5 [Extremely] Popular songs written in response to other songs

Writing songs is an expression of the artist. With the imagination as the limit, we’ve heard countless songs about love and life, happiness and heartbreak, and more. Some artists use their platforms to advance their causes and the things they believe in.

However, there are instances where musicians use their art to share a part of their spirit. Like writing a letter, songwriters also create entire songs to “respond” to another track they’ve 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 that you’d think it’s a tourist jingle or something. It didn’t, or not until 2007, when Alabama Governor Bob Riley officially declared his title a promotional slogan for local state tourism.

While it’s now the life-embracing feel-good anthem in The Cotton State, it was written as a defense piece. Prior to 1974, Neil Young released the songs “Southern Man” and “Alabama”. In “Southern Man”, Young described racism against black Americans in the South. Lynyrd Skynyrd, edited by Ronnie Van Zant, wrote “Sweet Home Alabama” in response.

“Kill Me Softly” by Lori Lieberman (1972)

While originally composed by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox for Lori Lieberman, the most famous hit version was that released by Roberta Flack the following year (1973). Lieberman once saw Don McLean perform and wrote drafts on napkins, which Gimbel developed and turned into a song.

Don McLean, who had just released the long and controversial hit “American Pie”, said in 1973 that he was amazed and honored to have inspired the popular song.

“Every Time” by Britney Spears (2003)

In 2002, the world was shocked by the breakup of NSync star Justin Timberlake and pop icon Britney Spears. The tabloids were quick to allege cheating on Spears’ part. In November of the same year, JT released “Cry Me a River”. Along with lyrics describing a broken man cheated on by his girlfriend, the music video featured a woman who coincidentally resembled his ex-girlfriend.

(Photo: Britney Spears YouTube channel)

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After the high profile breakup, Britney befriends her backup singer Annet Artani. Together they worked on the popular 2003 song “Everytime”. Britney’s pop ballad pleaded for forgiveness for a hurt lover. While Artani said “Everytime” was Spears’ apology to Timberlake, Britney has never confirmed or denied that statement.

Green Day’s “American Idiot” (2004)

In a rare instance of “whatever happens, happens,” Green Day responds to Lynyrd Skynyrd the same way they did to 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 went on to write the popular song “American Idiot”, which was released the following year. The line, “Well maybe I’m the fa**ot America,” aims to give the disenfranchised a voice. Meanwhile, “I’m not on a redneck program” was a response to Skynyrd’s song, according to Armstrong, which promoted the redneck lifestyle.

“Love Will Tear Us Apart” from Joy Division (1980)

This sadly haunting track was captured in the mindset of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. Curtis had felt deep guilt after falling in love with another woman. Troubled and guilt-ridden, Curtis was reportedly pushed further after hearing Captain & Tennille’s ballad “Love Will Keep Us Together.” The popular song’s lyrics speak strongly of cheating on a partner, a line Curtis had crossed.

love will separate us
(Photo: Joy Division YouTube channel)

As Captain & Tennille sang, “Think of me baby, every time a sweet talk girl comes along, singing her song. Don’t mess around, you just gotta be strong, just stop,” Curtis wrote in response. The success of Joy Division laments a torn relationship due to the problems that plague long-term relationships.

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