This month’s Top 11 list concerns revenge … a topic that’s served as the inspiration for all sorts of songs over the years!
“We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.”
– Heinrich Heine
- “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” by Nancy Sinatra
More than a half-century after its release in 1966, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” is still considered an anthem of women’s empowerment. Written by Lee Hazelwood, Nancy Sinatra scored a No. 1 hit with the song. “I knew it was a hit the first time Lee Hazelwood played the bass line on his guitar in my mother’s living room,” Sinatra recalled in Los Angeles Magazine.
“One day Lee and our producer and arranger Billy Strange came over to my mother’s house, where I had been staying since my breakup with Tommy Sands. Lee auditioned songs for me. I particularly liked a song he played that only had two verses and I asked him if he could write a third verse. He said, ‘It’s not really a girl’s song. I sing it myself onstage.’ I told him that coming from a guy it was harsh and abusive, but was perfect for a little girl to sing. He agreed. When he left, my father, who had been sitting in the living room reading the paper, said, ‘The song about the boots is best.'”
- “Rocky Raccoon” by the Beatles
“Rocky Raccoon” was recorded in 1968 for the Beatles‘ White Album. It was primarily written by Paul McCartney while on retreat in Rishikesh, India to study Transcendental Meditation. “I was sitting on the roof in India with a guitar — John and I were sitting ’round playing guitar, and we were with Donovan,” McCartney told Radio Luxembourg in 1968. “And we were just sitting around enjoying ourselves, and I started playing the chords of ‘Rocky Raccoon,’ you know, just messing around. And, oh, originally it was Rocky Sassoon, and we just started making up the words, you know, the three of us — and started just to write them down. They came very quickly. And eventually I changed it from Sassoon to Raccoon, because it sounded more like a cowboy.
“I don’t know anything about the Appalachian mountains or cowboys and Indians or anything. But I just made it up, you know. And the doctor came in stinking of gin and proceeded to lie on the table. So, there you are.”
- “How Do You Sleep?” by John Lennon
By 1971, Paul McCartney had sued in court to dissolve the Beatles as a legal partnership. McCartney had also released his solo album, Ram. John Lennon believed the song “Too Many People” and other songs on the LP were intentional slights to him. In response, Lennon recorded “How Do You Sleep?” for his 1971 album Imagine. The song is a scathing attack on McCartney and his work as a Beatle and solo artist. “I heard Paul’s messages in Ram – yes there are, dear reader!” Lennon said in Crawdaddy Magazine. “Too many people going where? Missed our lucky what? What was our first mistake? Can’t be wrong? Huh! I mean Yoko, me, and other friends can’t all be hearing things.”
“I was looking at my second solo album, Ram, the other day and I remember there was one tiny little reference to John in the whole thing,” McCartney explained in Playboy in 1984. “He’d been doing a lot of preaching, and it got up my nose a little bit. In one song, I wrote, ‘Too many people preaching practices,’ I think is the line. I mean, that was a little dig at John and Yoko. There wasn’t anything else on it that was about them. Oh, there was ‘You took your lucky break and broke it in two.'”
- “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon
“You’re So Vain” was written by Carly Simon, who reached No. 1 with the tune in 1972. Mick Jagger performed uncredited backing vocals and Beatles’ pal Klaus Voormann played bass. Simon’s “son of a gun” remark at the top was a reaction to Voormann’s bass riff.
There has been much conjecture over the decades over whom the song was about. Suspects included Jagger, Warren Beatty, James Taylor, David Geffen, David Bowie, David Cassidy and Cat Stevens. Simon dropped clues over the years and in 2015 revealed to People Magazine that the song’s second verse refers to Beatty. “I have confirmed that the second verse is Warren,” said Simon. “Warren thinks the whole thing is about him!”
- “Liar, Liar” by the Castaways
“Liar, Liar” is a garage rock classic, a No. 12 hit for the Castaways. The tune was written by band mates James Donna and Denny Craswell; its falsetto was performed by guitarist Robert Folschow. The Castaways only had this one hit, but the song has been used in a number of soundtracks, including Good Morning Vietnam and 1967’s It’s a Bikini World.
The Castaways released “Liar, Liar” in 1965 on Soma Records, a local Minnesota label. Donna described the music scene at the time in The Current. “Back in the ’60s, there were a lot of teen dances. There were a lot of really great Minnesota bands back then — groups like Gregory Dee and the Avanties; the Trashmen, who had the big hit ‘Surfin’ Bird’; and you had the Castaways with ‘Liar, Liar.’ There were quite a few really talented bands that performed all over the Midwest, all over Minnesota, in basically ballrooms and teen dance clubs. It was a lot of fun. People could go there and dance, see their favorite band, and usually there were very big crowds. There was, for example, Danceland Ballroom in Excelsior — actually the Rolling Stones came and performed there before anybody knew who they were.”
