Wednesday, January 25, 2012

10 Great Songs with Famous People in Their Titles

"Has anyone ever written anything for you?" Stevie Nicks asked on a 1989 B-side.

As far as I know, the answer would be no. Who even "writes" anymore? If not face to face, most communication these days is done by tapping a keypad with your fingers. And texts, instant messages and Facebook wall posts will never count. My ex-boyfriend said he bought me a card for my last birthday, and I presume that he wrote something in it, but he forgot it at home when he came over to my place to prepare my birthday feast, and to this day, I haven't seen it.

Anyway, writing something to me (regardless of the mode of communication) is different than writing something for or about me. Maybe over the course of two decades of dating, there was a poem that I never got to read, but I doubt it, seriously. My first boyfriend did once tell me, shortly after we'd broken up, that he'd written a short story in which we were brothers, but I try not to think about that for obvious reasons that still make me cringe a little if I spend too much time dwelling on it.

I can say with 100 percent certainty, though, that nobody has ever written a hit song for or about me. A lot of my friends call me Jeremiah, but the late Hoyt Axton definitely didn't have me in mind when he wrote, "Jeremiah was a bullfrog," the opening line to Three Dog Night's 1971 hit "Joy to the World." And this Jeremy's never had a gun, so Pearl Jam's 1992 single with which I share a name definitely has nothing to do with me.

But when you are a celebrity, one of the perks of fame is that if you're big enough, you might eventually get a hit song written all for you -- or at the very least, with your name in the title. Some are luckier than others: Barbra Streisand, who deserves a song as beautiful as her voice, had to make do with the execrable 2010 UK dance hit "Barbra Streisand" by Duck Sauce. But what becomes a legend most is a great song befitting an icon. Here are 10 of them.

"Hank Williams You Wrote My Life" Moe Bandy Sometimes when I'm down on love and about to go under, I listen to Bandy's 1975 No. 2 country hit to boost my spirits. It's always good to know that someone knows exactly how you feel.


"Biko" Peter Gabriel Hear the former Genesis frontman name-dropping for a worthy cause, musically and politically speaking, and unlike so many songs named for non-fictional people that are related to them in title only, this 1980 classic beautifully and hauntingly eulogizes murdered South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko.


"Bette Davis Eyes" Kim Carnes Bette Davis apparently loved it (the No. 1 1981 version by Carnes -- I'm not sure if she was even aware of Jackie DeShannon's 1974 original), and didn't she seem like the kind of diva who hated everything?


"Faron Young" Prefab Sprout If you're going to name drop a vintage Nashville singer, you might as well take your elegant pop sound for a ride in the country. The result, which, incidentally, appeared on Prefab Sprout's 1985 album called Steve McQueen, sounds like nothing I ever heard its late namesake '50s-to-early '70s country star do, but it was still one of the band's best songs.


"Monty Got a Raw Deal" R.E.M. Some icons, like the late four-time Oscar nominee and star of A Place in the Sun and From Here to Eternity, need no last name. For those still not in the know, three of the loveliest minutes on 1992's Automatic for the People, R.E.M.'s creative zenith, were all about Montgomery Clift.


"Cleopatra, Queen of Denial" Pam Tillis Why not throw in some clever wordplay while paying homage? (FYI, Tillis, like Carnes, had a big hit with a Jackie DeShannon cover, but "When You Walk in the Room," which went to No. 2 on Billboard's country singles chart in 1994, the year after "Cleopatra" peaked at No. 11, did so without any celebrity assistance.)


"Brian Wilson Said" Tears for Fears If you can't be him, write a song about him that totally does both the man and his musical genius justice.


"Clint Eastwood" Gorillaz The perfect marriage of cool star and cool song, even if one doesn't really have anything to do with the other. If anyone ever gets around to writing a song for me, I hope it's Damon Albarn.


"Marcus Garvey" Burning Spear/Sinead O'Connor More name-dropping for a worthy cause. The reggae band Burning Spear paid tribute to the titular Jamaican hero on its 1975 album of the same name, but it was O'Connor's version on Throw Down Your Arms, her excellent 2005 album of reggae covers, that introduced me to both the song and the man.


"Grace Kelly" Mika Melodramatic and campy in honor of a screen icon who was neither.

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