Pop Songs That Name Drop

1 Conversation

In many cultures it is considered to be bizarre behaviour to talk about yourself in the third person. It is also frequently viewed as rude, arrogant and egotistical for someone to talk about themselves. For a singer to sing about themselves for no apparent reason seems suspicious to say the least. Is this a sign of narcissism or a belief that their intended audience will forget the name of the act they are listening to unless they do so?

This trend seemed particularly popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Destiny's Child, for example, seemed to do that a lot, inexplicably whispering their name partway through a song. Their song 'Independent Women' (2001) is not only riddled with grammatical errors but contains the words 'Destiny's Child, whasup?'. It's a tough call to narrow it to just one, but a typical sentence in the song is

All the women who are independent throw your hands up at me

Why is the song dictating for independent women to lose their independence, conform and undertake the same actions? Some truly independent women would, but for their own, unique and independent reasons, while it is desirable for the others to react in various different ways. And do they want the women to chop their hands off in order to throw them, and if they've chopped their hands off, how will they throw them? They've clearly not thought this through and it doesn't even rhyme…

Other examples include Jennifer Lopez's 'Jenny from the Block' (2002). The words of the chorus are:

Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got

I'm still I'm still Jenny from the block'.

Not a very helpful description, is it? Can you imagine hailing a taxi that way?

J-Lo: Home please!
Taxi: Okay, where do you live?
J-Lo: Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got, I'm still I'm still Jenny from the block.
Taxi: Is that a block of flats, cell block, near a road block, a blockhouse, or just somewhere generally blocky?
J-Lo: Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got, I'm still I'm still Jenny from the block.
Taxi: You've escaped from the mental hospital block, got it…

Song Introductions

Some songs introduce the members of the band. It can be a way for the members to influence how they are perceived by their intended audience. An example of this is the Manfred Mann song 'One in the Middle' (1965). This introduces everyone, with words such as:

Mike Hugg plays the drums, yeah, Tom McGuiness lays it down on the bass

But the one in the middle sings 'hey, diddle, diddle', and he's just a pretty face.

Using a debut song to introduce yourself doesn't always work, however. The Spice Girls debut single, 'Wannabe' (1996), was a number one hit in 22 countries, the best-selling single by a girl group not only in the UK but also in the world. The song also introduces who the Spice Girls are, and gives a little bit about the personalities and preferences of Em (Emma Bunton) G (Geri Halliwell) MC (Melanie C) V (Victoria Beckham née Adams) and Mel B, specifically telling the audience 'you gotta listen carefully'.

You gotta listen carefully. We got Em in the place who likes it in your face, we got G like MC who likes it on an. Easy V doesn't come for free she's a real lady and as for me ah you'll see.

Following this overwhelming success it might be expected that the Spice Girls' own attempt at self-identification would have worked, however the media ignored it completely. Instead the press chose to christen the girls Baby Spice, Ginger Spice, Sporty Spice, Posh Spice and Scary Spice and not In Your Face Spice, G Spice, On An Spice, Easy Spice and Ah You'll See Spice as their song would indicate they would have preferred to be known1.

Dances Named After Artists

Sometimes musicals acts invent a dance move and name it after themselves. This is a worrying trend and an activity that really should be left to the professionals, namely superheroes. After all, who can forget the Batusi, the dance invented by Batman?

An example of a dance named after the artist who invented it is the Freddie, named after Freddie and the Dreamers' lead singer Freddie Garrity. The song 'Do The Freddie' (1965) tells us

Kick your feet up swing your arms up too, move your head both ways like you see me do

Then jump three feet to the swinging beat, do the Freddie, do the Freddie

This phenomenon was rightfully mocked by the Traveling Wilburys in their song 'Wilbury Twist' (1990). The lyrics are a delight from start to finish.

Turn your lights down low, put your blindfold on

You'll never know where your friends have gone

Could be years before you're missed, everybody's trying to do The Wilbury Twist

Songs That Legitimately Name Drop

There are exceptions to every rule and there occasions when it is acceptable to name drop in a song. Particularly when you are mocking yourself. Manfred Mann jokingly claimed that they had inadvertently led to such disasters as the Charge of the Light Brigade and caused the fall of Troy in song '5-4-3-2-1' (1964). When John Lennon John Lennon heard that people were analysing his song lyrics for mystical messages, he wrote song 'Glass Onion' (1968) to deliberately confuse them, adding the line 'The Walrus was Paul', referring to Paul McCartney. Lennon and McCartney would later engage in a fierce lyric war as the Beatles broke up, while some listeners inexplicably concluded that Paul was dead. During this period John would reference himself in self-examining song 'God' (1970) with the words,

I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.

In-Jokes and Cross References

Another legitimate category of name-dropping is when instead of the band name being mentioned, the song refers to characters or people from previous songs. Probably the most famous Buddy Holly song is 'Peggy Sue' (1957), based on a real person; he later informed us 'Peggy Sue Got Married' (1959). Similarly, David Bowie mentions fictional Major Tom in song 'A Space Oddity' (1969) and again in 'Ashes to Ashes' (1980) in which he is described as a 'junkie'.

This is not a new phenomenon. Gilbert & Sullivan's operetta The Pirates of Penzance (1879) jokingly references their earlier success HMS Pinafore (1878), with the Major-General Stanley boasting,

I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din afore,

And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense 'Pinafore'.

Telly Tunes

Is it acceptable for songs that were written for television to name drop? The Monkees, for example, were created as a television show about a band in the same vein as Beatles films A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965). The Monkees2 played the role of a group of musicians so well that they enjoyed a brief, but highly successful, musical career. Their theme3 (1966) perfectly encapsulated what the show was about,

Hey hey we're the Monkees and people say we monkey around

But we're too busy singing to put anybody down.

