Summertime is here, and the only thing finer than hiding out in an air conditioned room is riding down the highway with the windows down singing along to the radio. Some of my favorite road trip karaoke songs belong to a cross-genre sub-category I like to think of as music on music. To me, there are three major classifications of these types of songs, although more often than not, it’s a “know it when you hear it” kind of deal. But I offer up a brief field guide for the uninitiated.
1. Samples and Mashups
This is one of the easier categories to define. These are songs that sample bits and pieces from other songs, or smush two or more songs together. Several years back, the Boulevard of Broken Songs mashup of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Wonderwall,” “Writing to Reach You,” and “Sing for the Moment” was pretty much everywhere you turned. But these song don’t need to be quite as dramatic as that. “Take Me Home Tonight”‘s sample of “Be My Baby” and “Tainted Love”‘s transition to a cover of “Where Did Our Love Go” are two of my favorite classics in this category. Sometimes it’s the more subtle backbeat, like “Werewolves of London” playing underneath “All Summer Long,” or “Mister Big Stuff” under “AM Radio.” In general, sampling is more common in some musical genres than other, but it’s all over the place.
2. Songs about Genres
This second category is also pretty easy to identify on first glance. These are the classic songs about types of music and are almost always eminently singable. These are the “Rock and Roll Music,” “I Love Rock and Roll,” “Old Time Rock and Roll,” “AM Radio” (“I like pop, I like soul, I like rock, but I never liked disco.”), and “I Love Pop Music“s of the world. These are the music on music songs that are probably the most commonly heard and the easiest to love.
3. Name Droppers
Of the three categories, the name droppers are the most subtle, but they are easily my favorites. These are the ones that drop in just a line or two in the middle of the song with a quick wink. If you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to miss them. And unlike the other two categories, you never know where they’re going to turn up. Oh, sure, sometimes they’re obvious like The Band’s “Bessie Smith.” But sometimes it’s like Van Morrisson name-dropping Wilson Pickett and James Brown in “Real Real Gone.” Or sometimes it’s Wave singing, “I saw you standing by the stack of 45s looking at I Want You Back by the Jackson 5.” (I’m a little embarrassed that I still enjoy that CD on occasion. Don’t judge.) Others are a quote or a reference from another song dropped into the middle of a set of lyrics. In John Fogerty’s popular summer ode to baseball, “Centerfield,” he name drops on Chuck Berry’s “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man.” (He’s the one who’s rounding third and headed for home.) Elton John was doing the “Crocodile Rock” while the other kids enjoyed Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock.” And U2 gives a shout out to Jimi Hendrix in “Mysterious Ways,” singing, “If you wanna kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel.” These kind of name drop references are everywhere if you just listen hard enough.
So, Persephoneers, which type do you like best? What are your favorite “music on music” tunes? I’ll leave you with one of my most loved name droppers, Eric Carmen’s “Make Me Lose Control.” (There are two of them. Can you spot them?)