Below, enjoy a selection of some of the most notable songs about music ever recorded — though there are countless more out there, of course!
“I don’t like country music, but I don’t mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people who like country music, denigrate means ‘put down.'”
– Bob Newhart
- “Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney and Wings
The title song of Paul McCartney and Wings’ 1973 album, “Band on the Run” became a No. 1 hit in 1974. The song has three distinct musical styles and has become one of Wings’ signature tunes.
McCartney explained in Clash magazine that the song’s theme of escape was inspired by his early days with the Beatles. “It was symbolic: ‘If we ever get out of here … All I need is a pint a day.’ It was feeling like that, the whole thing. Because we’d been … if you think about it, we’d started off as just kids, really, who loved our music and wanted to earn a bob or two so we could get a guitar and get a nice car. It was very simple ambitions at first. But then, you know, as it went on it became business meetings and all of that, and eventually it was really not fun. You’d have to go into these meetings. So there was a feeling of ‘if we ever get out of here,’ yeah. And I did.”
- “There Goes Another Love Song” by the Outlaws
The Outlaws’ “There Goes Another Love Song” was written by guitarist Hughie Thomasson and drummer Monte Yoho. The single was a Top 40 hit in 1975. Guitarist Henry Paul told Songfacts that the song was inspired by the rock and roll lifestyle, “sitting in some stupid Days Inn in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1974.”
“Even as much as you love your job, there’s things about that lifestyle that’ll make you do shit you don’t want to admit that you did. That’s why they throw TVs out of windows, you know what I’m saying? That’s why the rock and roll thing is so violent and self-destructive. It’s kind of being a lab rat stuck in some treadmill hell, that in order to keep your sanity you’ve got to lash out at what’s right immediately there, whether it’s your hotel room or shooting a TV or being Keith Moon over and over again. But that’s where that song came from, and it had a very commercial appeal, and it was a single for us. And although it didn’t chart particularly high, it was obviously and definitely a cornerstone in our musical career.”
- “Your Song” by Elton John
“Your Song” was the first hit composed by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. It was released in 1970 on John’s self-titled second album. “What can I say, it’s a perfect song,” John told Rolling Stone. “It gets better every time I sing it. I remember writing it at my parents’ apartment in North London, and Bernie giving me the lyrics, sitting down at the piano and looking at it and going, ‘Oh, my God, this is such a great lyric, I can’t fuck this one up.’ It came out in about twenty minutes, and when I was done, I called him in and we both knew. I was twenty-two, and he was nineteen, and it gave us so much confidence.”
“I think ‘Your Song’ is a gem,” said Taupin in The Independent. “Our classic, I’m not sure. I’ll let others decide that. But it’s like an old friend, it means so many things on equally as many levels. It’s certainly proved its worth, and I’ve heard it sung a million times. It’s like a good dog, it’s always there.”
- “Just a Song Before I Go” by Crosby, Stills & Nash
“In an effort to score some grass we met up with a dealer named Spider at his house near the beach. This was around one in the afternoon, and I had a four o’clock flight back to Los Angeles. Spider was a cheeky little bastard. He said, ‘You’re supposed to be some big-shot songwriter. I bet you can’t write a song before you go.’
“‘Oh, really,’ I said. ‘How much?’ ‘A hundred bucks.’
“I finished ‘Just a Song Before I Go’ in a little under forty minutes. Turned out to be the biggest hit Crosby, Stills & Nash ever had, on the charts for twenty weeks. The original lyric I’d scribbled on school composition-book paper is currently in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
- “Listen to the Music” by the Doobie Brothers
“Listen to the Music” was the Doobie Brothers‘ first big hit, reaching No. 11 in 1972. The song was written by guitarist Tom Johnston, whose “chunka-chunka” playing style is one of the song’s highlights. “I come from a blues, R&B and rock background and there was a period of time, from 1969-1972, where I spent a lot of time playing acoustic guitar,” Johnston told AXS. “I played all day every day. I’d spend hours playing guitar and listening to various artists. That’s how I developed that rhythm style you hear in songs like ‘Listen to the Music.’
“I had been drafted and was going to Vietnam. I was standing at the Oakland induction center and there was this guy at the very last table sitting next to a bus that was spewing diesel. I had developed bumps on my wrists from playing guitar so much and he said, ‘Let me see your hands.’ Then he looked at a field manual and asked me if I’d have a problem shooting a gun. I told him it’s not something I normally do, and then he said, ‘You’re 4F!’ That’s what kept me from going to Vietnam. So, I wrote ‘Listen to the Music’ basically thinking if anybody could use music as opposed to language, the world would be a better place. Music is a universal, feel-good thing that doesn’t need an interpreter. That’s what that song was to me.”
- “Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan
The harder rock sound of “Hurdy Gurdy Man” was a departure from Donovan‘s gentler acoustic tunes. The song was a Top 10 hit in 1968. Donovan told the Daily Mail in 2006 that he wrote “Hurdy Gurdy Man” in Rishikesh, India at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s retreat.
“I was intrigued by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s teachings of transcendental meditation, which were also followed by the Beatles. I went with the Beatles and George’s wife, Pattie Boyd, Cynthia Lennon and Jane Asher to stay with the Maharishi in the Himalayas for three months. For a while, Mia Farrow and her sister Prudence shared the bungalow next to mine. She inspired John Lennon to write ‘Dear Prudence.’ ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ was influenced by the sounds I heard there.”
