Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Answer Song

An “answer song” is a recording made in response (“answer”) to a previously released recording. In literary theory, the answer song would be considered an example of intertextuality, a term used to describe the way any particular text depends upon prior texts for its meaning. Hence a parodic imitation of an earlier song may also be considered a form of answer song—for instance, John Zacherle’s “I’m the Ghoul From Wolverton Mountain” as a parody of Jo Ann Campbell’s “(I’m the Girl On) Wolverton Mountain,” which in turn was an answer song to Claude King’s “Wolverton Mountain,” or “Weird Al” Yankovic’s many parodies, such as “Eat It,” a parody of Michael Jackson’s Beat It.” The answer song is usually an attempt to exploit the popularity of an earlier song for economic motives, although the answer song can be motivated out of other reasons as well—to argue a different philosophical or ideological position, for instance. By way of analogy, think of the way the Darwin fish depended upon an individual’s knowledge of the Christian fish sign, but thoroughly subverted its meaning. A good example of this latter relationship is Kitty Wells’ indignant answer song, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” to Hank Thompson’s “The Wild Side of Life.” Usually the answer song is made by a different artist than recorded the original, but there are interesting exceptions to this rule, such as Sly Stone’s “Thank You for Talkin’ to Me Africa” which is a response to his own earlier song, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” In the late 1950s and 60s many answer songs were often cast as female responses to a (hit) song by a male artist—Jody Miller’s “Queen of the House” was a female (domestic) response to Roger Miller’s carefree song of the road, “King of the Road,” for instance. And sometimes, the answer song can actually be used as a form of rhetorical response in a feud between antagonistic artists, such as the famous one between Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

Some Examples Of Answer Songs:

Shake, Rattle and Roll (Bill Haley & His Comets) – Bark, Battle, And Brawl (The Platters)
The Wild Side of Life (Hank Thompson) – It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels (Kitty Wells)
King of the Road (Roger Miller) – Queen of the House (Jody Miller)
It’s My Party (Lesley Gore) – Judy’s Turn to Cry (Leslie Gore)
Blue Navy (Diane Renay) – Kiss Me, Sailor (Diane Renay)
My Guy (Mary Wells) – My Girl (The Temptations)
Eve of Destruction (Barry McGuire) – Dawn of Correction (The Spokesmen)
Universal Soldier (Donovan) – The Universal Coward (Jan & Dean)
Southern Man (Neil Young) – Sweet Home Alabama (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
White Christmas (Bing Crosby) – Blue Christmas (Elvis Presley)
Stand By Your Man (Tammy Wynette) – (I’m A) Stand By My Woman Man (Ronnie Milsap)
Norwegian Wood (The Beatles) – Fourth Time Around (Bob Dylan)
Street Fighting Man (The Rolling Stones) – Revolution (The Beatles)
Too Many People (Paul McCartney) – How Do You Sleep? (John Lennon)

No comments: