The answer song is, simply put, a song written as a response to an earlier song
, differing from a Sequel Song
in that it is written or performed by a different artist.
The tradition of poetry written in the form of a song contest or struggle, in which one speaker answers the other, dates back to the very beginnings of recorded literature, back to Sumerian times, and was a popular form in Classical pastoral poetry (as in the Idylls
of Theocritus and Vergil's Eclogues
). Since little distinction was made between poems and songs in those early days, the Answer Song can presumably be similarly dated to Antiquity. It was certainly in use by the time of the Middle Ages, when the debate poem
was a popular genre among the troubadors, the exchange being denoted as a tensˇ, tenson,
in Occitan, a tenzone
in Italian, and a "flyting" in Scots English; many of these were definitely set to music (e.g.
, the opposed sirventes
by Richard The Lion Heart
and the Count of Artois that their men sang against each other).
In modern times, the Answer Song became widespread almost as soon as recorded music became available, generally losing much of its combative character and with the answering song often imitating the original very closely. The convention became extremely common in R&B and Country music, where it generally took the form of a reply to a song made by a member of the opposite sex. It's also common as dirt in Filk
, where one singer makes a commentary on another's song, ranging from sarcastic to sad. Modern Hip-hop has returned to the scurrilous character of the medieval tensˇ
, deploying songs of a distinctly angry nature in which artists denounce each other.
- Woody Guthrie's famous "This Land Is Your Land" was written as an answer to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America."
- One of the longest answer record cycles was started by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters' 1954 R&B hit "Work With Me Annie", and its Sequel Song "Annie Had a Baby". Answer songs include "Annie's Answer" by the El-Dorados, "Annie Pulled a Humbug" by the Midnights, "Roll With Me Henry" by Etta James, and "I'm the Father of Annie's Baby", by Danny Taylor.
- "Sweet Home Alabama" is Lynyrd Skynyrd's defense of the South, in response to Neil Young's criticism of racism in "Southern Man" and "Alabama." Young was supposed to sing the "Southern man don't need me anyhow" line in the former, but had a scheduling conflict.
- Also, Warren Zevon wrote a pretty savage response to "Sweet Home Alabama", "Play It All Night Long".
- Which was later subverted when Kid Rock sampled both "Sweet Home Alabama" and Zevon's own "Werewolves of London" on "All Summer Long."
- Joni Mitchell's "The Circle Game" is an answer to Neil Young's "Sugar Mountain".
- "Yes, I Am Experienced" by Eric Burdon and the Animals, was an answer to Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced?"
- Barry McGuire's 1965 left-wing protest hit "Eve of Destruction" was answered by the conservative, Vietnam War-defending "Dawn of Correction" by The Spokesmen. Both songs were hits.
- Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' "Got a Job" was a response to The Silhouettes' "Get a Job".
- The Beach Boys' "The Girl from New York City" was a response to The Ad Libs "The Boy from New York City."
- Their song "Don't Worry Baby" was said to be an answer to the The Ronettes song "Be My Baby" (written by Phil Spector).
- Paul McCartney and Wings' collection of oblique jabs in "Some People Never Know" and "Silly Love Songs" answered John Lennon's "How Do You Sleep?", which itself was an answer to McCartney's "Too Many People". McCartney later recorded "Let Me Roll It", a more affectionate take on Lennon's Plastic Ono Band.
- Reba McEntire's "Whoever's in New England" was a response to Barry Manilow's hit "Weekend in New England."
- Jody Miller's "Queen of the House" was a response to Roger Miller's song "King of the Road."
- "Oh Neil!" was Carole King's answer to Neil Sedaka's "Oh Carol!"; the pair dated briefly and remained good friends for decades after.
- Neneh Cherry recorded a song called "Woman" in response to James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World."
- The band Napalm Death released the song "It's a M.A.N.S World!"
- "Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down" by Alicia Keys, was an answer to Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind", which Keys featured on, singing the chorus. The song uses original verses by Keys but re-uses the chorus and bridge.
- Mary Lambert's "She Keeps Me Warm" has similar origins - it's an extension of the chorus she sang on Macklemore's "Same Love". Where "Same Love" has a message of gay acceptance, "She Keeps Me Warm" is about a woman who falls in love with another woman and grows to accept her own sexuality.
- Interestingly enough, Katy Perry has mentioned that one of the inspirations for California Gurls was to do for the west coast what Empire State of Mind did for New York.
- In 2009 the band They Might Be Giants released an answer song — "Why Does the Sun Really Shine? (The Sun is a Miasma of Incandescent Plasma)" — to their popular 1993 cover of Tom Glazer's 1965 song "Why Does the Sun Shine?." Both the original 1965 song and the 1993 cover state that the Sun was "a mass of incandescent gas." The Sun is more accurately described as being made of plasma, not gas.