Donovan has said during concerts that George Harrison wrote an extra verse for the song, which wasn’t recorded because producers felt it would be too long as a single. Donovan Unofficial notes that on the 1973 album Live in Japan: Spring Tour 1973, Donovan recorded the “lost verse” for the first time:
Beneath a thousand years of sleep
Time demands a turn around
And once again the truth is found
Awakening the Hurdy Gurdy Man
Who comes singing songs of love
“Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan
- “Killing Me Softly with His Song” by Roberta Flack
“Killing Me Softly” was first recorded in the early 1970s by Lori Lieberman, who maintains that the inspiration for the song was her response to hearing Don McLean in concert. Charles Fox, who composed the song with lyrics by Norman Gimbel, calls that an urban legend.
“Norman had a book where he would write titles of songs — song ideas and lyrics or something that struck him at different times,” Fox told Songfacts. “He pulled out the book and he was looking through it, and he says, ‘Hey, what about a song title, “Killing Me Softly with His Blues”?’ Well, the ‘killing me softly’ part sounded very interesting. So he thought for a while and he said, ‘What about “killing me softly with his song”? That has a unique twist to it.'”
Roberta Flack heard the song on a plane when Lieberman’s version was featured on an American Airlines in-flight audio program. “Roberta Flack was flying from Los Angeles to New York,” said Fox, “and she heard this song, she heard Lori’s whole album. She was knocked out by the song, and she wrote the lyrics down.” Flack released her version in 1973, which became a No. 1 hit.
“Killing Me Softly with His Song” by Lori Lieberman
- “Dear Mr. Fantasy” by Traffic
The lyrics of 1967’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” were written by drummer Jim Capaldi with music by keyboardist Steve Winwood and saxophonist Chris Wood. “It was done on impulse with practically nothing worked out, because it was almost jammed,” Winwood told Rolling Stone. “The initial spirit of the whole thing was captured on record – which is very rare. That was one of the things, because it’s not specifically an outstanding melody or an outstanding chord sequence or anything. It’s basically quite simple. They’re very simple lyrics and they’re repeated three times.
“Actually how it started was that Jim did a drawing during a time when we were thinking about cover ideas for the first LP. And Jim drew a picture of this guy who was Mr. Fantasy with hair like the Statue of Liberty, he had on a long robe and he was playing a guitar with strings coming from his fingers, and by the side of it Jim had written: ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy, sing us a tune / Something to make us all happy / Do anything, take us out of this gloom / Sing a song, play guitar, make it snappy.’ Just these four lines scribbled out at the side, just a single poem for the front cover. And then Jim flaked out and Chris and I stayed up all night and then got the thing together.”
- “And Your Bird Can Sing” by the Beatles
“And Your Bird Can Sing” was released on the Beatles’ 1966 LP Yesterday and Today. The working title of the song was “You Don’t Get Me.” One of its highlights is the dual guitar work that drives its melody, performed by Paul McCartney and George Harrison.
The enigmatic lyrics of the Lennon-McCartney song have been said to be John Lennon’s attempt to emulate Bob Dylan. “‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ was John’s song,” McCartney recalled in Many Years From Now. “I suspect that I helped with the verses because the songs were nearly always written without second and third verses. I seem to remember working on that middle eight with him but it’s John’s song, 80-20 to John.”
- “Sing a Simple Song” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Sing a Simple Song” was the B-side of Sly & the Family Stone’s No. 1 hit, “Everyday People.” It was one of many great tunes on the band’s 1968 album Stand! Guitarist Freddie Stone explained in Wax Poetics that the band grew together in recording Stand!
“For me, Stand! was where we reached our peak as a group. Stand! was the album that said this is what we’ve been wanting to tell you in the other albums, and we’re at a place now where we can, plus things were happening in our country at that time. We felt like we were taking a stand, and we wanted to encourage our fans to do the same, hence ‘Sing a Simple Song,’ and we wanted people to remember who they were with a song like ‘Everyday People.'”
Greg Errico described in the Red Bull Music Academy Daily how his drumming became so predominant in the track. “Drums used to be a background, incidental instrument and they were mixed as such in the back of a record. Sly loved rhythm, he was inspired by it, so he mixed the drums in front of the record. That was the predominant sound and everything else went on top of that. I always approached it like the band was an orchestra. Even though it wasn’t a big band, I played the sessions and I played the drums like I did live and like my passion drove me to.”
- “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)” by the Moody Blues
John Lodge, vocalist and bassist of the Moody Blues, wrote “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)” for the band’s 1972 Seventh Sojourn LP. It was released as a single in 1973 and reached No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Lodge told Songwriter Universe that the 1960s were the inspiration for the song.
“It was a strange time in the world and I know we live in strange times now. The Vietnam War was going on, and at the same time, people around the world were looking for different things — looking for hope and looking for some way to get out of everything that was piling pressure on them. I suddenly thought … just a minute … I’m only a musician. I didn’t know the answers to the questions that people were seeking. I wanted to say that.”
Asked about the tune’s driving rhythm by Classic Rock Revisited, Lodge said, “That rhythm came from the bass player! You know you’ve got a good song when you can take an acoustic guitar, or sit at a piano, and play it with no one else, and it sounds good. If, however, you can take a song and only play it on a bass, and it still works, then you’ve really got something.”