Top 11 Songs About Friendship — a list that barely scratches the surface. If you think of any more that you’d add, let us know!
“An old friend will help you move. A good friend will help you move a dead body.” – Jim Hayes
- “Friends” by Elton John
“Friends,” written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, was the title track of the 1971 teen-romance film. John and Taupin were offered the chance to do the film’s soundtrack, an idea that intrigued them in the early days of John’s career.
In the liner notes of the box set To Be Continued …, John explained how they came to compose the score. “We were contracted to do the Friends soundtrack before the success came. It was an interesting obligation we had to fulfill, because we were involved with [composer]Paul Buckmaster and we wanted to do a soundtrack. In those days, soundtrack albums were dreadful.
“We wanted Friends not to be just a lot of old filler … With Friends, we tried to make a soundtrack album that was value for money. We were so heartbroken with the sleeve, though. We’d always been in charge of our artwork, but Paramount said ‘Don’t worry about it. We will come up with a great sleeve.’ And they came up with this dross, I mean, it was hideous.
“It was also an exercise that I would never like to do again. I would never score a film again, too mathematical.”
- “You’ve Got a Friend” by James Taylor and Carole King
Written by Carole King, “You’ve Got a Friend” was recorded and released as a single in 1971 by both King and James Taylor. The song became a No. 1 hit for Taylor, who admitted in Rolling Stone that he recorded it before King. “Carole King and I were playing the Troubadour in Los Angeles together. She had just written ‘You’ve Got a Friend,’ which she later said was a response to ‘Fire and Rain.’ The chorus to ‘Fire and Rain’ is ‘I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend.’ Carole’s response was, ‘Here’s your friend.’ As soon as I heard it, I wanted to play it.
“Not long after, we were in the studio recording Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon. We had already cut two songs that day, but we still had studio time and a lot of energy. Peter [Asher] said, ‘Well, why don’t you play “You’ve Got a Friend”?’ We did, and it sounded great.
“There was just one problem: I hadn’t bothered to ask Carole if it was OK. I sheepishly called her up and said, ‘We didn’t really mean to do it, but we’ve recorded “You’ve Got a Friend,”‘ and she said, ‘Fine, go ahead, put it out,’ which was remarkably generous.”
“You’ve Got a Friend” by James Taylor
“You’ve Got a Friend” by Carole King
- “Welcome Back” by John Sebastian
The Lovin’ Spoonful recorded hit after hit in the 1960s but by 1968 frontman John Sebastian left to pursue a solo career. Sebastian recorded solo LPs and played harmonica on the Doors‘ “Roadhouse Blues,” but he couldn’t replicate the success he had with the Spoonful. “I was so wildly unpopular,” he told City, “Warner Brothers was trying to pretend I wasn’t there.”
Sebastian had a career resurgence in 1976 when he was asked to record the theme song for the sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter. Originally written for the TV show with just one verse, Sebastian returned to the studio to extend the song and add a harmonica solo when fans clamored for a single version. “I was wildly out of style when that television theme song suddenly pushed its way onto the Top 10,” Sebastian told Classic Bands. “It was certainly not the record company trying to make that happen. It was record buyers going into their record stores saying ‘I want to buy the “Welcome Back, Kotter” theme song.’ That’s an audience-driven single that record companies pray for.”
- “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers
In 1972 “Lean on Me” became Bill Withers‘ only No. 1 song. Withers explained the song’s meaning in American Songwriter. “The consistent kind of love is that kind that will make you go over and wipe mucus and saliva off somebody’s face after they become brain-dead. Romantic love, you only wanna touch people because they’re pretty and they appeal to you physically. The more substantial kind of love is when you want to touch people and care for them when they’re at their worst.”
“That song is one of my favorites because you don’t have to be a singer to sing it,” Withers told NPR. “People write me letters about how they are, you know, somebody died and they had a tough time and it helped them get through it. And most importantly, I can’t tell you how many children told me that was the first thing they learned to play on the piano. Because you don’t have to change fingers.”
- “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” by the Hollies
Before the Hollies recorded their Top 10 hit in 1969, the expression “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” was best known as the motto of Boys Town, a non-profit organization that cares for children and families. The Boys Town site recounts how founder Father Edward Flanagan adopted the motto. “In 1943, Father Flanagan was paging through a copy of Ideal magazine when he saw an image of an older boy carrying a younger boy on his back. The caption read, ‘He ain’t heavy, mister … he’s my brother’…’
“Father Flanagan wrote to the magazine and requested permission to use the image and quote. The magazine agreed, and Boys Town adopted them both to define its new brand.”
