He’s a dedicated follower of fashion

When they talk about Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, they should’ve added Fashion. The clothes you wore, the styles you presented in performances and other appearances, had a lot to do with establishing your image and reputation.

Early rockers like Elvis and Little Richard wore loose suits and shiny shoes. The Beatles wore matching suits and “Beatle boots.” By the mid-Sixties, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were wearing flamboyant sashes and boas. There was David Crosby and his fringe jacket, Creedence and their flannel shirts, Simon and Garfunkel and their turtlenecks.

Rock fashion exploded in the ’70s with ever more outlandish examples: David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust costumes, Elton John’s platform shoes and wild eyeglasses, Donna Summer’s radiant jumpsuits, Stevie Nicks’ Welsh witch capes and top hat. The ’80s brought Michael Jackson’s one sequined glove and fedora, Madonna’s excessive jewelry and pointy bras, Prince’s head-to-toe purple outfits. The MTV culture enabled an “anything goes” approach for many artists hoping to grab attention and get airtime.

Songwriters have sometimes written about the appeal of certain fashion choices and trends, so I have taken the liberty of compiling a list of 15 songs that mention clothing of various types in the title. It’s a fun playlist I encourage you to check out.


“Blue Suede Shoes,” Carl Perkins, 1956

images-367In December 1955, as Perkins was performing at a dance, he noticed a couple dancing near the stage, and the guy said, “Uh-uh, don’t step on my suedes!”  He thought it was amusing that the guy was more worried about his shoes than his pretty dancing partner.  Two weeks later, he wrote a song about it, recorded it a couple days after that, and Sun Records released it in February 1956.  It ended up at #2, kept out of the top spot by Elvis Presley’s first #1 single, “Heartbreak Hotel.”  Presley also recorded “Blue Suede Shoes” and released it as the first track on his RCA debut album, which helped sales of Perkins’ version considerably.

unknown-665-2“You Can Leave Your Hat On,” Joe Cocker, 1986

Songwriter extraordinaire Randy Newman came up with this sexy song for his 1972 LP “Sail Away,” but he always felt he hadn’t done it justice.  It took nearly 15 years, but Joe Cocker finally recorded the definitive version with an R&B piano, full horn section and backing vocals.  It is considered a classic striptease song, thanks especially to the first verse:  “Baby, take off your coat…real slow, /Baby, take off your shoes…here, I’ll take your shoes, /Baby, take off your dress, yes, yes, yes, /You can leave your hat on…”  It never mentions a specific kind of hat, but I’ve always pictured a fedora.

Unknown-666“Wet T-Shirt,” The Bellamy Brothers, 1979

This brothers duo from Florida was a big deal in country music in the ’70s and ’80s, scoring 20 #1 singles on the country charts.  Rock fans may remember them from their #1 crossover hit, “Let Your Love Flow,” in 1976. On their 1979 LP, “The Two and Only,” David Bellamy came up with a crowd pleaser called “Wet T-Shirt” that whimsically summarized the “good clean fun” that went on (and no doubt still goes on) in many country bars around the country.  The record features a guy named Danny Jones, who plays some mighty sweet pedal steel guitar as the brothers harmonize. 

“Devil With a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly,” Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, 1966

Unknown-667“Shorty” Long and Mickey Stevenson, a couple of singer/songwriters from one of Motown’s subsidiary labels, collaborated to write and record “Devil With the Blue Dress” in 1964, but their version failed to chart.  In 1966, Ryder and his band came up with a rendition that tied “Blue Dress” together with Little Richard’s potent “Good Golly Miss Molly,” and the record made its way to #4 on the pop charts.  Its position as a timeless classic was further cemented when Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band made it a staple of their concert set list, and their live recording appears on the 1979 “No Nukes” extravaganza.

