Songwriters love to write songs about songs, meditating on the meaning and power of music. You can listen to my playlist Metamusic: Songs about Songs on RDIO as you read this post about metasongs or follow the links on the titles to Youtube.
by Bachmann-Turner Overdrive
The song begins with a reference to the rock-‘n-roll lifestyle: “It’s a hurried up life / But it’s the life I choose.” It may be a busy life, but it was his choice. In the next verse, however, he suggests that he was born a musician. The singer says, “You know I was born standing up with a guitar in my hand.” After all, rock is his life and this is his song.
A musician’s image, he recognizes, is artificial (represented by the word “Hollywood”), but then he claims that artificiality as his own: “I’m not tryin’ to come on like Hollywood / But Hollywood is what I am.”
He sings about touring, performance, and audience response:
When we come into a new town
When we play our music
Hands are in the air
In another verse, “Candles light the air.” Sometimes concert-goers ignite lighters, but I have never seen candles. One explanation was that “Lighters light the air” makes an awkward line. Another is that “candles” create a more romantic mood than lighters, making the line poetic rather than literal.
What happens to the musicians after the concert? You would expect them to go to a party, perhaps, but they disappear into the silence. The musician becomes mythical here, representing music itself:
When the music’s over
You wonder where we are
I’m standing in the silence
With my old guitar
Rock is my life and this is my song
He sings about other musicians who have not survived the “hurried up life”:
It’s a cryin’ shame
That some of us have not survived
No use in askin’ how it happened
But very few are left alive
Because other musicians have died or faded away, he knows that one day he will stop making music as well, and he takes this as a wake-up call to get busy and make some more music:
I just wanna keep on makin’ music
We gotta keep on keepin’ on
You’re only as good as your last record
I know that someday we’ll be gone, gone.
Same goes for you. If you are going to rock out, you’d better get busy. The clock is ticking.
by The Planet Smashers
Life may not be going so great for you. “This has now become your life / turned away from advice / Tired it tells, shame I noticed /You feel fine but you’re losing focus, losing focus.” So, this song is dedicated to you, as a fun alternative to the hard work:
This song is for you
Because you work so hard
When the day is done, we’ll have some fun
This song is for you
by Paul McCartney
“You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs,” Paul sings. In fact, new love or old love, savory or soured, love has been the most popular subject of song for centuries. So aren’t there enough?
But I look around me and I see it isn’t so.
Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs.
And what’s wrong with that? I’d like to know
cause here I go again.
McCartney is acknowledging that love songs are silly and admits that this is one of those songs, but “what’s wrong with that?” He can’t seem to stop himself: “cause here I go again.” And he begins singing “I love you” again and again. Love may seem silly when you are not in love, but when you fall, “It isn’t silly, no, it isn’t silly, love isn’t silly at all.”
Written by Paul Williams, performed by Three Dog Night
“Just an old-fashioned love song playin’ on the radio,” they sing. “And wrapped around the music is the sound /
Of someone promising they’ll never go.” What is the sound of “someone promising they’ll never go?” Obviously, it sounds like a love song, and the best love songs seem familiar. Even when we hear the song for the first time, we recognize it: “You swear you’ve heard it before / As it slowly rambles on and on.”
Although you have never met the song writer, the songs seems as though it is “One I’m sure they wrote for you and me.” The song is not a stranger’s song any longer. It becomes “our song,” a personal song with personal meaning “To underscore our love affair.” We use the song to “weave our dreams upon and listen to each evening.”
So what happened to those old fashioned love songs? How can we revive them? “No need in bringin’ `em back / `Cause they’re never really gone.” There will always be new songs that, like this one, become old fashioned love songs.
by Jamie Foxx
Jamie has caught someone’s eye, but she’s not single: “I know you see me lookin’ at you / And I know he know you lookin’ at me / Well….damn.” In a situation like that, what are you going to do? Get her in the mood, by asking the DJ for a love song.
DJ won’t you play this girl a love song
She really needs to hear this freakin’ love song
She’s lookin’ at me kinda hard, I can tell that things ain’t right on the home front
What she really needs is a G like me to Beat a beat, beat it, beat it
She needs the song because things are not working out at home: “Baby, I know he ain’t treatin’ you right.” She needs a G, a gangster, like Jamie Fox to “beat a beat.” The song he wants the DJ to play is obviously his own, and that beat is gonna be more than a song–if he gets her against the wall, in the bathroom, in the elevator.
by Public Image Limited
“This is not a love song,” he sings again and again. What kind of song is it? Seems to be a business song: “Big business is very wise / I’m crossing over into e-enterprise.” Later he sings, “I have a new goal / I’m changing my ways where money applies.” But the insistence that “This is not a love song” overwhelms the brief verses about making money. Methinks he doth protest too much. Whenever you deny something, you invoke the opposite. Imagine someone on the street repeating, “I am not crazy. I am not crazy. I am not crazy.” Wouldn’t you assume he was crazy?
The last verse introduces a “you” to the song: “Now are you ready to grab the candle?” What could “grab the candle” mean? It’s vagueness hints that it is sexual. “Now will I find you, now will you be there?” he asks. Methinks it is a love song after all.
by Fall Out Boy
The title and main lyric is “My songs know what you did in the dark.” The music takes on a metaphorical awareness, sensing whatever the “you” did in the dark. Once again, the vagueness of the “you” and the reference to “darkness” leads us to a sexual explanation. Besides sleeping, what else do you do in the dark? So light ’em up!
