“Never tell your problems to anyone …
20% don’t care and the other 80% are glad you have them.”
– Lou Holtz
- “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C.
When hip hop group Run-D.M.C. had a 1986 crossover hit with a cover of Aerosmith‘s “Walk This Way,” it marked hip hop’s entry into mainstream pop and paved the way for rap-rock, a fusion of rock and hip hop. Aerosmith’s 1977 original, a Top 10 hit, was written by Joe Perry and Steven Tyler.
“The song started at a soundcheck at HRC in Honolulu,” Tyler told NME. “It was a real rhythmical thing. Our drummer Joey Kramer played with a funk band, and was always pushing James Brown. He brought funk to the table. And Joe picked up on it and brought that ‘Walk This Way’ lick. The groove kind of lent itself to rap.”
Run-D.M.C. recorded their version with Tyler and Perry on vocals and guitar. “Those fuckers Run-D.M.C., none of those guys wanted to do this song at first. They didn’t like it. But it grabbed them because of the rhythm on it. [Producer] Rick Rubin called me up and said, ‘Would you do a duet with them?’ It was that simple. I think the genius here is in their passion for wanting to do it.”
“Walk This Way” by Aerosmith
“Walk This Way” by Run-D.M.C.
- “Whip It” by Devo
New wave band Devo‘s biggest success was “Whip It,” a No. 14 hit in 1980. “Whip It” was written by singer-keyboardist Mark Mothersbaugh and bassist Gerald Casale, a spoof on the positive attitude advice in the self-improvement courses of author Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People). It led to an memorable video in the early days of MTV.
“In one of these junk bookstores, I found an old men’s magazine,” Casale told A.V. Club. “I think it was called Dude. They were largely just, back then, limited to women in panties and pantyhose, with great big breasts. But there was always an article or something in each of these magazines to justify that it was a magazine and not pornography.
“This one featured a guy who had been a car salesman or something in L.A., and his ex-stripper wife who moved to Arizona and started a dude ranch. It showed their dude ranch and the happy guests. Every day at noon in the corral, he put on a show with his wife. He’d whip her clothes off for the guests. It was like, ‘Okay, that’s it! We’re going to make that video!’ Of course, we didn’t have the money to make that video, but we went ahead and wrote the song.
“The song was really written about making fun of these kind of Dale Carnegie, you’re No. 1, there’s nobody one else like you [ideas]. The lyrics were inspired by Thomas Pynchon, who loaded up Gravity’s Rainbow with that kind of stuff. This is a totally clean song, but then we were going to make this video. It just took forever to get the money to make the video. So the song was already a hit before we made the video.”
“Whip It” by Devo
- “Respect Yourself” by the Staple Singers
“Respect Yourself” was released in 1971 in an era of black self-empowerment that featured songs like James Brown’s “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.” R&B legends Sir Mack Rice and Luther Ingram wrote the song, which was recorded by the Staple Singers, a family group that featured Mavis Staples and her father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples.
“We were very aware of the message of ‘Respect Yourself,'” Mavis said in Bullseye. “The sound was such a groove. When Pops would sing his part it was so comforting and so smooth. Pops could really sing. He would just take his time.
“Mack Rice wrote that. When he came into the studio and told us to say that ‘Dip deedly dee deedly dee dee,’ Pops said, ‘Mack, we ain’t gonna say that. That doesn’t sound like the Staple Singers.’ Mack says, ‘Pops, you have all the kids saying dip deedly dee.’ Pops was laughing at him, and said, ‘Okay Mack, we’ll say it.’ That song today is still, out of all of our songs, that’s my favorite. ‘Respect Yourself.'”
“Respect Yourself” by the Staple Singers
- “Hold Your Head Up” by Argent
Keyboardist Rod Argent and bassist Chris White were bandmates in the British Invasion band the Zombies. Following the Zombies’ breakup in December 1967, Argent formed a new band – Argent – in 1969. Argent’s biggest hit was “Hold Your Head Up,” which reached No. 5 in 1972.
