GOT a tune that’s okay but not amazing? Bolt on a famous person, sorry, ‘iconic reference’, and watch the money come rolling in, like these…
Robert De Niro’s Waiting… – Bananarama
This namedropping number three hit isn’t the most cogent song ever put to vinyl. It suggests Robert is waiting for the girls to turn up but they’re late, but then he doesn’t appear in the video and it’s unclear why he’s in the lyrics. It then ends with a gangster delivering pizzas in a violin case and failing to speak any Italian. The Hollywood star said he liked the song, but maybe he was just being polite.
Bette Davis Eyes – Kim Carnes
This 1981 song by Kim Carnes about a woman possessing an elderly actress’ eyeballs was written after the songwriters saw the movie Now Voyager. Referencing a famous person’s iconic look definitely shifted more units, so budding songwriters might want to try King Charles’ Ears or Matt Hancock’s Shifty Weaselyness. It got a ludicrous amount of airplay until Gwyneth Paltrow covered it for the film Duets, by which time we were all sick of it, so thanks for that, Gwynnie.
Moves Like Jagger – Maroon 5
Featuring Christina Aguilera, this 2011 song’s lyrics are a thinly-veiled metaphor for activities in the bedroom. It topped the charts in 18 countries but British couples found the idea of a partner flailing around between the sheets like Mick proving how youthful he is a bit of a turn-off. When it comes to the sex lives of the nation, Moves Like Kraftwerk would have been more accurate.
I Have Forgiven Jesus – Morrissey
In this tale of woe about his religious upbringing, Morrissey laments being a kid and having to attend church, and we can all empathise because it’s really boring. Okay, the song is about being made to feel guilty for having forbidden desires, but whatever. Morrissey makes clear he’s forgiven Jesus, which was clearly an attempt to generate controversy that never materialised. Moz unwisely ends the song with the repeated refrain ‘Do you hate me?’. Well, since you ask, Steven…
There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis – Kirsty MacColl
This early-80s country-pop classic draws on rumours circulating at the time that the King had not died on his throne. Kirsty discerns that the bloke serving her a battered cod isn’t Elvis and thus questions her partner’s denial of infidelity. It’s lucky the chippy guy didn’t swear he was in a long-forgotten band like Northside, as that’s quite plausible and Kirsty would never have had that insight into her love life.
Vogue – Madonna
Perhaps the song with most blatant namechecking is Madonna’s 1989 worldwide hit Vogue, brown-nosing the fashion magazine of the same name. The song incorporates a pseudo-rap list of decades-worth of the magazine’s cover glitterati. Simple, effective, and unashamedly contrived, Madonna could now replicate its enormous success with a song called The People’s Friend.