“Writers,” he sings, “keep writing what they write.” And Fall Out Boy is one of them, using his music to light up the darkness for “you,” whoever that may be.
by Elton John and Bernie Taupin
This wonderful meta-song is about the healing power of music. Sharing our pain with, we ease it: “Guess there are times when we all need to share a little pain / . . . / And it’s times like these when we all need to hear the radio / `Cause from the lips of some old singer / We can share the troubles we already know.” It helps to know that other people have suffered, that we are not suffering alone. “If someone else is suffering enough to write it down / When every single word makes sense /Then it’s easier to have those songs around.”
When all hope is gone, sad songs can help you: “They reach into your room / Just feel their gentle touch / When all hope is gone, sad songs say so much.” When we hear our pain described, it externalizes the pain, makes it something we can examine outside of ourselves: “The kick inside is in the line that finally gets to you / and it feels so good to hurt so bad / And suffer just enough to sing the blues.” It may hurt to experience the pain again, but by doing so some of the pain is released, and doesn’t that feel good? So “Turn them on, turn them on / Turn on those sad songs.”
But John’s song is not a sad song. It is a joyful song about the power of music to save us from our sorrow.
by Otis Redding
Sad songs are the only songs Redding can sing: “I keep singing them sad, sad songs, y’all,” Redding sings, “Sad songs is all I know.”
All my life I’ve been singin’ sad songs
Tryin’ to get my message to you, honey
But that’s the only song, y’all, I can sing
And when you get through singin’
My message will be to you
It doesn’t take much to get the message across, he says. “It’s just a line, oh but / It tells a story, baby / You got to get the message.” What is the message? Must be love.
This sad song “has a sweet melody,” and you “can sing it any old time / It touches your heart / Puts you in a groove / And when you sing this song / It’ll make your whole body move.” Caught up in the music, your sorrow won’t be so heavy. Redding’s song may be tinged with sadness, as are many of the best songs, but it is a happy song about the joy of music.
Other Songs about Songs
Note: “by”: indicates the performers, who are in some cases the songwriters as well.
“Sad Song” by Lou Reed
“(Hey, Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” by BJ Thomas.
“It’s The Same Old Song” by The Four Tops
“New Song” by Howard Jones
“Take This Song” by Third World
“You Will Never Take This Song” by Cardinal Family Singers
“This Song” by Blackbear
“Diss Song” by Tyga
“Getting in Tune” by The Who
“Overnight Sensation” by Raspberries
“This Song is You” by Lindsey Lawler
“This is My Song” by Petula Clark
“You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon
“One of Those Songs” by Jimmy Durante
“Sing Me a Swing Song” by Ella Fitzgerald
“It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” by Duke Ellington
“Sam’s Song” by The Rat Pack
“The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” by The Pogues
“The Great Unknown” by Elvis Costello & The Attractions
“Title of the Song” by Da Vinci’s Notebook
“Fire and Rain” by James Taylor
“Songbird” by Fleetwood Mac
“I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song” by Jim Croce
“Song Sung Blue” by Neil Diamond
“I Write the Songs” by Barry Manilow
“Killing Me Softly with His Song” by Roberta Flack
“This is the Last Song I’m Ever Going to Sing” by The Everly Brothers
“This is Not a Song, It’s an Outburst: Or, the Establishment Blues
“Song for the Asking” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Song to Woody” by Bob Dylan
“Song for Whoever” by The Beautiful South
“The Saxophone Song” by Kate Bush
“Only a Northern Song” by The Beatles
“Anne’s Song” by Faith No More
“This Song is Dedicated to Nature’s God” by Sun Ra
“Glass Onion” by Phish
“The is the Song (Good Luck)” by Punch Brothers
“Don’t Take This Song” by Mike Mangioni
“Take This Song with You” by Maya and the Ruins
“Another Song” by The Carpenters
“If Your Song Has the Word ‘Beach’ in It, I’m Not Listening to It” by Dads
“This is a Song” by The Magic Numbers
“This is My Song” by the Scorpions
“This is a London Song” by The Union
“This Song is You” by Jerome Kern
“This is How the Song Goes” by The Verbs
“This is the Song We Sing” by Merle Haggard
“This is Sarah’s Song” by Glen Campbell
“The Bubba Watson Song” by Papa Razzi and the Photogs
“Pop Song” by Taken
“This Song is Ridiculous” by Once Nothing
“The Soldier’s Song” by Demon Hunter
“A Song for You” by Leon Russell
“Valley Winter Song” by Fountains of Wayne
“I’ll Keep Singing My Song” by Jerry Tlucek
“Rednecks” by Randy Newman
“You Can Close Your Eyes” by James Taylor
“Whiskey Wrote This Song” by Rex Robards
“The Songs That We Sing” by Charlotte Gainsbourgh
“Laughing Stock” by Love
“Crocodile Rock” by Elton John
“Play This Song” by Digimind
“You Will Be My Music” by Listener
“Song beneath the Song” by Maria Taylor
“We’ll Meet Again” by Johnny Cash
“Our Song” by Taylor Swift
“One Song at a Time” by Jamie Grace
“Song You Won’t Forget” by Niceland
“Don’t Download This Song” by “Weird Al” Yankovic
“This Song is for the Birds” by Sesame Street
“The Song That Never Ends” by Sean O’Boyle
“I Bet You They Won’t Play This Song on the Radio” by Monty Python
“This is the Song That Goes Like This” by Eric Idle
“The Song is Over” by The Who
“This is the Last Song” by Lovers