6:24pm PT by Chris Willman
Eric Church's 'Springsteen,' Taylor Swift's 'Tim McGraw' and 19 More Song Titles That Name-Check Famous People
“Springsteen” is No. 1! No, we’re not fashioning a contribution to the Encyclopedia of Unnecessary Quotation Marks by putting Bruce’s name in quotes. He’s the subject -- sort of a country single by Eric Church that reached the top of the chart this week. Country fans’ politics may tend to skew a little more conservative than Bruce Springsteen’s, but even if they’re not down with Tom Joad, heartlanders sure do like to be reminded of having “Dancing in the Dark” as the soundtrack to their youthful crushes.
“Springsteen” the song (see video below) is all about romantic nostalgia, of course, as Church remembers how he and his old girlfriend “fired up my daddy’s lighter” -- a reference that dates the song even more surely than the lyrical shout-outs to “I’m on Fire,” “Glory Days,” “Born to Run,” and “Born in the USA.” There’s no telling whether Bruce is flattered by the homage or insulted by the inference that Church stopped buying Springsteen records some time around Tunnel of Love.
Country singers are particularly big on the song-title-as-homage. Taylor Swift broke through with "Tim McGraw" (which originally went by the more unwieldy name “When You Think Tim McGraw,” until label boss Scott Borchetta realized that the starkness of the celebrity name itself made for a more intriguing title). McGraw karmically returned the favor with an album track called “Kristofferson.” Jason Aldean had his breakout hit with "Johnny Cash," a crunchy rocker that managed to invoke the sound and spirit of the Man in Black less than just about anything else on the radio.
Artists in other genres play the name game, too. Electronic dance duo Duck Sauce had a No. 1 song on the dance charts in 2010 with “Barbra Streisand,” which inevitably led to a few mix-ups as some dyslexic chart-watchers mistakenly believed that Streisand was making a comeback with a disco song called “Duck Sauce.”
Here are a few of the historical antecedents for “Springsteen,” leaving out songs that only use a celebrity’s name as part of the title (like Van Morrison’s “Jackie Wilson Said” or Mojo Nixon’s “Don Henley Must Die”):
“Alex Chilton" — The Replacements (1987)
Still probably the most celebrated celebrity tribute song of them all. It was wishful thinking for Paul Westerberg to imagine “children by the million” singing the songs of the former Big Star frontman, but this alternative radio hit did more than anything to cement Chilton’s cult-star status.
“Maria Bartiromo" — Joey Ramone (2002)
If you’ve got the Money Honey, Ramone would sure have liked to have the time. The appreciative financial guru recently stopped her CNBC show long enough to thank Joey for the homage on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of his death.
“Meg White” — Ray Lamontagne (2008)
Both members of the White Stripes get a shout-out. “Meg White, such a pretty sight… Baby you’re the bomb," Lamontagne sings. "Oh, Jack is great, don’t get me wrong…” This, too, probably falls into the category of I’d love to get a date out of this but will claim I was being tongue-in-cheek.
“Jane Fonda” — Mickey Avalon (2006)
Young hipsters may not even remember that Fonda had a mid-career reign as the queen of aerobicizing. But white rapper Avalon was determined to make sure that we never forget, with a song that uses Fonda as a metaphor for BBWs strutting their stuff: “More junk in her trunk than a Honda / I know you wanna do the Jane Fonda.”
“Andy Warhol” — David Bowie (1971)
Bowie would seem to have been a fan as well as friend of the iconic Pop Artiste… although with droll lines like “He'll think about paint and he'll think about glue/What a jolly boring thing to do,” it was hard to tell for sure. He went on to do a dead-on impression of the by-then-deceased Warhol in the movie Basquiat.
“David Bowie” — Phish (1986)
One good turn deserves another, right? This piece by the beloved jam band only boasts two lines of lyrics: "David Bowie" and "UB40."
“Paul McCartney” — Scissor Sisters (2005)
Oddly, the track that bears his name makes no mention of McCartney whatsoever, and doesn’t even include any overt allusions to his life or canon. Presumably the title came to mind because… it’s a silly love song?
“Pablo Picasso” — The Modern Lovers (1976)
Jonathan Richman seems interested in Picasso only to the extent that he was an alleged chick magnet. It’s easy to believe that he picked Picasso as a subject only because he was able to make the artist’s name (sort of) rhyme with “never called an asshole”… an assertion that isn’t even historically accurate.
“David Duchovny” — Bree Sharp (1999)
Another one where the rhyme scheme may be all, though Sharp is a little sharper than Richman with hers: “David Duchovny, why won’t you love me?”
“Steve McQueen” — Sheryl Crow (2002)
A tribute not so much to McQueen as to being like McQueen, which is to say, fast and cool.
“Frank Sinatra” — Cake (1996)
This one’s about wistfulness, not Rat Pack swagger: “While Frank Sinatra sings ‘Stormy Weather’ / The flies and spiders get along together / Cobwebs fall on an old skipping record.” Revived by The Sopranos.
“Buddy Holly” — Weezer (1994)
Of course, this could just as easily have been called “Mary Tyler Moore,” as Rivers Cuomo wasn’t too concerned about being era-specific.
“Eddie Vedder” — Local H (1996)
Probably not one that the Pearl Jam frontman sings in the shower, since it suggests envy at best and enmity at worst. “If I was Eddie Vedder / Would you like me any better? / That's it, I quit, I don't give a s--- / You go ahead, as good as dead.”
“Grant Hart” — The Posies (1998)
There’s a greater sense of flattery in this homage to Husker Du’s co-frontman: “Minnesota new day rising, first day in the store…”
“Brian Eno” — MGMT (2010)
For MGMT, ambience is next to godliness. “I can tell that he's kind of smiling / But what does he know? / We're always one step behind him, he's Brian Eno.”
“Donald Trump” — Mac Miller (2011)
The white rapper looks to Trump as his materialist (and misogynist?) role model. “Take over the world when I'm on my Donald Trump shit / Yeah the party never ends, this life is what I recommend / And if you got a ho before me, then she better be a 10.” Could The Donald have said it better himself? Well, yeah, probably.
“Ingrid Bergman” — Billy Bragg and Wilco (2008)
As composed (but never recorded) by… Woody Guthrie! “It's a very erotic song” said the folk legend’s granddaughter, Anna Canoni. “Just the fact that he wrote an erotic song about Ingrid Bergman is so funny to me." Us, too.
“Marilyn Monroe” — Nicki Minaj (2012)
Self-aggrandizement at its finest. “I can be selfish / Yeah, so impatient / Sometimes I feel like Marilyn Monroe.” Ah, Nicki, you’re just a candle in the wind.
“Bo Diddley” — Bo Diddley (1955)
Speaking of self-aggrandizement… With this self-titled song, self-proclaimed gunslinger Diddley realized that loving yourself is the greatest love of all.