Hollies’ singer and guitarist Tony Hicks told Pennyblack how he discovered the song, on which a young Elton John played piano. “I used to scour publishers’ archives looking for songs we might use and one day I spotted ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.’ The song was written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell. I thought immediately it was right for the Hollies. It turned out to be a career-changer for us in many ways. It was a serious song, less poppy than some of the others.
“The Hollies used Elton because he was – and he still is – a phenomenal keyboard player. What he played on ‘He Ain’t Heavy’ was quite extraordinary and many of the best keyboard players who we have worked with over the years find it difficult to match what Elton did on that track.”
- “Whenever I Call You Friend” by Kenny Loggins (with Stevie Nicks)
After the breakup of Loggins & Messina, Kenny Loggins had his first solo hit in 1978 with “Whenever I Call You Friend.” Loggins wrote the song with Melissa Manchester, who recorded her own version in 1979. Though Stevie Nicks performed on the track, she was credited on the album version, not the single. “I call him Slave-Driver Loggins,” Nicks told High Times. “He cracked the whip on me for two days to get that particular performance. And I was downright angry at points where I was going, ‘I’m not going to do this.’ He said, ‘Yes, you are.’ He’s a real good producer, Kenny, he got exactly what he wanted. When it was done and I left, I was knocked out. I really had to keep my mouth shut and do what I was told. And it worked. He wasn’t interested in a dull vocal.”
“When I went solo the biggest break I had was being the opening act for Fleetwood Mac on the Rumors Tour,” Loggins recalled in AXS. “I met the band and became good friends with Stevie and Mick [Fleetwood]. One thing led to another and while we were on the road Stevie said that if I ever get a song I needed a singer on to call her. Seeing as she was the biggest female singer in the world at the time I had to take advantage of that.”
“Whenever I Call You Friend” by Kenny Loggins (with Stevie Nicks)
“Whenever I Call You Friend” by Melissa Manchester
- “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” by Randy Newman
“You’ve Got a Friend in Me” was written by Randy Newman for the 1995 Disney/Pixar animated film Toy Story and has been part of the Toy Story franchise ever since. The song describes the friendship between toy cowboy Woody and a boy, Andy. “I’m fortunate to have the Pixar stuff as an outlet,” Newman explained in the Tampa Bay Times. “I never would have written ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’ for myself – unless I were doing the character of a used-car salesman. Those scores are as close as I get to being in the middle of the road. But ultimately the movie stuff is not going to be the first line of my obituary. ‘Short People’ will!”
The song has changed the makeup of his audience, Newman says in Score, A Film Music Documentary. “I’ve had five-year-old hecklers who want to hear ‘You’ve Got A Friend.’ It’s a different audience than I would’ve expected to get. One kid was at the side of the stage. I almost had to go smack him,” joked Newman.
- “Old Friends” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Old Friends” was recorded for Simon & Garfunkel‘s 1968 hit LP Bookends. Sung by Art Garfunkel, the song is a tale of two seasoned citizens who “sit on a park bench like bookends” and ponder the old days. “It’s amazing that a 24-year-old Paul Simon could write with such wisdom about an older person’s perspective: ‘Preserve your memories … how terribly strange to be 70,’ Garfunkel told the Daily Mail in 2014. “Now that I’m 73, I just think life is strange, period! A fabulous mystery.”
The song is preceded by “Voices of Old People,” a sound collage recorded by Garfunkel at a retirement home. “I wanted to set up the song ‘Old Friends,'” Garfunkel explained in Song Talk. “And I wanted the actual sound of the old people on tape so you can feel what we’re talking about before we sing something about old people. I actually wanted to get their coughs, their wheezes, their sighs.”
“Voices of Old People” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Old Friends / Bookends Theme” by Simon & Garfunkel
- “The Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy
When “The Boys Are Back in Town” became a Top 20 hit in 1976 for Thin Lizzy, even the band was surprised. Guitarist Scott Gorham, who went on to form the Thin Lizzy spin-off band Black Star Riders, told Classic Rock, “We were playing in some club in the US when our manager came in and said, ‘Well, looks like we’ve got a hit.’ We were like, ‘Which song?’ Seriously, we didn’t have any idea at all which song it was that had taken off for us.
