Every songwriter has a list like this. It’s hearing a song that makes us go “Damn! Why didn’t I think of that?!” that makes us continue to write, always looking for the holy grail of songs. Or the next holy grail anyway.
Once difference between just liking a song and being influenced by a song is that the writer feels they could have written that same song under the right circumstances. As much as I love the Beatles, you won’t find any on this list. Even though their influence is inescapable, I don’t think I’d have written the songs the same way. The ones on this list make sense to me immediately because they make me say “that’s what I’d have done if I thought of it!” 🙂
If you know my work, some of these won’t be a surprise. Or, at least, it could be an aha moment of “that’s where he
stole ripped off borrowed that idea from!” And if you don’t know my work here’s a good place to get started listening to it.
Don’t Fear The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult
Yes, it’s the cowbell song. This is one of my earliest songwriting favorites. The main guitar riff is a classic and the vocal melodies are just repetitive enough to lock them in your head. I probably would have messed it up with too many variations. Though I definitely would have dropped the whole prog-rock middle section and left it as a 3 minute pop song, but that’s just me.
Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys
As far as I’m concerned, this is the greatest pop song ever written. Brian Wilson called it a “pocket symphony”. A regular length pop song that cycled through different movements like a symphony. Not to mention, the first use of distorted bass and the theremin hook. Seriously cutting edge stuff for the time. This song was directly responsible for a song called “Flat World” that my band had a minor radio hit with in the late 90’s. Though with that one we used a lot of Carribean and Latin influence in the groove, the idea of symphony style movements was the main idea we were working with.
Love Shack by The B-52’s
Hell yes…. Granted, Fred Schneider should never have been allowed near a microphone. Did you know he did a solo album? Yeah, neither did anyone else. But this song falls into my “It’s absolute nonsense, but so much fun!” type of song. It’s one of those ridiculous songs that anyone can sing along with. It’s accessible, but still has a great arrangement. Plus it’ll be played at weddings forever. I’ve always harbored a dream of writing a great lasting wedding reception song. With my luck I’ll probably end up writing something closer to The Chicken Dance than Love Shack.
Whiskey Lullaby by Alison Krauss and Brad Paisley
I love really fun songs and I love really really sad songs. And this one is a recent discovery for me. It’s got the creative turn of phrase that every country hit seems to need now. “He put the bottle to his head and pulled the trigger.” But unlike other songs, it actually surpasses the hook to have an actual story. The lyrics about heartbreak and alcohol abuse would bring a tear to anyone’s eye. Plus I could listen to Alison Krauss sing the ingredients from the back of Windex bottle.
Colors of the Wind from “Pocahontas”
There was bound to be a Disney song on here. And there’s probably quite a few more that could make the list. But this one is a little different, because I didn’t really like the movie all that much. The story is a bit bland for Disney standards. But this song is a stunner and the Vanessa Williams version in particular is a treat to listen to. This is the kind of song that is written in the blandest pop ballad style with preachy lyrics, but the melody carries it to all the right places. The lift on the first line of the chorus going into that Am chord makes the whole thing. Sometimes a song is made in two measures, and that’s definitely the case here.
The Bad Touch by The Bloodhound Gang
Ok, enough of the serious stuff for a bit. Bloodhound Gang songs are either awesome or horrible. Rarely in between. And The Bad Touch is definitely awesome. And it’s all about the lyrics. Total tongue twister laden with bizarre and hilarious sexual jokes “Me and you do the kind of stuff only Prince would sing about.” Nobody would accuse this band of being amazing musicians, but this is one of the greatest sets of funny sexual lyrics ever written. You have to listen a zillion times to hear it all.
Ladies and Gentleman… “The Let’s-Go-Out-Tonites!” by Butch Walker
Butch is one of my absolute favorite songwriters right now. In fact, the whole album this song comes from is always in rotation for me. One day when I told my girlfriend that this was my favorite song from this album, she said, “Of course it is. It sounds like a chorus you would write.” God bless that girl. Butch makes a good chunk of his living writing songs for other artists. He’s written a lot of hits and knows the formula. In his own work he takes that formula and gets much more creative with it. His lyrics are very visual and his melodies support them every step of the way.
Fuck You by Cee-Lo
Yeah, it’s just about played out now. But I still like it. And not the safe “Forget You” version either. I think it’s hilarious and awesome that he found mainstream success with this song. And the first time I heard it literally slammed a fist down on my desk and went “Why didn’t I think of that!” My favorite songs make me happy and angry at the same time. This is the kind of song that drives me to pick up a guitar and find something new again.
Ok, this is turning out particularly long. So I think I’ll do a part 2 to come out on Friday. Keep a watch out for it!
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