Yet there are cases in which television theme tunes that introduce the main characters really, really should not have made it onto the airwaves, yet have inexplicably done so with ridiculous success. Here are some examples:

  • Tinky-Winky! Dipsy! Laa-Laa! Po!

    Teletubbies. Teletubbies. Say Eh-Oh


    - 'Say Eh-Oh', the Teletubbies (1998)

  • Scoop, Muck and Dizzy, and Roley too, Lofty and Wendy join the crew

    Bob and the gang have so much fun, working together they get the job done

    Bob the Builder! Can we fix it? Bob the Builder! Yes we can!


    - 'Can We Fix It?' Bob the Builder (2000)

  • Blobby, oh Mr Blobby, if only you could make us understand

    Blobby, oh Mr Blobby, your influence will spread throughout the land

    Let's hear it for Mr Blobby; Blobby, blobby, blobby


    - 'Mr Blobby' (1993), which has the honour of being named the worst song of all time4.

Less 'say Eh-oh', more 'think Uh-oh!'

Is 'Fun' Part of 'Fundraising'?

The 1980s was the decade of the fundraising song. If there was a cause to protest against or raise funds for, the 80s were there with a song for every occasion. Band Aid's 'Do They Know it's Christmas?' made number one twice in that decade, raising money in 1984 and the Band Aid II version again in 1989 for the Ethiopian Famine. Not to be outdone, across the ocean the USA joined in with American singers calling themselves United Support of Artists (USA) for Africa in 1985 and releasing 'We Are the World'. 1988's Sport Aid had 'Running All Over the World', Ferry Aid recorded 'Let It Be' in 1987 to raise funds following the Zeebrugge Disaster in which the ferry MS Herald of Free Enterprise capsized, killing 193 passengers and crew, which should not be confused with the charity version of 'Ferry 'Cross the Mersey', which was released following the Hillsborough Disaster in which 96 football fans died in 1989.

Against this environment of charity singles for every occasion, when it was announced that Doctor Who would go on an 18-month hiatus in 1985, the natural and/or drunken reaction from Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner was to try and form a supergroup and release a charity single. The group, named Who Cares?, included Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer on synthesiser, along with lyrics sung by Doctor Who stars Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant Nicholas Courtney and Anthony Ainley. Song 'Doctor in Distress' included the lyrics:

Doctor in distress, let's all answer his SOS,

Doctor in distress, bring him back now, we won't take less.

It failed to chart.

Party Poopers?

Singers tend not to sing about themselves doing the ironing or trimming their toenails, but instead like to present themselves as engaged in highly pleasurable activities. Chief among these is presenting the singers as very sociable, extrovert party-goers who know how to have a good time. A typical example is S Club 7's 'S Club Party' (1999), which contains the line,

'S Club (there ain't no party like an S Club party) gonna show you how.'

The trouble with these songs is that the listeners get too caught up in the excitement of the party atmosphere to question what sort of party it is. Just what are S Club gonna show you how, eh? Similarly, what are Take That asking their party guests to take when they attend their party in song 'Take That and Party' (1992)? Are pop songs encouraging their listeners to succumb to peer pressure?

Come on, come on, come on, come on take that and party,

Come on, come on, come on, take that.

A Drop by Any Other Name

Sometimes it is difficult to tell whether an act is name dropping or not in their song. It largely depends on the band's name. Group The The, for example, would legitimately find it very difficult not include the word 'The' in any of their songs, which was not a problem faced by band Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick & Tich. Similarly Queen include the word 'Queen' in their song 'Killer Queen' (1974), but the lyrics are in the third person and describe a woman, saying 'She's a killer queen'. There is a brief 'Ready Freddie' in 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' (1980), referring to lead singer Freddie Mercury, but you can't hold that against them.

Are these songs name dropping or not?

  • I said who are you? Who? Who? Who? Who?

    I really wanna know. Who are you? Who? Who? Who - who?


    - 'Who Are You?' by The Who (1978)

  • Madness, madness, they call it madness.

    Well if this is madness then I know I'm filled with gladness.


    - 'Madness' by Madness (1979)

  • And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night

    And he's watchin' us all with the eye of the tiger.


    - 'Eye of the Tiger' by Survivor5 (1982)

Conclusion

Singers singing about themselves is a phenomenon that is mostly harmless. The only lasting consequence is that songs that predominantly refer to the singer are unlikely to attract numerous cover versions. This entry's aim has been simply to encourage people to pay close attention to the lyrics of the songs that they listen to, and think about both what the lyrics actually mean and also what they could be interpreted to mean. This has been done by gently and playfully mocking the various songs sung by singers. If you have in the past derived pleasure and joy from the songs and singers affectionately teased above, then we hope that you will continue to do so for many years to come.

Unless, of course, the song that you enjoy listening to is 'Mr Blobby'. There are limits.

1We were specifically told that Em likes 'it in your face' while MC likes 'it on an'.2Strange but true – an infinite number of The Monkees singing notes and words at random will, eventually, perform every operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan.3Which they also performed in Spanish as 'Tema Dei Monkees'.4Unaccountably the man behind the 'Mr Blobby' and Teletubbies songs, Simon Cowell, would later create such television series as Britain's Got Talent and America's Got Talent.5Producer Sylvester Stallone had hoped to get the rights to use Queen's 'Another One Bites the Dust' but had been unable to. He had hoped his brother Frank Stallone could write something similar but in the end approached Survivor to write a song similar in feel to Queen's and 'Eye of the Tiger' was the result.

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