“We always play ‘Hold Your Head Up,’ and that’s a real highlight of the set, actually,” Argent told blakemadsblog. “The majority of that song was written by Chris White, the bass player for the Zombies, who became sort of a silent member of Argent, in the sense of being a co-producer and a co-writer. He actually wrote ‘Hold Your Head Up’ out of an idea from when he heard us playing a version of ‘Time of the Season.’ We played a sort of experimental version of ‘Time of the Season’ and took it into a different improvised area. He was in the audience and loved what he was hearing and wrote a song around it. That song became ‘Hold Your Head Up.’ It has a real link with ‘Time of the Season.'”
“Hold Your Head Up” by Argent
- “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” by Jim Croce
Singer-songwriter Jim Croce tragically died in a plane crash in September 1973 just as his career was peaking. The chorus of Croce’s 1972 hit “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” offers timeless advice: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape / You don’t spit into the wind / You don’t pull the mask off the ol’ Lone Ranger / And you don’t mess around with Jim.”
Croce’s widow Ingrid told Songfacts that the song’s Big Jim Walker was real. “Jim sold air time for a radio station,” said Ingrid. “He started selling air time in a really shady area down in south and west Philadelphia. And he used to go to some of these pool halls to sell the air time, because it wasn’t a very good neighborhood. He would sit there and watch the pool games and see what people were doing. And he ended up with a guy named Jim Walker, he was one of the guys who used to play pool there.”
On the singer’s website, Ingrid recalled that in concert, Jim would introduce the song by explaining his interest in pool. “There used to be a place in Philadelphia that was an institution, called Allinger’s.
“There were these lights over the pool tables, and all these little bent people. ‘Cause when you shoot a lotta pool, ya know, you get a little bent. And I said something to somebody, and somebody said something to me and I said something back and before I knew it I went down two flights of concrete steps, hitting the steel lips on my backbone, all the way to the subway.
“I mean that’s a whole different world by itself, the world of pain. Some people get off on it, the warning system of the human body, and you get to see the American phenomenon of pool cue justice.”
“You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” by Jim Croce (at 20:49)
- “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones
Though recorded for the Rolling Stones’ 1969 Let It Bleed LP, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was re-released as a single in 1973. Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the album cut opens with the London Bach Choir. “‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ was basically all Mick,” Richards relates in his autobiography Life. “I remember him coming into the studio and saying, I’ve got this song. I said, you got any verses? And he said, I have, but how is it going to sound? Because he’d written it on guitar, it was like a folk song at the time.”
Stones’ producer Jimmy Miller played drums instead of Charlie Watts and Al Kooper contributed piano, organ and French horn. “And then we added the choir on the end, very deliberately,” continued Richards. “It was a dare, kind of. Mick and I thought it should go into a choir, a gospel thing, because we’d played with black gospel singers in America. And then, what if we got one of the best choirs in England, all these white, lovely singers, and do it that way, see what we can get out of them? Turn them on a little bit, get them into a little sway and a move, you know? ‘You caaarnt always …’ It was a beautiful juxtaposition.”
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones
- “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Frankie Goes to Hollywood did not make much of a splash when they released their debut single “Relax” in the U.K. in 1983. But as the band gained popularity, the BBC noted the song’s suggestive lyrics: “Relax don’t do it / When you want to suck it, do it / Relax don’t do it / When you want come.” The BBC banned the song from its radio networks as well as their TV show, Top of the Pops. The notoriety of the ban helped make “Relax” a No. 1 U.K. hit in early 1984. By March 1985 “Relax” was a Top 10 hit in the U.S.
“There have been artists who saw the controversial nature of ‘Relax’ as a blueprint,” said lead vocalist Holly Johnson in Digital Spy. “I think Madonna really wasn’t very controversial on her first album particularly. We shared a management company in America and she definitely plucked the power of sexual controversy. It became a sort of blueprint really for modern pop and dance music in a way.
