The Lyrical Wink And The Musical Nod

“Turn up the Eagles / the neighbors are listening”

“They stab it with their Steely knives / but they just can’t / kill the beast.”

Those of us who listen (or listened) to Seventies rock will recognize those two lines and remember their context. The first appeared in Steely Dan’s “Everything You Did” off the Royal Scam album; the second appeared half a year later on The Eagles’ Hotel California. In the era where the Internet didn’t make every bit of trivial information immediately available and where artists typically spoke almost exclusively through lyrics and liner notes, much was made of this “war” between Fagen/Becker and Frey/Henley, but the truth was that the artists shared a management company and generally admired their counterparts’ work. Consider both lines as being critical of the fanbase, rather than the musicians: vacuous, adulterous people who use the Eagles as background music, sun-bleached Californians whose love of irony goes well with their empty souls.

On a lark, as the lovely Aoife O’Donovan would say, I’ve put together a pair of musical nods to go along with the lyrical winks above. In both cases, you have an artist who is paying a sort of backhanded respect to a peer or muse. For me, one of them is far more obvious than the other.

Pat Metheny’s Pat Metheny Group album, unironically called “The White Album” by Metheny fans such as myself, marked his first attempt to step beyond the chops-driven straight-ahead jazz exemplified by his Bright Size Life and Watercolors. It featured bassist Mark Egan, who was arguably one of the first “Jaco clones” whose tone, technique, and choice of equipment seemed almost entirely imitative of electric-bass pioneer Jaco Pastorius. Metheny and Jaco had played together in Joni Mitchell’s band, and Jaco had been one-third of the Bright Size Life trio. So why name a track “Jaco” after Jaco and Metheny had parted ways?

The story goes that Metheny wrote the track, played it a few times, decided that it was awfully similar to Jaco’s “Come On, Come Over”, and named it “Jaco” as a tribute. So here’s “Come On, Come Over,” which features the vocalists Sam&Dave in front of Pastorius and his fretless Fender:

Do you hear it? I have to admit that I don’t pick up much commonality between the two, but I’d also admit that you could probably play them as a mash-up because the timing is so similar. It does make you wish that Jaco had stuck around in the Pat Metheny Group; Egan never played with that level of intensity.

The next one might be easier. It’s by seven-string guitar/bass virtuoso Charlie Hunter, who plays both the bass and guitar parts at the same time on a specially-constructed, fan-fretted instrument, and it’s called “Difford Tilbrook”.

The question is: what’s a Difford Tilbrook? Well, it’s not what — it’s who. Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford were the songwriting team behind the British band Squeeze. You’ve probably heard their best-known song:

This one is far more obvious in my opinion; Hunter’s pacing and instrumentation are directly and deliberately reminiscent of Squeeze in general and this track in particular. Rather sadly, Difford and Tilbrook long ago lost the rights to the original performance of “Tempted”, so they decided to remake it along with their other big hits on a modern album titled Spot The Difference. Charlie Hunter is well known for advocating on artists’ rights — one of his finest albums is hilariously titled Gentlemen, I Neglected To Inform You That You Will Not Be Getting Paid as a tribute to a particularly frustrating day spent as a session musician — so I’m not surprised that he decided to toss a shout out to the former Squeezers.

If you know of other nods and winks outside the separate-but-equal domain of “rap beefs”, feel free to add them in the comments. After forty-six years, I have yet to truly decide if music in general and popular music in particular is made more or less enjoyable by knowing as much context as possible — but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Turn up the Eagles, why dontcha?

21 Replies to “The Lyrical Wink And The Musical Nod”

  1. John C.

    Probably showing my age and musical simplicity but the keyboard intro to Loverboy’s “When it’s over” and Simon and Garfunkel’s’ “The Sound of Silence”. I think in S+G’s case added by the record company to make it more commercial.

    When I was young I loved “When it’s over” but when I listen to it the lyrics now days I just get annoyed at a freaking rock star putting up with that from a girl. Then I just wished I had a girl. Oh well, there is stil the optimism and youthful bravado of “The kid is hot tonight”.

  2. Scout_Number_4

    Not sure if this qualifies, Jack, but I’ve always thought Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” borrowed heavily from “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” by Led Zeppelin….which is probably borrowed from one of the great blues masters of which I’m shamefully ignorant.

    • Jack Baruth Post author

      I agree with you… and “Freebird” uses most of the same progression. I’m sure it’s somewhere in the blues books but I haven’t heard it.

      I’ll also tell you where you WON’T hear it… in the Breton/Baez arrangements.

      So the music, at least, is mostly by Page.

  3. Kvndoom

    My musical journey is so broad and sometimes obscure that I doubt any of you will

    “Secret of Mana Plus” was totally Kikuta mixing his Seiken Densetsu music with Pink Floyd. Damn it’s been two decades since I wrote this but…

    Funny part is that I wrote that before I ever had all the Floyd albums that I do now, so I could match some other passages if I were to update that…

    On the rock and roll front, “Silent Lucidity” and “Comfortably Numb” comes to mind but that’s too easy.

    Speaking of rappers… my stepson was listening to some shit a couple of years ago and the background sampling was literally the Guardia Forest music from Chrono Trigger!

    I had a few others in mind but I have to go punch the clock (fucking union bullshit) and I will probably have forgotten by the time I get a chance to revisit this.

  4. Shrug

    The Gaslight Anthem is notorious for filling their music with sometimes subtle, and sometimes overt, references to Springsteen and Dylan and the like.

  5. Jim

    The Traveling Wilburys song Tweeter and the Monkeyman as a nod to every Springsteen song.

    Weezer’s Greatest Man that Ever Lived as.a nod to Bach, Green Day, Elvis, Aerosmith, etc.

  6. Rick T.

    “If you know of other nods and winks outside the separate-but-equal domain of “rap beefs”, feel free to add them in the comments.”

    All I know is that a nod is as good as a wink…to a blind horse. Being a bit older than you, I’m at the end stage of music where I’ve both given up the music of my youth and completely ignore the music of today. I just listen to classical stopping at about Schubert, the American songbook bands and vocalists (Artie Shaw, Ella Fitzgerald, etc), and a little Country -pre 1990’s.

    By the way, some of the estate sales down here in Middle TN are great. Recent finds include an original 1974 George Jones/Tammy Wynette Knoxville concert poster and a coffee packet they gave at Christmas one year with their picture for $10 from the estate of Norris Wilson who wrote “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” I also got the two original posters from the Atlanta International Pop Festival which happened just before Woodstock for not much money. Been in Hank Williams Sr., Jerry Reed’s, George Jones, Earl Scruggs, and KT Oslin’s former homes among others. Very entertaining!

  7. Ronnie Schreiber

    I hear a similarity between Dr. John’s Walk On Gilded Splinters and Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child. You can go back and forth from the melody of the chorus on Gilded Splinters’ “Come Get It, Get It, Come, Come, Walk on guilded splinters” to Jimi’s instrumental introduction to Voodoo Child. It sort of makes sense since Dr. John is from New Orleans and was referencing voodoo. Dr. John’s Gris Gris album was released before Hendrix released any versions of Voodoo Child and Gilded Splinters did get a lot of airplay on the “underground” FM stations of the day so it’s possible that Hendrix was influenced by it. On the other hand, Hendrix was steeped in the blues and it’s not like the blues hadn’t referenced voodoo before, what with mojos, John the Conqueror Root, and black cat bones.

  8. Ronnie Schreiber

    I also hear a similiarity between Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower and Hendrix’s Hey Baby (New Rising Sun). A guitar player friend tells me that’s because the keys are harmonic minors to each other.
    I know they’re not related, but I’d love to hear a medley of Take Five and Favorite Things.

      • Ronnie Schreiber

        I’m fairly ignorant when it comes to music theory so I’m sure I didn’t quite understand what he said in the first place.

        How would you explain why the two songs sound similar to me?

  9. Bark M

    Of course I’m going to give you a jazz example. John Coltrane wrote the song “Like Sonny” based on a riff that he heard the great Sonny Rollins play on a Kenny Dorham record. It’s a simple riff that Trane reharmonizes through eight different tonal centers, resolving to a major chord in both the A and B sections.

  10. DirtRoads

    I think it was in “Dong Work for Yuda” that Zappa references in his lyrics, “sounds like an elegant gypsy.” That was a reference to Al DiMeola’s recent (at the time) album. Apparently Frank wasn’t a fan.

  11. nightfly

    It’s always seemed to me that the bridge of “Back in the USSR” is meant as an homage to surf music and the Beach Boys in particular., just like the lyrics are something of a wink-and-nod to Chuck Berry and “Back in the USA.”

    The lyric nod happened to Berry more than a few times: The Beatles would do it more directly during “Come Together” with “Here come ol’ flat top, he come groovin’ up slowly” (near-quote of Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me”). John Fogerty’s title character in “Centerfield” is described as “rounding third and headin’ for home/ A brown-eyed, handsome man.” More subtly, there’s T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong” closing with “Meanwhile, I’m still thinking” (from “Little Queenie”).

    But one of my favorites is musical, not lyrical – the theme song to the NES video game version of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is … well, let’s say it’s heavily indebted to Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy.”

    • Ronnie Schreiber

      John Lennon was sued by Chuck Berry’s publisher over Come Together and Lennon settled out of court. George Harrison was sued over the similarity between My Sweet Lord and He’s So Fine. Speaking of John Fogerty, he was sued by his former record company for allegedly plagiariazing his own work.

      I think it’s interesting that Jimmy Page has settled with everyone that has accused him of lifting songs with the singular exception of Randy California’s estate suing over the guitar intro to Stairway to Heaven. Part of Page’s defense was along the lines of ‘Yes, I do own that particular Spirit recording but it’s one of 40,000 records I own.’ I’d be surprised if Page isn’t familiar with every note on every recording in his collection.

      As for Back In The USSR, a lot of the White Album is the Beatles riffing on other artists’ styles.

    • Jack Baruth Post author

      Pat’s not pulling any punches there. I think it was the “What A Wonderful World” overdub that got him angry.

    • Jack Baruth Post author

      Brilliant article. The argument in the comments over what is and is not “yacht rock” is worth reading on its own merits 🙂


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