Sunday, February 8, 2009

Answer Records

It seems like a lost art.

For decades, it was fairly common for songs to reference or answer previous hit songs.

So Irving Berlin had a hit with "God Bless America" and Woody Guthrie recorded the socialist answer record "This Land is Your Land." Neil Young knocked the South in "Southern Man" and Lynyrd Skynyrd responded with "Sweet Home Alabama." And when David Bowie released a record called Low (no e), Nick Lowe put out an answer record called Bowi (again, no e).

But, if you take rappers dissing each other back and forth out of the equation, the answer record seems to have all but died out.

Six months ago, we had a rare fall rainstorm in L.A. And the latest in a long line of L.A. radio stations that pop up, play great music, develop a fiercely loyal following (and then abruptly change format to ranchero music, chasing after higher ratings that never materialize) played this song by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions (which I'd first heard years earlier on a Boston station that briefly played the best music in the world before starting a long decline into pre-programmed mediocrity). Then the station played a second Lloyd Cole song (link for Gmail subscribers):

And I was transported from a car in rainy L.A. to a record store in Boston in 1984, where I stayed, watching the rain come down, listening to every second of both sides of the first Lloyd Cole album Rattlesnakes (which combined brilliant wordplay with insanely catchy jangle-pop music). "Dance music for English majors," someone wrote at the time, damning and praising the music in equal measure. When the needle came off the record at the end of side 2 (after the song "Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?"), the only thing left was to buy the record, walk out of the store in the rain, and marvel at the confidence you need to end your first album with such a great rhetorical question.

But maybe it wasn't rhetorical. Maybe Lloyd Cole was trolling for an answer record.

22 years later (but next on the radio that rainy L.A. afternoon), Glascow-based Camera Obscura responded with "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken," aping some of the sounds of Rattlesnakes, but updating it in a surreally poppy way. If it were raining and I were in Boston, I'd have stayed in the store and listened to their whole album... but I was late and it was raining in L.A., so I had to settle for the 21st century equivalent: coming home later and watching the video on YouTube 18 times in a row:


Anonymous said...

What's up with you &the rain?

Anonymous said...

New Camera Obscura album coming in April!

Alex said...

Cool.... and The Yellow Stereo has the title track up here:

Steven said...

>>> Neil Young knocked the South in "Southern Man" and Lynyrd Skynyrd responded with "Sweet Home Alabama."

And then Neil responded back with "Walk On".


Anonymous said...

An illustrated list of answer records can be found here: