Inspired by the passing of Johnny Nash and the October 7 birthdays of Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke, John Cougar Mellencamp, Kevin Godley, Toni Braxton, Alfred Drake, Climax Blues Band’s Colin Cooper and The Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner; and the October 6 birthdays of Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo, Matthew Sweet, REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin, Will Butler and Millie Small.
Inspired by Black Music Month, LGBTQ Pride Month, and the June 22 birthdays of Cyndi Lauper, Jimmy Somerville, Todd Rundgren, The Turtles’ Howard Kaylan, Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie, Kris Kristoffersson, Schoolly-D, Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside, Peter Asher, Jai Rodriguez, Jesus Jones’ Mike Edwards, and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ Dicky Barrett.
Inspired by the February 4 birthdays of Alice Cooper, Cam’ron, James’ Tim Booth, and Natalie Imbruglia; the February 3 birthdays of The Temptations’ Dennis Edwards, The Kinks’ Dave Davies, Melanie, and Daddy Yankee; and the February 2 birthdays of Graham Nash, Honey Cone’s Edna Wright, Shakira, Howard Bellamy and Stan Getz; and the February 3 anniversary of the passing of Buddy Holly.
Today is the birthday of two music icons – Jam-Master Jay of rap pioneers Run-D.M.C. and disc jockey Wolfman Jack. Besides their place in their history of rock and roll, both men have another thing in common – they were the subjects of songs. That inspired me to put together today’s playlist – songs named after real people.
I found fifty songs whose titles are actual people. Actually I found more than fifty, but I didn’t want to subject you to Chiddy Bang or Mac Miller. I made a few rules for myself:
1) The title can’t have words besides the person’s name, hence no Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes” or Sleater-Kinney’s “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.”
2) The title has to be the full name the person is known by, so no “Springsteen” by Eric Church or “Jessica” (about Jessica Simpson) by Adam Green. Allowed are “Galileo,” “Joan of Arc” and “King Tut,” as that is how most people identify Galileo Galilei, Joan d’Arc and Tutankhamun.
3) The song doesn’t have to be about the person after whom it is titled, so “Jack the Ripper” and “Rosa Parks” are in.
4) The track has to be on Spotify. This means I left out Bob Dylan’s “George Jackson” and Hoodie Allen’s “James Franco.”
Amazingly for a playlist based on such a goofy concept, it holds together quite well, if I say so myself.
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In 1986 the English band XTC recorded their eighth studio album Skylarking with producer Todd Rundgren. The first single released from the album was “Grass.” The b-side of that 45 was a previously-unreleased track that was recorded for but at the request of group member Andy Partridge did not appear on the album.
Inspired by a series of books containing letters children wrote to God, Partridge, who was “wrestling with the tail end of my belief when I wrote [the song],” composed lyrics based on a child’s letter to God in which His existence is questioned. He had the nine-year-old daughter of a friend of Rundgren sing the opening verse, telling God about the people who are starving because God doesn’t give them enough food, ending with the line “I can’t believe in you.”
Partridge then takes over the lead vocals, asking Him “Did you make disease?” and “Did you make mankind after we made you?” He tells Him “don’t know if you noticed but your name is on a lot of quotes in this book / Us crazy humans wrote it; you should take a look,” and repeats the line “I can’t believe in you,” adding “I don’t believe in” and “I won’t believe in.”
Believers wouldn’t be the only ones who didn’t like the song. Partridge didn’t like it, saying “it wasn’t as caustic as I would’ve liked it to be.” He also said “It is such a big subject and I’ve been wrestling with it for years, but how can you cover it in three and half minutes?” Because he didn’t think he did the subject matter justice, Partridge, who wrote the lyrics in 1985, asked that it not be included on the Skylarking album.
Surprisingly, particularly for a b-side by a pretty much unknown group in a very religious country, “Dear God” started to get radio airplay in the US. A music video was made and Partridge agreed to let the song be added to the album.
The new version of Skylarking sold 250,000 copies in the US and “Dear God” made the top 40 of the Album Rock chart.
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