“Time and time again people have tried the same trick. I don’t think anything has really had a high-profile ban since ‘Relax’ really. I think even the BBC realized that you were highlighting a record rather than burying it into obscurity by banning it.”
“Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood
- “Beware of Darkness” by George Harrison
George Harrison was a great fan of the music of The Band. The ex-Beatle visited the group in late 1968 in Woodstock, N.Y. Harrison cites The Band as an influence in the writing of “All Things Must Pass,” the title song of his 1970 triple-LP. The song is a warning to be skeptical of “soft shoe shufflers,” “greedy leaders” and “falling swingers,” the last a possible reference to his former bandmates.
“When I wrote ‘All Things Must Pass’ I was trying to do a Robbie Robertson-Band sort of tune and that is what it turned into,” Harrison wrote in I, Me, Mine. “I think the whole idea of ‘All Things Must Pass’ has been written up by all kinds of mystics and ex-mystics including Timothy Leary in his psychedelic poems.
Harrison was accompanied on “All Things Must Pass” by Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock. Harrison performed the song with Leon Russell at 1971’s Concert for Bangladesh.
“Beware of Darkness” by George Harrison and Leon Russell
- “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” by Styx
Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw wrote the band’s 1977 hit “Fooling Yourself” about former Styx singer Dennis DeYoung. “Some people have different ways of motivating themselves,” Shaw told A.V. Club. “I was just happy to be onstage, and so many times I would look over at him and he would get really cross onstage. I think he got homesick a lot. He didn’t like to be on the road. I just didn’t understand it when I first joined the band. Because this was early on, and things were going so well for us; I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t happier.
“But then time would go by, and I would realize I could use those same words on myself. You know, when I would get moments of weakness and look at life and be so cynical about things. It would surprise me. It’s like your dreams – you are every character in your dreams. I was the one who wrote those words, so I can’t really put them on anyone else other than myself.”
“Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” by Styx
- “Express Yourself” by Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band
Charles Wright dreamed up the title of his biggest hit during a 1970 concert. While performing “Do Your Thing,” he got the crowd to chant “Express yourself!” “I don’t know why it came across my mind, but the more I said it, the crazier they got,” Wright told LA Weekly.
“Express Yourself” became a Top 20 hit in 1970 despite little enthusiasm for the song by his label. “No one wanted to record it. I had to sneak a bass player, drummer, and engineer into the studio one Sunday and cut it in secret. The president of Warner Bros. told me I made a mistake. So did every DJ that I played it for. But I had a feeling that it was a hit.”
N.W.A. sampled the song in 1989 for their own “Express Yourself” without crediting Wright. When he heard the N.W.A. version Wright called Priority Records to complain. “The lady who answered the phone said, ‘I told them they couldn’t get away with that.’ She gave me Ice Cube’s number and I called him and was like, ‘You can’t do that, that’s my song.’ He apologized profusely and I got my royalties.”
“Express Yourself ” by Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band
“Express Yourself ” by N.W.A.
- “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” by Monty Python
Eric Idle of the British comedy troupe Monty Python wrote “Bright Side of Life” for the 1979 religious satire Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The song is used at the film’s end to spoof Brits’ “stiff upper lip” way of overcoming adversity. Idle, tied to a cross, sings the song to Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman) as they are crucified.
Idle, who was two when he lost his father in a car accident, told The Telegraph that his early life informed his music. “I learnt about grief and absence and loss early. A lot of my songs actually figure death,” said Idle. “And then I was in a very bleak boarding school for about 12 years and life was shit for many years. I really have had the dark side and then the rest of my life has actually been rather lovely.”
By the 1990s the song became a popular sing-along for British soccer fans and today is often the song of choice at funerals in the U.K.
“Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” by Monty Python