“My Week with Marilyn” may not have set the box office on fire or won its stars any Oscars for playing legendary Hollywood figures, but only time will tell if it winds up having been the most influential movie of 2011. In the wake of its critical success production began on movies that are about the making of famous movies like “The Birds,” “Psycho” and “Mary Poppins.” Rock stars have been engaging in this kind of referencing of its own legendary figures and songs.
One of the biggest referential rock songs of all time is Don McClean’s epic overview of The Day the Music Died. Over the course of its eight and a half minutes, the lyrics of “American Pie” allude to the plane crash that took the lives of early rockers Richie Valens, the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley’s position as the King of Rock and Roll, the impact of the Beatles and specific songs ranging from “The Book of Love” to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
Sweet Home Alabama
If you lived in the South during the 1970s, you could not escape hearing this song by Lynyrd Skynyrd and on many radio stations that is probably still true today. If the sound of drunken rednecks cheering at the singer’s opening mperative to “turn it up” doesn’t drown it out, you may have heard the singer advising Neil Young to remember that Southern men don’t really require his presence in their lives to be happy with their state of existence. “Sweet Home Alabama” is a response to an earlier hit song by Neil Young with lyrics that strongly suggest that those bumper stickers have things backward with their proposal that the rebel flag of the Confederacy symbolizes heritage rather than hate.
Let’s Dance to Joy Division
The short history of rock music inspired Don McLean’s ode to revolutionary generation while Lynyrd Skynyrd was inspired by pride in a culture they felt was unfairly defined by its most negative aspect. The Wombats looked back to rock history to make a philosophical statement about a specific band. “Let’s Dance to Joy Division” kicks off with a raucously cacophonous guitar riff that pays homage to the punk sound that inspired Joy Division. The song enthusiastically urges listeners to request club DJs play Joy Division and then take to dance floor. The joke here among the unitiated is that Joy Division is famous for their downbeat music and dark lyrics. While covering the overall atmosphere of Joy Division, the Wombats specifically focus on the iconic song “Love Will Tear Us Apart” as evidence that dancing to Joy Division can bring about a sense of happiness only if you possess the ability to lose yourself in the irony of enjoying that fact that everything is going wrong.
Too Many People/How Do You Sleep?
Here we have a case of one song that is direct reference about a specific rock star that motivated a response by that very same rock star. Making this instance even more unique is that the two stars involved are Paul McCartney and John Lennon. McCartney’s engaged in a little playful irony by titling his tune “Too Many People” when it is clear that just one very specific individual is being addressed with lyrics suggesting that too many people went underground, got a lucky break, broke things in two and started preaching. Lennon responded in “How Do You Sleep” with lyrics referencing the Paul is dead conspiracy and taking aim at a drop in McCartney’s songwriting quality between “Yesterday” with the Beatles and “Another Day” as a solo artist.
For more from Timothy Sexton, Yahoo!’s first Writer of the Year, check out:
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