“Sucker in a 3-Piece,” Van Halen, 1988

images-368Rock musicians have always showed disdain for “the suits” — the corporate guys from the record label who try to insert their unhip ideas into rock and roll production.  On “OU812,” Van Halen’s second album with Sammy Hagar on vocals instead of original singer David Lee Roth, critics hailed it as “a veritable feast of great white rock and roll wow.”  One example is “Sucker in a 3-Piece,” a putdown of a “suit” who offers his girl money but little else:  “I got everything you wanted, give you everything you need, /Still, you want that sugar daddy over me, /She want a sucker, a sucker in a 3 piece, /A sucker all dressed up in a 3 piece suit…”

“Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress),” The Hollies, 1972

Unknown-668Enormously successful in the UK but less so in the US, The Hollies relied on Allan Clarke and Graham Nash, took turns on lead vocals and songwriting.  In 1971, now without Nash, they recorded “Long Cool Woman” in the “swamp rock” style of Creedence, and Clarke sang it like CCR vocalist John Fogerty.  It wasn’t intended as a single, but their US label released it in the summer of ’72 and it reached #2 on the charts with great guitar and lusty lyrics:  “A pair of 45’s made me open my eyes, My temperature started to rise, /She was a long cool woman in a black dress, just 5’9″, beautiful, tall,/With just one look I was a bad mess, ’cause that long cool woman had it all…”

“Coat of Many Colors,” Dolly Parton, 1971

Unknown-670The amazing Parton has written about a thousand songs, but the one she treasures the most is this one, the title track from her third solo album after her amicable split from Porter Wagoner in 1971.  The gentle tune tells of how Parton’s mother couldn’t afford to buy a new coat for her daughter, so she stitched together a coat made from rags.  As she sewed, she told her child the biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors.  Dolly, “with patches on my britches and holes in both my shoes,” rushed to school, “just to find the others laughing and making fun of me” for wearing a coat made of rags.  It’s a marvelous, emotional song.

“These Boots Are Made for Walking,” Nancy Sinatra, 1966

71C5jKslRpL._SS500_Regarded then and now as a song of female empowerment, this infectious hit single was written by Lee Hazlewood, who intended to sing it himself until Sinatra talked him out of it.  “Coming from a guy, it was harsh and abusive, but was perfect for a girl to sing,” she noted, and she was right.  Not only did it reach #1 in the US and the UK, it helped spark sales of fashionable boots for women to go with their miniskirts in the mid-Sixties.  Since then, artists ranging from Billy Ray Cyrus to Megadeth have released their own radically different versions, and the song has been used in countless films and even a few ad campaigns.    

“Slit Skirts,” Pete Townshend, 1982

images-369As The Who were winding down their careers as recording artists, Townshend was doing more on his own.  He’d released his “Empty Glass” LP in 1980, then followed it up with “All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes” in 1982, in between making the final two Who studio albums (“Face Dances” and “It’s Hard”).  The lyrics to tracks like “Slit Skirts” read like journal entries, full of wordy verses about his troubled personal life, broken relationships and his dread of aging:  “Slit skirts, Jeanie never wears those slit skirts, /Wouldn’t be seen dead in no slit skirt, /I don’t ever wear no ripped shirts, /Can’t pretend that growing older never hurts…” 

“Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” Paul Simon, 1986

Unknown-671For his celebrated “Graceland” LP, Simon featured the compelling rhythms he heard from indigenous musicians in South Africa, using them to craft accessible pop songs with whimsical lyrics.  On “Diamonds,” which he called his favorite on the album, Ladysmith Black Mambazo provided wonderful vocals in support of Simon’s simple tale of “a rich girl, she don’t try to hide it, she got diamonds on the soles of her shoes.”  Said Simon, “That’s all there is to it, really.  I came right out and said so:  ‘And I could say ooh, ooh, ooh, as if everybody would know exactly what I’m talking about…’”  

“Man in the Long Black Coat,” Bob Dylan, 1989

images-370Within Dylan’s voluminous catalog, there are few songs that match the dark mood and imagery he summons in this stunning track from his well-received 26th LP, “Oh Mercy.”  In countless films and television shows, if there’s death and despair on your doorstep, it often appears as a man in a long black coat, waiting in the shadows to do you harm.  Dylan called the recording “menacing,” with lyrics that paint a picture of his lover falling under the spell of this mystery man:  “Crickets are chirpin’, the water is high, /There’s a soft cotton dress on the line hangin’ dry, /Not a word of goodbye, not even a note, /She gone with the man in the long black coat…”

“High Heel Sneakers,” Tommy Tucker, 1964

images-371Here’s another example of an early rock and roll song that mentions items of clothing to set the stage for an evening out on the town.  The narrator asks his girl to wear a red dress, but also bring some boxing gloves “in case some fool might want to fight.”  Most important are her high heel sneakers, evidently a good choice for dancing.  Robert Higginbotham, whose stage name was Tommy Tucker, wrote and recorded the tune in 1963, and it reached #11 in March 1964, just as The Beatles began their dominance of the U.S. charts.  Three decades later, Paul McCartney recorded the song on his 1991 “Unplugged” album.    

“Gold-Tipped Boots, Black Jacket and Tie,” Jethro Tull, 1991

Unknown-672Ian Anderson, the supreme showman who led Jethro Tull to the top of the charts in the ’70s, was still at it years later when the band released this self-deprecating tune from Tull’s “Catfish Rising” LP in 1991.  As the lyrics explain, Tull was very popular, then not so much in the ’80s, but they turned things around somewhat for a four-album stretch, and he’s wearing fashionable duds now:  “Well, I’ve been second to none, this horse was ready to run, /Now I’m has-been and used, disarmed and de-fused, /But I’m turning again, yes, and I’m turning again, /Wearing gold-tipped boots, black jacket and tie…”   

“Bell Bottom Blues,” Derek and The Dominos, 1970

Unknown-673In 1970, Eric Clapton had fallen in love with Pattie Harrison, ex-Beatle George’s wife, which caused Clapton considerable angst and heartache, because his feelings were not reciprocated by her (at least not right away).  He wrote several songs about it, including the iconic “Layla” and this powerful track from the “Layla” album.  Pattie had mentioned to Clapton how she loved bell-bottom jeans, so when he was on a US tour, he bought her several pair.  You can hear the anguish as he sings these lyrics:  “Bell bottom blues, you made me cry, /I don’t want to lose this feeling, /If I could choose a place to die, it would be in your arms…”   

“Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” Brian Hyland, 1960

Unknown-674In 1946, a Paris designer came up with the skimpy two-piece women’s swimsuit that he named after the Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific where nuclear bomb tests were held, hoping his creation would have the same explosive effect on culture.  That didn’t happen for another 15 years, when the wild and freewheeling Sixties arrived.  But in 1960, it was still very risqué on most beaches, which is why Hyland’s bossa nova novelty tune “Itsy Bitsy” made such a big impression, reaching #1 that summer in the US and a half-dozen other countries.  About a hundred artists around the world recorded cover versions in numerous languages.    


Honorable mention:

Zoot Suit Riot,” Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, 1990;  “Those Shoes,” The Eagles, 1979;  “Saturday Clothes,” Gordon Lightfoot, 1970;  “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat,” Bob Dylan, 1975;  “Famous Blue Raincoat,” Leonard Cohen, 1971;  “I Love My Shirt,” Donovan, 1969;  “Raspberry Beret,” Prince, 1983;  “Leather Jackets,” Elton John, 1986;  “Forever in Blue Jeans,” Neil Diamond, 1971.

If I could only find the words

In the early years of rock and roll, female singers, musicians and songwriters were the exception. Men dominated the picture, just like in most professions at the time.

By the Seventies, it was a new dawn, and women made big inroads into the charts as singers and songwriters, and as musicians as well. By the Eighties, they weren’t just acoustic, they were electric, fronting full rock bands. That progress has continued into the ’90s and beyond.

In honor of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and in honor of talented women everywhere, this edition of “Hack’s Back Pages Lyrics Quiz” centers around lyrics from songs written and/or performed by female artists of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Many of the 20 songs selected make reference to the ongoing battle for women’s rights.

Can you identify the song and/or the artist? Jot down your answers, and then scroll down to see the answers and find if your memory bank still serves you. Feel free to let me know how well you did in the comment section, or via email (bhhack55@gmail.com). Enjoy!


1 “When my soul was in the lost and found, /You came along to claim it…”

2 “Lovers forever, face to face, /My city, your mountains, stay with me, stay…”

3 “We love our lovin’, but not like we love our freedom…”

4 “I’ve packed my bags, I’ve cleaned the floor, /Watch me walkin’, walkin’ out the door…”

5 “Still, I’m glad for what we had, and how I once loved you…”

6 “Well you’re the real tough cookie with the long history of breaking little hearts like the one in me…”

7 “But every night, all the men would come around, /And lay their money down…”

8 “My pretty countryside had been paved down the middle by a government that had no pride…”

9 “Prove that you love me and buy the next round, /Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town?…”

10 “But I rehearsed those words just late last night /When I was thinking about how right tonight might be…”

11 “Coast to coast, L.A. to Chicago, western male, /Across the north, and south to Key Largo, love for sale…”

12 “And don’t tell me what to do, /Don’t tell me what to say, /And please, when I go out with you, don’t put me on display…”

13 “I never did believe in miracles, /But I’ve a feeling it’s time to try…”

14 “Go on now, go, walk out the door, /Just turn around now ’cause you’re not welcome anymore…”

15 “When the truth is found to be lies, /And all the joy within you dies…”

16 “They just use your mind and they never give you credit, /It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it…”

17 “A friend who taught me right from wrong, and weak from strong, /That’s a lot to learn…”

18 “Go on, get out, get out of my life, and let me sleep at night…”

19 “And you won’t need no camel, no no, when I take you for a ride..”

20 “You keep playing where you shouldn’t be playing, /And you keep thinking that you’ll never get burned, hah!…”

















1 “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” Aretha Franklin, 1967

Songwriter extraordinaire Carole King wrote this women’s anthem and eventually recorded her own version, but it was the late great Aretha, the Queen of Soul, who made the song a hit, reaching #8, her fourth of five Top Ten hits in 1967. She had been stuck doing torch songs and show tunes on Columbia, but once she switched to Atlantic, the R&B hits came fast and furiously.

2 “Leather and Lace,” Stevie Nicks, 1981

After six years with Fleetwood Mac, helping to transform the former British blues band into a pop music sensation, Nicks took the solo plunge in 1981 with her “Bella Donna” album. It sold many millions, thanks to “Edge of Seventeen,” “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” and this charming duet with Don Henley that reached #6 on the charts. The twosome had an affair, but they weren’t “lovers forever, face to face”

3 “Help Me,” Joni Mitchell, 1974

Generally regarded as the finest female songwriter of her generation, and one of the finest songwriters, period, Mitchell has always been more interested in her artistry than fame and fortune. Consequently, many of her albums and singles charted modestly or poorly despite their high quality. This breezy single from the brilliant “Court and Spark” LP was her only Top Ten hit.

4 “Would I Lie to You?”, Eurythmics (Annie Lennox), 1985

Lennox and partner Dave Stewart formed the Eurythmics as a techno-pop duo but eventually evolved in a more rock/R&B direction. This hard-driving rock tune was a Top Five single for them in the U.S., one of three in 1985 from the album “Be Yourself Tonight.” Lennox sings about catching her man cheating and leaving him for good, which ties in nicely with her duet with Aretha Franklin, “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves.”

5 “It’s Too Late,” Carole King, 1971

After a brilliant career in the Sixties as a songwriting duo with her husband Gerry Goffin in New York, King divorced and moved to L.A. in 1970, where she teamed up with Toni Stern to write most of her iconic “Tapestry” album. “I Feel the Earth Move” and “So Far Away” were also hits, and her own version of “You’ve Got a Friend” got airplay, but this song about an amicable breakup topped the charts for five weeks in June-July 1971.

6 “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” Pat Benatar, 1981

Benatar wasn’t the first woman to front her own rock band, but she was one of the best early successes. She came out of Brooklyn to take the country by storm in 1980 with her second LP, “Crimes of Passion,” which included the Top Ten hit “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” According to the songwriter, Eddie Schwartz, the song title is meant to be metaphorical rather than literal.

7 “Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves,” Cher, 1971

A Sixties icon as part of Sonny and Cher, she weathered a fallow period before working with producer Snuffy Garrett to record her first solo #1 single “Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves,” with lyrics that covered adult topics like racism, teenage pregnancy and prostitution. Cher has gone on to become the only artist, male or female, to chart a #1 single in six consecutive decades.

8 “My City Was Gone,” The Pretenders (Chrissie Hynde), 1984

A product of Akron, Ohio, Hynde moved to London in the mid-’70s and embraced both punk and New Wave genres. She formed The Pretenders there and began a career as one of the most badass female rockers of all time, writing hard rock and melodic tunes alike. On their third LP, “Learning to Crawl,” you’ll find “My City Was Gone,” an autobiographical song she wrote upon her return visit to Akron after years away.

9 “Mercedes Benz,” Janis Joplin, 1971

Janis came to the forefront at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 when she was singing with Big Brother and the Holding Company. By 1970 she was touring with The Full-Tilt Boogie Band, and recording her third album, “Pearl,” which included Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” her only #1 hit. The a cappella throwaway, “Mercedes Benz,” a spoof on consumerism, would be the last track she ever recorded.

