One surefire way to get people talking about your music is to compose a response song. The resulting controversy can make an ordinary melody spread like wildfire, especially when the lyrics pertain to intriguing topics like war, illegal substances, and infidelity. To be clear, most of the following songs strike me as a cheap attempt to piggyback off of other artists’ success. However, one bizarre mixture of pop rock goodness and unsettling lyrics about crystal meth remains a one-hit wonder legend in its own right, and I must give credit where credit is due.
Tip: Click on the song titles to listen to these one-hit wonders in all their glory!
- “The Dawn of Correction” by the Spokesmen (1965, Billboard #36) The list of one-hit wonders criticizing the Vietnam war is long and distinguished, but the Spokesmen are likely the only band who have made it big by becoming the teacher’s pet for the Johnson administration. The song is a response to Barry McGuire’s anti-war anthem “Eve of Destruction,” which conservatives like the Spokesmen’s John Medora saw as “a slap against America” emblematic of the youth’s misconceptions. The members of the Spokesmen have since expressed remorse for the lyrics of their rebuttal, which go so far as to praise the fact that “our country allows demonstrations” (which clearly occurred before the Kent State shootings of 1970). The song has aged like fine milk, whereas artists across the decades have consistently praised and covered “Eve of Destruction.” Not bad for a song that was initially banned by US and British radio stations!
- “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind (1997, Billboard #4): This upbeat jam houses surprisingly dark lyrics, not unlike its inspiration, Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” Both describe the highs and lows of their respective bittersweet drug-fueled worlds. While each verse of Reed’s song directly references a different member of Andy Warhol’s Factory, he expressed that the song is also filled with references to his own experiences. The song introduced its 1972 audiences to taboo topics like sex work, recreational drugs (namely Valium), and transsexuality. Third Eye Blind’s lead singer and writer Stephan Jenkins offered his song as a response to this kind of lifestyle, remarking the subjects of Reed’s lyrics “had nothing on the way that we were living.” He tells a tale of amphetamine abuse and sex in San Francisco. Both songs have questionable attitudes towards women. Reed refers to doo-wop singers as “colored girls” while Jenkins introduces his girlfriend as someone who “lives for [him]” and exclusively characterizes her by the sexual acts she performs on him. Jenkins is wrong for reducing a woman to a sexual object, but Reed erasing the talent, work, and legacy of groups like the Supremes and the Ronettes is downright shameful. In the end, I’d rather read a Warhol biography and indulge in the syrupy sweet melody that Jenkins produced, even if I have to sit through some graceless lyrics.
- “No Pigeons” by Sporty Thievz (1999, Billboard #12): Speaking of sexism, Sporty Thievz prove that talking down to women can serve as a springboard toward success. While TLC’s “No Scrubs” reduces men to their monetary value, Sporty Thievs straight-up tells the women listening that “their pussy ain’t worth the Ramada” or even McDonalds. The song is full of comedic value, but that should not come at the cost of personal attacks on women’s style choices, figures, and sexual history. I can chop up certain lyrics to the time in which they were written, but throwing money at someone and telling them to use it for a bus pass has never been acceptable behavior. No wonder their legacy is based off of how they’ve responded to the original art of women rather their own accomplishments.
- “Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)” by Eamon (2003, Billboard #16): This one brings back memories of my older brother downloading the dirty version of this song and singing along to it in the car while my mother turned red. You could compare Eamon’s ballad to “No Pigeons” in that it is definitely driven by hatred towards women. But in this case, it’s more of a specific call-out to the girl who wronged him and took him for granted. Eamon alternates between soulful confessions of his love and trust in someone and explicit bursts of anger and indignation. The result is as catchy as it is comical. My favorite lyric is, of course, when he refers to his unfaithful ex as “ya burnt bitch.” While Eamon denies any kind of relationship with her, another Staten Islander named Frankee debuted with an answer song titled “F.U.R.B. (Fuck You Right Back)” and claimed that she was Eamon’s ex-girlfriend. There is no proof to substantiate that claim. I am highlighting Eamon’s original rather than the response because while both are one-hit wonders, Frankee’s low-effort answer does not possess half the authenticity or style of its source material.
What response songs stand out to you? Are they diss tracks? Also, do you think Frankee knew Eamon before releasing her song? Your thoughts and opinions are always welcome!