- The Satintones "Tomorrow and Always" answers The Shirelles "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?"
- Lady Gaga's song "Boys Boys Boys" was an answer song to M÷tley CrŘe's "Girls, Girls, Girls."
- Liz Phair has claimed in interviews that her Exile in Guyville album was a song-by-song response to Exile on Main Street.
- The sentimental "Irish" ballad, "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen" (1875) by Thomas P. Westendorf was written as a reply to the earlier "Barney, Take Me Home Again" by George W. Persley.
- Claude King's "Wolverton Mountain" was answered with Linda Gail Lewis's "The Girl From Wolverton Mountain."
- Travis Tritt's "Strong Enough to Be Your Man" is a response to Sheryl Crow's "Strong Enough."
- Older Than Steam: Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe traded life philosophies on the battlefield of poetry, namely, "The Passionate Shepherd To His Love," and "The Nymph's Reply To The Shepherd." Responses to these poems are still done today - but John Donne's statement is particularly fine.
- Screeching Weasel's song "I Wrote Holden Caulfield" was a response to the Green Day song "Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?"
- Everybody Was in the French Resistance...Now!, led by Art Brut frontman Eddie Argos, do nothing but answer songs. "Billie's Genes", for instance, is a response to "Billie Jean" from the point of view of the bastard son, while "G.I.R.L.F.R.E.N. (You Know I've Got A)" is a response to Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" from the very frustrated boy Avril was trying to catch the attention of.
- Katy Perry said that "California Gurls" is her answer to Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind".
- Bob Luman's 1960 hit "Let's Think About Livin'" was one of these, written as a kind of Take That to the many Teenage Death Songs of that era.
- Madness lead singer Suggs has claimed that the band's hit song "Baggy Trousers" (which is about fond memories of school) was a response to "Another Brick In the Wall" by Pink Floyd.
- Especially sarcastic, since the Pink Floyd song is about kids being indoctrinated as conformist drones, while the Madness song's "fond memories" of school are all about pranking, fighting and vandalism.
- Camera Obscura's "Lloyd, I'm Ready to be Heartbroken" was a response to Lloyd Cole's "Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken."
- In the Nineties, Italian pop group 883 topped the charts for months with their hit "Hanno ucciso l'Uomo ragno" ("Someone killed Spider-Man"). Some time later, obscure comedy band Tretriti recorded their answer, "╚ vivo l'Uomo ragno" ("Spider-Man Lives").
- Eamon was very successful in 2004 with his "Fuck It (I Don't Want You Back)", about a failed relationship. Interestingly, an unknown singer named Frankee answered right away with her "F.U.R.B. (Fuck U Right Back)", pretending to be Eamon's past girlfriend (it wasn't true, of course), which was a moderate success. Neither of them was ever heard from again.
- The Pirates' "I Already Know" (feat. Enya, Shola Ama, Naila Boss & Ishani) is an answer to "I Don't Wanna Know" by Mario Winans feat. Enya and P. Diddy.
- Obscure as it is, Napoleon XIV's novelty song "They're Coming to Take Me Away Ha-Haa" had two answer songs, "I'm Happy They Took You Away Ha-Haaaa" by Josephine XV and ""They Took You Away, I'm Glad, I'm Glad"" by Teddy & Darrel.
- "Nothing Can Replace A Man" from the musical Ankles Aweigh bills itself in its verse as an answer to Rodgers and Hammerstein's "There Is Nothin' Like A Dame."
- Johnny Thunders' "London Boys" is a response to The Sex Pistols' "New York".
- REM's "Me in Honey" is a response to 10,000 Maniacs' "Eat for Two."
- "Hot Rod Lincoln" is a response to "Hot Rod Race," and arguably the more well known of the two songs.
- Pulp's "Common People" is a Take That at the general phenomenon in Britpop of middle-class people idealising and impersonating working class culture, but blur's "Park Life" is considered a particular target.
- Done within the same band with Sloan: Chris Murphy's song "Ready for You" was answered by Jay Ferguson's b-side "I Thought That I Was Ready For You".
- Taylor Swift 's "Better Than Revenge" is an answer to The Jonas Brothers 's "Much Better" which may have been an answer Swift's "Forever and Always".
- The Jonas Brothers song "Turn Right" references "the never ending racetrack you call life", which may have been a reference to Miley Cyrus' song, "Full Circle" (Miley and Nick split as a couple around that time).
- Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, and Nelly Furtado's song "Give It To Me" was one big answer where each artist attacks another. Furtado:Fergie Timbaland:Scott Storch Timberlake:Prince
- Hip-hop group Sporty Thievz sometimes did answer songs to female-sung R & B songs, providing the male point of view - the best known example is "No Pigeons" (TLC's "No Scrubs"), but they also did two Destiny's Child answer songs: "No Billz (Why, Why, Why?)" ("Bills, Bills, Bills") and "Independent Men" ("Independent Women", naturally enough).
- Bob Dylan's "Clothes Line Saga", a parody of Bobbie Gentry's "Ode To Billie Joe" was originally titled "Answer to 'Ode'".
- Drake's "The Motto", known for the (in)famous YOLO, is an answer song to "If Today Was Your Last Day" by Nickelback.
- Kitty Wells' "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" is equal parts Answer Song and Take That to Hank Thompson's "The Wild Side Of Life".
- The Roxanne Wars, which spawned possibly the most Answer Songs in history. The U.T.F.O. song "Roxanne, Roxanne", an insult track about a woman who wouldn't accept their advances, was responded to with "Roxanne's Revenge", in which a fourteen-year-old using the stage name Roxanne ShantÚ, claiming to be the Roxanne in the song, insulted U.T.F.O. The Real Roxanne's track "The Real Roxanne" also appeared, and this started a massive outpouring of songs from other Roxannes, Roxanne's friends, Roxanne's family members, etc.
- In response to Jay-Z's and Kanye West's, "Niggas in Paris," in which the two bragged of their wealth, Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) released "Niggas in Poorest," chastising them for parading their wealth while so many are suffering with poverty, violence, crime, and exploitation.
- Billy Joel's It's Still Rock 'n' Roll To Me was a very deliberate response to the then-emerging Punk Rock and New Wave movements. In fact, the same can be said for Glass Houses, the album it came from.
- Shortly after the release of Annie's single "Anthonio", an artist claiming to be Anthonio Mendes, who was really Sebastian Muravchik of the British synthpop group Heartbreak, released an answer song titled "Annie".
- Comedy duo Scooter Picnic released a song about its members being mistaken for each other, titled "Kyle, Are You Ian?". Devo Spice teamed up with Shoebox of Worm Quartet for the parody "Devo, Are You Shoebox?". This inspired the Scooter Picnic song "I Noticed You Noticing Me", which Kyle explicitly calls an answer song near the end.
- "Live Forever" by Oasis was written in response to both Nirvana's "I Hate Myself And Want To Die", and negative grunge music in general. Though it should be noted that Nirvana were being sarcastic with that song title anyway - the lyrics were more full of word salad than self-loathing.
- After Erasure released their "Abba-esque" EP (four Abba songs done in Erasure's signature style), Abba tribute act Bjorn Again countered with the double A-side "Erasure-ish", two Erasure songs done in Abba's 70s pop style.
- Worm Quartet expressed exasperation with Marc Gunn for releasing so many songs about cats, in a song called "Goddammit Marc Gunn, Shut Up About Your Cat". Gunn responded with a song of his own, called "Dear Worm Quartet".
- "Gently Does It" is a tribute to the folk singer Alex Campbell by his friend Rab Noakes, about him having to slow down due to illness. The refrain features the line "And a few years ago, you'd been on this road so long", making it a reply to Campbell's "Been On This Road So Long".
- "Gordon's Not A Moron" by Julie and Gordon is a reply to the spoof song "Jilted John" by Jilted John (Graham Fellows, later better known as John Shuttleworth), with its refrain of "Gordon is a moron/Gordon is a moron".
- Associates released a reply to The Smiths' "William, It Was Really Nothing" called "Steven You're Still Really Something" (Steven being Morrissey's real first name; it's popularly believed that "William" was Associates lead singer Billy Mackenzie).
- Joe Jackson wrote a slightly self-pitying song called Is She Really Going Out With Him?, about how dull but worthy guys not blessed with good looks get outclassed by "gorillas" in the dating game - every time. It contains the lines
Look over there! (Where?)There goes a lady that I used to know...
- The Stranglers' Peaches can be viewed as an answer song written from the point of view of unscrupulous gorillas with a less romantic view of women; note the line
Look over there! (Where?)There! Is she trying to get out of that bikini/get out her clitoris? (depending on whether you're listening to the radio-friendly version)
- Green Day's American Idiot, off of the album of the same name, was written in response to a Lynyrd Skynyrd song called "That's How I Like It."
- Vocaloid: "Sayonara, Arigatou" ("Goodbye, Thank You") is an answer to "Kokoro" ("Heart"). The latter was written from the perspective of Robot Girl Rin, while the former is from the perspective of the Fatherly Scientist who created her.
- Finnish rap duo Fintelligens recorded a song called "Heruuks" ("Can I Get Some"), to which a female R'n'B artist Jonna responded by recording "Ei Heru" ("No You Can't").