Battle of the Song Titles - Round 3
by Scott Bass
Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come to bear witness to yet another musical melee. Welcome to the title fight! Which group will earn the right to say they wrote the best song with a commonly-used title? Who has the musical cardio to duke it out and emerge victorious? Get ready to rumble.
CONTENDERS: The Beatles vs. Pink Floyd
At first glance, this looks like a reasonable matchup. Both songs are well-known and stand as respectable entries in each bands' catalogs. But we're not really comparing apples to apples. The 1963 song by the Beatles was not an original; it was originally recorded by Barrett Strong in 1959, and was the first hit for Berry Gordy's then-fledgling Motown label. The Beatles simply nicked it for a quick hit.
Now let's look at a same-titled track released by Pink Floyd a decade later, 1973's "Money" appeared on the incredibly popular Dark Side of the Moon and represented Pink Floyd's first entry into the U.S. Billboard charts, peaking at #13. Atypically FM-friendly for the group, the song's weaving bassline, unusual time signature, and excellent use of background sound effects made it an instant classic. Even people that don't really care for Pink Floyd will begrudgingly admit that this is a good song.
WINNER: PINK FLOYD
TITLE: "Is This Love"
CONTENDERS: Bob Marley vs. Whitesnake
Originally released via the 1978 Marley LP Kaya, this song would later be included on Legend and is considered one of his classics. Even though it never charted in the U.S. (it hit #9 in the UK, as they have better taste), it's one of those songs that over the years has entered the cultural hit parade to the extent that anyone who says they don't know any reggae songs will quickly realize what liars they are when you play this song. It's pretty much unavoidable in modern society.
Now compare that to the 1987 song which became Whitesnake's second-biggest hit in the U.S. This single went to #2 on the charts; not quite as good as their chart-topper "Here I Go Again" but still a massive single by any standard. But "Is This Love" by Whitesnake is classic for the ages" is something that has said by no one. Ever. It's a song of an era and pretty much only appropriate for classic rock or '80's retro playlists. Bandleader, singer, and song co-writer David Coverdale has legit vocal chops and seriously impressive hair but in this particular title fight, he didn't stand a snowflake's chance in Jamaica.
WINNER: BOB MARLEY
TITLE: "Only the Lonely"
CONTENDERS: Roy Orbison vs. the Motels
Roy Orbison had been recording for years by the time this single was released in 1960, but "Only the Lonely" was his first mega-hit. Originally solicited to Elvis, who turned it down, Orbison's record featured innovative engineering and unusually strong and emotive vocals. One could argue that this is one of the first "emo" records ever released. The level of sophistication and range displayed on this recording were bar-setting.
So is this a one-sided matchup? Shouldn't we assume that a flash-in-the-pan '80's New Wave band couldn't possibly take on the Big O? Martha Davis had fronted a version of the Motels that dated back to the early '70's, which gained moderate success in the L.A. underground once the punk scene got going towards the end of the decade. The group recorded a demo for Warner Brothers that got rejected, and even though they did receive an offer from Capitol, interpersonal problems caused them to disband. Davis, determined to fix the mistakes of the previous incarnation, reformed the Motels, and by 1979, they were ready to work with Capitol when the label once again offered to sign the group. This time the formula worked and by the time the group released their fourth album on the label, Little Robbers (which went gold in 1983), they were solidified as chart stalwarts. "Only the Lonely" is proof positive that hard work can pay off, and that you can't keep a good band down. The band had the sense to avoid use of new wave synth sounds, which means that even though they are often lumped as "just another 80's New Wave" band, listening to their records today reveals something far more timeless.
WINNER: THE MOTELS
(The people that say the fight was fixed, that it's a bullshit call, and that the ref is an idiot should know that this author agrees)
TITLE: "All Around the World"
CONTENDERS: The Jam vs. Oasis
It's a well-known fact that the guys in Oasis are assholes. The Gallagher brothers are so universally disliked that they don't even appear to like each other. So what if their single "All Around the World" went to #1 on the UK charts in 1998? It's also the longest chart-topping song in British history. Why? Because long songs annoy DJs, and Oasis specializes in annoying. Now, they can be forgiven for ticking off DJs. However, when they chose to write a song called "All Around the World," they were clearly challenging UK Chart Megastars The Jam, who had dozens of Top 40 singles to their credit, including "All Around The World" from 1977 that made it to #13. That's just wrong.