- “My Boyfriend’s Back” by the Angels
The Angels — Barbara Allbut, her sister Phyllis and friend Peggy Santiglia — were established backing vocalists who often recorded demos in the New York area in the early 1960s. Their biggest hit was 1963’s “My Boyfriend’s Back.” Writer-producer Bob Feldman told DJ Bob Shannon that he was inspired to write the song when he happened onto an argument between a boy and girl at a malt shop. “She was pointing a finger at him and screaming, ‘My boyfriend’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble. You’ve been spreading lies about me all over school and when he gets ahold of you, you’re gonna be sorry you were ever born.'”
Feldman and his writing partners Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer wrote the song that night. Feldman’s employer, April-Blackwell Music, wanted the song for the Shirelles, but Feldman refused and was fired. Feldman, Goldstein and Gottehrer produced the song for the Angels and it became a No. 1 hit.
- “Cry Me a River” by Joe Cocker
“Cry Me a River,” written by Arthur Hamilton, was a sultry torch song first recorded by Julie London in 1955. When London performed the song in the 1956 film The Girl Can’t Help It, it became a Top 10 hit.
Joe Cocker completely reinvented “Cry Me a River” on his Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour. Backed by Leon Russell and an all-star army of musicians, Cocker recorded “Cry Me a River” during four concerts at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East in New York March 27-28, 1970. Russell leads the Mad Dogs — Claudia Lennear, Chris Stainton, Carl Radle, Jim Keltner, Bobby Keys and Rita Coolidge, among others — through a wild rocker that would have been unrecognizable to those familiar with London’s rendition.
“Cry Me a River” by Joe Cocker
“Cry Me a River” by Julie London
- “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” by Vicki Lawrence
“The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” was a story-song about revenge and murder that reached No. 1 in 1973. It was written by Bobby Russell, who did not have much confidence in the song, but his wife, singer Vicki Lawrence, thought it could be a hit.
“It was a juggernaut of the ’70s, baby,” Lawrence told Fox5 Atlanta. “I was married to the guy who wrote the song for ten months. It was, like, the only good thing that came out of the marriage! He wrote this song, he hated it, he said, ‘If you love it, you do the demo.’ I did the demo, we brought it out to his producer, who said it was a good song and tried to give it to everybody.
“Tried to give it to Liza Minnelli, he tried to give it to Cher. Sonny [Bono] said, ‘This song sucks.’ Finally his producer said, ‘Let’s just go in the studio and do it with Vicki.’
The whole thing ended in divorce, but I did get a gold record and I got the dog!”
- “Dead Flowers” by the Rolling Stones
The country-flavored “Dead Flowers,” written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, appears on the Stones‘ 1971 album Sticky Fingers. “I love country music, but I find it very hard to take it seriously,” Jagger told Rolling Stone. “I also think a lot of country music is sung with the tongue in cheek, so I do it tongue in cheek. The harmonic thing is very different from the blues. It doesn’t bend notes in the same way, so I suppose it’s very English, really. Even though it’s been very Americanized, it feels very close to me, to my roots, so to speak.”
Jagger compared the song to the Stones’ earlier ventures into country like “Factory Girl” and “Dear Doctor.” “The ‘Country’ songs we recorded later, like ‘Dead Flowers’ on Sticky Fingers or ‘Far Away Eyes’ on Some Girls, are slightly different,” Jagger noted in According to the Rolling Stones. “The actual music is played completely straight, but it’s me who’s not going legit with the whole thing, because I think I’m a blues singer not a country singer — I think it’s more suited to Keith’s voice than mine.”
- “One Way or Another” by Blondie
“One Way or Another,” written by Debbie Harry and Nigel Harrison, was Blondie‘s 1978 follow-up to “Heart of Glass.” It was Harry’s response to an ex-boyfriend who would call her hour after hour and hang out outside her door. “I was actually stalked by a nutjob so it came out of a not-so-friendly personal event,” Harry told Entertainment Weekly. “But I tried to inject a little bit of levity into it to make it more lighthearted. I think in a way that’s a normal kind of survival mechanism. You know, just shake it off, say one way or another, and get on with your life. Everyone can relate to that, and I think that’s the beauty of it.”
“The girl in that song is certainly not a victim,” guitarist Chris Stein said in Louder Sound. “The protagonist is a self-empowered figure.”
- “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen
Queen bassist John Deacon wrote and played most of the instruments on “Another One Bites the Dust,” a No. 1 hit for Queen in 1980. Its origins were nothing like what the band ended up recording. “To ‘bite the dust’ is a cowboy phrase, and that’s all I had at first — just the line,” Deacon recalled on the Ultimate Classic Rock Nights radio show. “When we went in the studio I actually had a set of lyrics that nobody had ever seen. I hadn’t shown them to anybody, I was so embarrassed about them!” The lyrics, he explained, all related to cowboys. “There’s a little story, and at the end of each verse, another one bit the dust.”
The band members were not convinced it would be a hit single, drummer Roger Taylor told Contact Music. “I remember Michael Jackson saying, ‘You guys are mad if you don’t release ‘Another One Bites the Dust’. I remember saying, ‘That will never be a hit.’ How wrong can you be?”