ANSWER SONGS, PARODIES, AND DEATH TUNES
by Pat Jacobs
The early to mid-1960s was probably the heyday of Answer or Response songs, those tunes that referred directly or indirectly to another song, or is meant as a reply to another song.
The reason? I believe this was to try to "cash in" on a huge hit, ride the momentum, so to speak.
Most of these were rather forgettable, but there were a few gems in the mix. Parodies were humorous or satirical imitations, but could also be an answer song.
And Death Tunes were simply that, in which an untimely demise was the focus of, and befell the main character, or two or more. For some inexplicable reason, these "disaster blasters" were very popular for a brief time. Before the rock-and-roll era, "This Land Is Your Land" was Woody Guthrie's socialist response to "God Bless America" by Irving Berlin
The following was actually from the 1950s, but I couldn't resist including this: "Bark, Battle, And
Brawl" & by The Platters (Don't you just love this title?) was the response to Shake, Rattle, And Roll", the HUGE Bill Haley and The Comets hit.
Daddy's Home" by Shep and The Limelites (1961) was the answer song to " A Thousand Miles Away by The Heartbeats (1956). James "Shep" Sheppard was the lead singer on both songs.
"Dawn Of Correction" by The Spokesmen was the response to Barry McQuire's "Eve Of Destruction." (1965). Spokesmen member David White was a member of Danny and The Juniors.
"I'll Bring It Home To You" was the response of Carla Thomas to Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me" (1962). Both were written by Cooke.
"Fourth Time Around" by Bob Dylan answered The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" (late '65-early '66?) Percy Sledge had the big 1966 hit "When A Man Loves A Woman". Ketty Lester responded with "When A Woman Loves A Man".
The Chantels hit no. 20 with " Well, I Told You," a response to Ray Charles' "Hit The Road, Jack", both from 1961.
Jim Reeves' He'll Have To Go" got singer Jeannie Black to declare that "He'll Have To Stay." (1960) The latter was a no. 4 smash.
Gene Chandler's follow-up and answer to "Duke Of Earl" was "Walk On With The Duke".
Chris Kenner had a big hit with "I Like It Like That." The Bobbettes responded with "I Don't Like It Like That."
"I'm Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee)" by Ben Vaughn refers to Brenda Lee's "I'm Sorry". (1960)
"Judy's Turn To Cry" was Lesley Gore's follow-up and answer to "It's My Party". (1963)
"Queen Of The House" was Jody Miller's response to Roger Miller's "King Of The Road" (1965). Jody and Roger were no relation, but Roger Miller did write both songs.
The Beatles themselves had an answer song. "Revolution" (1968) was the response to "Street
Fighting Man" by The Rolling Stones.
In answer to the anti-war song "Universal Soldier" (1965) by Donovan, Jan and Dean responded with the pro-Vietnam war song " The Universal Crowd".
Claude King had the no. 6 smash "Wolverton Mountain". Jo Ann Campbell responded with "(I'm The Girl On) Wolverton Mountain" (no. 38), both from 1962.
Shelley Fabares of TV's The Donna Reed Show had the no.1 smash, "Johnny Angel." Her follow-up was "Johnny Loves Me" (no. 21).
Tom Glazer and The Do-Re-Mi Children's Chorus had a no. 14 hit with "On Top Of Spaghetti" which was a parody of "On Top Of Old Smokey". I know there's a version by The Weavers, but I think they're just poking fun at the song in general.
"Roses Are Red" (1962) was the Bobby Vinton hit. The response was "As Long As The Rose Is Red" by Florraine Darlin.
Dee Dee Sharp followed up and answered her "Mashed Potato Time" with "Gravy (On My Mashed Potatoes)" (1962).
"Monster's Holiday" was the follow-up and answer to "Monster Mash" (1962), both by Bobby "Boris" Pickett and The Crypt Kickers. "Mash" was a no. 1 smash in 1962 and a top 10 hit
(no.10!) in 1973!
"Leader Of The Laundromat" by The Detergents was a parody of The Shangri-Las no. 1 smash, "Leader Of The Pack" (both from 1964) . Detergents member Ron Dante later went on to become lead singer of The Archies and The Cuff Links!
"Small Sad Sam" by Phil McLean (1961) was a parody of "Big Bad John" by Jimmy Dean.
Skeeter Davis had her first top 40 hit with "(I Can't Help You) I'm Falling Too" (no.39, 1960), the response to the no. 8 smash "Please Help Me, I'm Falling" by Hank Locklin (also from 1960).
The Drifters' no. 1 smash " Save The Last Dance For Me" elicited the response of "I'll Save The Last Dance For You" by Damita Jo. (1960)
Mary Wells had the mega-hit " You Beat Me To The Punch". Gene Chandler answered with " You Threw A Lucky Punch". (1962)
Major Lance's "Mama Didn't Know" was the response to Jan Bradley's " Mama Didn't Lie". (1963) Curtis Mayfield wrote and produced both songs.
The ultimate, and best, answer song? "My Girl" by The Temptations (1965) which was a response to "My Guy" by Mary Wells (1964). Smokey Robinson wrote and produced both songs.
I suppose that both versions of "Leader Of" could also qualify as death tunes. (motorcycle accidents)
"Teen Angel" by Mark Dinning concerned a train accident. "Ebony Eyes" by The Everly Brothers featured a plane crash. "Tell Laura I Love Her" by Ray Peterson- racing accident "Patches" by Dickey Lee- a suicide, with another impending. "I Want My Baby Back" by Jimmy Cross-a car crash. (This may be a parody of a death tune. There's an ending to this that you have to hear to believe; all I will say is that it's a total GROSS-OUT!).
The following may not be considered death tunes per se, but since they do prominently feature this topic, I'll give these an honorable mention:
"El Paso" - Marty Robbins- (a fatal bullet wound)
"Moody River"- Pat Boone- (either a drowning accident or a drowning suicide?)
"Big Bad John"- Jimmy Dean- (mining accident)
"Dead Man's Curve"- Jan and Dean- (racing accident?)
"Last Kiss"- J. Frank Wilson and The Cavaliers- (car crash )
"Ringo"- Lorne Greene- (western gunfight)
"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"- Gene Pitney- (western gunfight or shooting)
"I Can Never Go Home Anymore"- The Shangri-Las- (the mother dies)
"Ode To Billy Joe"- Bobbie Gentry- (a baby's death? and "there was a virus goin' round, Papa
caught it and he died last spring -ing -ing")
"The Ballad Of Bonnie and Clyde"- Georgie Fame- ( a shooting death and an ambush)
"In The Ghetto"- Elvis Presley- (a shooting death)
"The Ballad Of Irving"- Frank Gallup- ( accidental shooting of the main character by himself! This is actually a comedy recording; if you've ever heard this, you'll know what happened. Check this out; from 1966!)
And Ray Stevens (born Harold Ray Ragsdale) I consider the Weird Al Yankovich of his day. Stevens didn't actually do song parodies, but the man did write, produce, and record some of the funniest stuff on record, such as "Ahab The Arab" (One of the song's characters, Clyde the camel, was named after and in tribute to Clyde McPhatter. He was present at the recording session.) and "Bridget The Midget". Yet there was a certain degree of parody, or a hint of it, in the comedy.
BUT, he could also get serious. And sing. Remember "Mr. Businessman"? "Everything Is Beautiful"? or "Misty"?
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