowing down, either.  Barenaked Ladies had two songs on their 1992 debut LP called “Brian Wilson” and “Be My Yoko Ono.”  Then there’s Taylor Swift’s 2006 debut single “Tim McGraw,” followed not so coincidentally by Tim McGraw’s 2007 song “Kristofferson” and Eric Church with his 2011 country hit “Springsteen.”  Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera teamed up that same year with the #1 pop hit “Moves Like Jagger,” which focused on how the narrator claims he can mimic the famous singer’s stage presence:  “Look into my eyes and I’ll own you with them moves like (Mick) Jagger, I’ve got the moves like Jagger…”

09ff8cbd79868ca287deef0138df0675.1000x1000x1Even Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, two of the most celebrated songwriters of the past half-century, have not been averse to mentioning another artist by name.  Mitchell’s wonderfully playful “Barangrill” from 1972’s “For the Roses” album cites Unknown-75one of pop music’s icons from the ’40s and ’50s: “The guy at the gas pump, he’s got a lot of soul, he sings ‘Merry Christmas’ for you just like Nat King Cole…”  Dylan’s 2006 track “Thunder on the Mountain” makes a blatant reference to a relatively new singer he admired:  “I was thinking about Alicia Keys, couldn’t keep from crying, when she was born in Hell’s Kitchen, I was living down the line, I’m wondering where in the world Alicia Keys could be, I been looking for her even clear through Tennessee…”