Unlike Oasis, who were reviled in the press, the only time the Jam really pissed anyone off was in 1982, when leader Paul Weller announced that he was breaking up one of the biggest bands in the country at the height of their popularity. At the time, he released a statement saying "I'd hate us to end up old and embarrassing like so many other groups." The various scandals, infighting, and lawsuits over stolen riffs that happened with Oasis over the years are precisely the kind of embarrassing behavior Weller was talking about.
WINNER: THE JAM
TITLE: "Good Vibrations"
CONTENDERS: The Beach Boys vs. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch
The Beach Boys' 1966 single "Good Vibrations" is generally regarded as a masterpiece of popcraft and serves as the shining example of Brian Wilson's genius. The song signified so many firsts: first time anyone ever spent that much money recording a single, for one. But it was worth it--Wilson's money was used to realize his vision of a "pocket symphony" full of lush harmonies and unusual instrumentation. "Good Vibrations" single-handedly makes the case for pop music as an art form, proof that it can be something beyond the insipid bullshit that normally clogs up the airwaves.
And then along comes Marky Mark (aka Mark Wahlberg). In 1991, he and his "Funky Bunch" have the chutzpuh to release their own song called "Good Vibrations." And look at them on the cover of that single- how goofy they look with the silly backwards baseball caps. But then you hear the song. The hook that could catch a whale. The keyboard sample that bobs your booty. The counterpoint of Mark's nimble recitations against disco sensation Loleatta Holloway's emphatic refrain. It was instantly likable; it was pop gold.
Both of these songs were massive #1 hits, and anyone that tells you they don't like either of these is probably lying. This one was a lot closer than anyone expected and really got the bookies sweating.
WINNER: THE BEACH BOYS
CONTENDERS: Olivia Newton-John vs. The Cars
Does anyone remember the movie Xanadu? It's hard to believe now, but circa 1980 when the movie was released, Olivia Newton-John was a worldwide megastar. She had been scoring Top 40 entries since the mid-'70's but she really became an American obsession when she co-starred with John Travolta in 1978's film version of the popular 1971 Broadway musical Grease. That musical generated a slew of Top 40 hits, and for a brief time, it even legitimized John Travolta as a pop singer. That Broadway show is still revived every few years because people love the songs; but Newton-John's follow-up movie was a different story. Even though it tried to follow a similar formula, basically a pop album in cinematic form, it just didn't work. In fact the film was so silly that it earned the film six Razzies. Not quite the hit-machine as her previous film, Xanadu still yielded a respectable three Top 40 singles in the US: the title track (featuring The Electric Light Orchestra) went to #8, "Suddenly" (featuring Cliff Richard) went to #20, and finally "Magic" which made it to the very tippy-top of the chart. How often do any of these songs get heard in 2017?
The Cars win by default, even if this song wasn't the highest-charting of the six singles from their 1984 quadrulple-platinum selling Heartbeat City LP.
WINNER: THE CARS
TITLE: "Wild Thing"
CONTENDERS: The Troggs vs. Tone Lōc
Tone Lōc knew he was throwing caution to the wind when he entered the ring with a track called "Wild Thing." After all, the 1965 Chip Taylor song (made famous by The Troggs the following year) is one of the best-known '60's songs of all time... perhaps the best known. Widely considered a garage rock classic, It could very well be the most covered song ever and it seems impossible that any other take could even consider challenging for the title.
Yet in 1989, Lōc decided to do a reverse-Led Zeppelin by dropping a single that rips the title from Taylor, the imagery from Robert Palmer, and a recognizable sample from Van Halen. Sure looks silly on paper, but the finished product was instantly likeable and became a huge hit. Tone Lōc's silky-smooth delivery, effortlessly cool swagger, and devious smile made the whole affair irresistible; he was clearly having fun and the fun was infectious. Of course, he never really had a chance of dethroning The Troggs, but the match was way more entertaining to witness than anyone could have expected.
WINNER: THE TROGGS
Thanks for tuning in to the event and stay tuned for Part 4!
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