Three Artists Who Wrote Theme Songs for Other Artists



A few weeks ago, I presented a list of bands with titular songs (as in, a song that has the same name as the band in question). Now I present something even more unusual: Here are three artists that wrote a theme song for another artist.

1. They Might Be Giants – “We’re the Replacements”

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Though TMBG made it on my previous list with their song “They Might Be Giants,” this entry is even weirder. Ostensibly, the song is a tribute to the Replacements, though there really isn’t anything other than the chorus that makes that clear. The lyrics allude to “playing in a rock and roll band,” and suggest that “someone find Tommy.” This is probably referring to Mats bass player Tommy Stinson, but who can be sure? The whole song is anchored by a very un-Replacements-sounding organ, and like most TMBG songs, it’s insanely catchy and borderline inscrutable.

2. The Replacements – “Alex Chilton”

No, the Replacements didn’t write a song about They Might Be Giants. That would have been awesome, but TMBG started gathering their hardcore fan base right around the time the Replacements were imploding. It’s possible that Paul Westerberg and company were vaguely aware of TMBG, but it’s even more likely that they weren’t. When it came time for the Replacements to write a song about another artist, they chose massively influential power-pop icon Alex Chilton. Through his work with the Box Tops and (especially) Big Star, Chilton helped pave the way for what would ultimately become known as punk rock. A whole generation of rockers were listening carefully, including the quartet of Twin Cities dirtbags that would eventually become the Replacements. Of course, the “Placemats” get their fair share of shout-outs from other artists these days as well. One of my favorite albums of last year, Martha’s Blisters in the Pit of My Heart contains a song called “St Paul’s (Westerberg Comprehensive).” And the rabbit hole continues.

3. Jonathan Richman – “Velvet Underground”

Love him or hate him, Jonathan Richman is an American original. Your average music fan may only know his classic song “Roadrunner” and his appearance in the film There’s Something About Mary, but Richman has been doing music his own way for almost 50 years now, Richman’s work with the Modern Lovers and as a solo artist is essential listening for fans of punk and new wave, and the man also might be responsible for the apocryphal quote “Only a few people saw the Velvet Underground perform live, but all of them started a band.” He may not have been the one who said it, and it very well may not have been said at all, but there’s no denying that Richman’s is heavily influenced by the VU. Richman’s nasally, deadpan vocals and chunky guitars are reminiscent of Lou Reed, and the Modern Lovers emphasis on drone and tempo functions in part as a logical extension of the VU’s sound. With “Velvet Underground,” Richman perfectly captures the raw excitement of seeing this monumentally important group during their heyday:

Twangy sounds of the cheapest kind,
Like “Guitar sale $29.99,”
Bold and brash, stark and still,
Like the heats turned off
And you can’t pay the bill.
How in the world were they making that sound?
Velvet Underground.

In the second half of the song, Richman full-on covers his favorite group, launching into an impromptu, ramshackle version of the Velvet classic, “Sister Ray.” A fitting tribute from one great artist to another.

 

Any other artists that wrote theme songs for other artists? Hit me up in the comments!

Photo: The Replacements; By Brad (bradalmanac) (https://www.flickr.com/photos/bsearles/9606880043/) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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