“To tell you the truth, we weren’t initially going to put ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ on the Jailbreak album at all. Back then you picked 10 songs and went with those because of the time restrictions of vinyl. We recorded 15 songs, and of the 10 we picked, that wasn’t one of them. But then the management heard it and said, ‘No, there’s something really good about this song.’ Although back then, it didn’t yet have the twin guitar parts on it.
“Obviously ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ is the one song that really changed things for us, and I’m very thankful that it did. But I also think about how thin the line can be that separates success from failure. Whenever we’re discussing leadoff tracks with Black Star Riders, I always say, ‘Don’t listen to me – I’m the one who thought ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ shouldn’t have been a single!'”
- “Me and My Arrow” by Harry Nilsson
Harry Nilsson wrote “Me and My Arrow” for The Point!, a 1970 animated film about a boy, Oblio, and his dog Arrow. Oblio is the one round-headed boy in a place called The Land of the Point, where the people, the buildings, everything came to a point. If you think the inspiration for all this was drugs, you’d be right. “I was on acid and I looked at the trees and I realized that they all came to points,” Nilsson told Rolling Stone. “I thought, ‘Oh! Everything has a point, and if it doesn’t, then there’s a point to it.'”
Released as a single in 1971, “Me and My Arrow” was not a big success but it received renewed attention when it was used to advertise the Plymouth Arrow. Nilsson died in 1994; his Twitter feed has quoted him as saying, “Dad agreed to let Plymouth use the song ‘Me and My Arrow’ to promote their Plymouth Arrow in 1978. Dad told Chrysler the only payment he’d accept was a new car. ‘Why of course!’ ‘No, not a Plymouth … a Mercedes.’ They said no, but eventually agreed.”
Dad agreed to let Plymouth use the song “Me and My Arrow” to promote their Plymouth Arrow in 1978. Dad told Chrysler the only payment he’d accept was a new car. “Why of course!” “No, not a Plymouth…a Mercedes.” They said no, but eventually agreed. 😉 pic.twitter.com/J9UUi9tc4I
— Harry Nilsson (@OfficialNilsson) August 21, 2018
“Me and My Arrow” by Harry Nilsson
Plymouth Arrow commercial
- “Stand by Me” by Ben E. King
“Stand by Me” was a Top 10 hit for Ben E. King in 1961 and again in 1986 when it was re-released as the title song of the Rob Reiner film. “Of all the songs I wrote or co-wrote in my career, this is my favorite,” King told The Guardian in 2013. “It came at a strange time, though. I’d just left the Drifters and had to plead with Ahmet Ertegun, the president of Atlantic Records, to find a place for me. He put me to work with legendary songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It was like a schooling for me – a kid from Harlem who knew nothing about anything.
“There’s been some debate about how the song was conceived. But, as I recall, we’d some time left over at the end of a session, and I was asked if I had any songs in my head. I’d originally intended ‘Stand By Me’ for the Drifters. The song we eventually recorded wasn’t so different from what I’d come up with. Jerry may have changed the lyrics in places, but not by much.
“The song’s success lay in the way Leiber and Stoller took chances, though, borrowing from symphonic scores, and we had a brilliant string arranger in Stan Applebaum. But Jerry Wexler, a producer at Atlantic, was unimpressed. He hated it because we’d gone into overtime in the studio with an expensive orchestra.”
If you’re looking at this list and wondering where Queen’s “You’re My Best Friend” is — it was not a snub! In fact, that very song landed high on last month’s Top 11 Classic Songs Featured in TV Commercials, with this blurb:
“You’re My Best Friend” was a Top 20 hit for Queen in 1976. It was written by bassist John Deacon, who also played Wurlitzer electric piano on the track. When performed live, Freddie Mercury preferred playing a grand piano.
Deacon wrote the song for his wife, Veronica Tetzlaff. “John didn’t write that many songs but when he did — as with ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ and ‘I Want To Break Free’ — they were big, big hits,” said guitarist Brian May in udiscovermusic. “‘You’re My Best Friend’ became one of the most-played tracks on American radio. John was a dark horse, generally the quiet guy in Queen. We would ask him sometimes, ‘Have you got anything, John?’ and he was very self-effacing about what he had written. ‘You’re My Best Friend’ was about his lovely lady wife.”