10 “Anticipation,” Carly Simon, 1971

For the longest time, I couldn’t hear this song without thinking of the Heinz ketchup TV commercials that used it. It was Carly’s second big hit, with lyrics she wrote about the excitement she felt as she waited for her date to arrive (who happened to be Cat Stevens that night!). The song reached #13 and was the second of ten Top 20 hits she charted throughout the 1970s, most of which she wrote or co-wrote.

11 “Smooth Operator,” Sade, 1984

Born in Nigeria and raised in England, Sade seemed to come out of nowhere in 1984-85 with her single, “Smooth Operator,” from the album “Diamond Life.” She wrote the lyrics about a fashionable ladies’ man who is actually a devious, jet-setting criminal. Every studio album she has ever released reached the Top Ten in the U.S. and also did well throughout Europe, the UK, Canada and Australia.

12 “You Don’t Own Me,” Lesley Gore, 1964

This early feminist anthem spent three weeks lodged at #2 on the US charts in early 1964, kept from the top spot by The Beatles’ US debut single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Gore had been only 16 when “It’s My Party” had been a chart-topper, and by the time she was 19, she chose to give her career a rest and attend college, a bold move in the finicky world of pop music. Gore died in 2015 at age 68.

13 “You Make Loving Fun,” Fleetwood Mac (Christine McVie), 1977

When Fleetwood Mac was making the multi-platinum “Rumours” LP, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were breaking up, as were Mick Fleetwood and his wife Jenny. John and Christine McVie had just recently divorced, and Christine was already writing songs like “You Make Loving Fun” about her new boyfriend, the band’s lighting director. McVie’s songs have often been the band’s biggest singles, including “You Make Loving Fun” at #9.

14 “I Will Survive,” Gloria Gaynor, 1979

Although it was written by two men, “I Will Survive” came to represent the women’s movement during its battles for equality in the late ’70s and ’80s. It was actually released as the B-side of Gaynor’s single, but disc jockeys discovered it and played it relentlessly, turning it into a #1 song. Unfortunately, Gaynor’s success was short-lived, as the disco era was ending, but you can still hear the song in karaoke bars every night.

15 “Somebody to Love,” Jefferson Airplane (Grace Slick), 1967

The San Francisco Sound, as it came to be known, included, most famously, Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead. The Airplane had multiple vocalists but founder Marty Balin and especially Grace Slick were at the forefront. On songs like “Somebody to Love,” written by Slick’s brother-in-law, her powerful voice rings out above a solid rock tune about our universal need for love.

16 “9 to 5,” Dolly Parton, 1980

Parton had worked long and hard making a career for herself as a country singer, including one successful foray into the pop charts, “Here You Come Again” in 1977. In 1980, she was tapped to co-star in the working women comedy film “9 to 5,” and she wrote and sang the title song as well, which became a huge #1 hit on pop charts. Parton has established herself as a trailblazer for education and women’s rights in the years since.

17 “To Sir With Love,” Lulu, 1967

Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie, better known as Lulu, enjoyed a successful career as a singer and an actress in her native Great Britain, but in the U.S., her fame is mostly limited to her work on the Sidney Poitier film “To Sir With Love.” In addition to playing a part as a high school student, she sang the title tune, which rocketed to #1 and was the best-selling song of the year in the U.S. in 1967.

18 “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” The Supremes (Diana Ross), 1966

This Motown track by the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting/producing team is one of the best of The Supremes’ catalog, and rivals “Respect” as a song about women needing to rid themselves of the problematic men in their lives. As always, Diana Ross sang lead vocals, and within a year, she would have lead billing as well, which translated into a huge solo career a few years after that.

19 “Midnight at the Oasis,” Maria Muldaur, 1974

In the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early ’60s, Maria D’Amato was a regular, and sang with a jug band that included her eventual husband Geoff Muldaur. By 1972, she was on her own and recorded her first solo LP, which included “Midnight at the Oasis,” the track many fans have told her was responsible for their pregnancies because of the slyly suggestive lyrics about a love affair in the desert.

20 “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” Nancy Sinatra, 1966

Frank’s daughter surely had connections to score a record deal, but her biggest hit came from her friendship with country/pop singer Lee Hazlewood. He wanted to record his song himself, but Nancy convinced him it would be less harsh coming from a woman. “Boots” became her signature song, and took on a new life as a song about women fighting back against male oppression.