Writing songs is an expression of the artist. With imagination as the limit, we have heard countless songs about love and life, of happiness and sorrow, and more. Some artists use their platforms to advance their causes and the things they believe.
However, there are instances where musicians use their craft to share a piece of their mind. As with writing a letter, songwriters also create entire songs to "answer" another track they have heard. Here are five popular songs originally written in response to other songs.
"Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974)
This popular song has become so ubiquitous in its titular US State, you would think it's a tourism jingle or something. It wasn't, or not until 2007 when Alabama Governor Bob Riley officially declared its title as the promotional tag-line for local state tourism.
While it is now the feel-good anthem that embraces the life in The Cotton State, it was written as a defense piece. Before 1974, Neil Young released the songs "Southern Man" and "Alabama." In "Southern Man," Young described the racism against Black Americans in the South. Lynyrd Skynyrd, under the lead of Ronnie Van Zant, penned "Sweet Home Alabama" in response.
"Killing Me Softly" by Lori Lieberman (1972)
While it was initially composed by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox for Lori Lieberman, the most famous successful version is the one released by Roberta Flack the following year (1973). Lieberman once saw Don McLean perform and wrote drafts on napkins, which Gimbel expanded and formed into a song.
Don McLean, who had just released the long and controversial hit "American Pie," said in 1973 that he was amazed and humbled that he inspired the popular song.
"Everytime" by Britney Spears (2003)
In 2002, the world was shocked by the breakup of NSync star Justin Timberlake and pop icon Britney Spears. Tabloids were quick to allege cheating on Spears' part. In November of the same year, JT released "Cry Me a River." Aside from the lyrics describing a broken man cheated on by his girlfriend, the music video featured a woman who coincidentally looked like his ex-girlfriend.
After the highly publicized breakup, Britney became friends with her backing vocalist Annet Artani. Together they worked on the 2003 popular song "Everytime." Britney's pop ballad pleaded for forgiveness for a hurt lover. While Artani did say that "Everytime" was Spears' apology to Timberlake, Britney never confirmed or denied this statement.
"American Idiot" by Green Day (2004)
In a rare case of "what goes around, comes around," Green Day responds to Lynyrd Skynyrd in the same way they did with Neil Young decades ago. In 2003, Skynyrd released "That's How I Like It." Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong heard the single in his car and was shocked by the lyrics he heard.
Green Day then wrote the popular song "American Idiot," released the following year. The line, "Well maybe I'm the fa**ot America," aims to give a voice to the disenfranchised. Meanwhile, "I'm not part of a redneck agenda" was a response to the Skynyrd song Armstrong felt was promoting the redneck lifestyle.
"Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Divison (1980)
This sadly haunting track was captured from Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis' frame of mind. Curtis had been experiencing severe guilt after falling in love with another woman. Troubled and guilt-ridden, Curtis was reportedly pushed further after hearing the Captain & Tennille ballad "Love Will Keep Us Together." The lyrics to the popular song sharply talk against cheating on a partner, a line Curtis had crossed.
As Captain & Tennille sang, "Think of me babe, whenever some sweet-talking girl comes along, singing her song. Don't mess around, you've just got to be strong, just stop," Curtis wrote in response. The Joy Division hit laments a relationship torn due to the troubles that plague long-term relationships.