Many artists are keen on sharing their musical influences with curious fans through a variety of ways—mentioning them during interviews, wedging names into liner notes etc. However, some musicians believe they owe their heroes even greater respect, devoting entire songs to their favorite artists. Both legendary and indie artists have favored this tactic, writing tributes in memoriam, in admiration and sometimes even in jest.
This list entailed several requirements to be narrowed down to what is written here. For a song to make this list, it had to include the name of a band or musician in the song title or within the song. (For example, U2’s “Angel of Harlem” was written about Billie Holiday, but the singer’s name is never mentioned, so it’s not here.) Next, the songs on this list must have been written in tribute to or specifically about the artist in question, which is why “Buddy Holly” by Weezer didn’t made the cut. (“David Bowie,” by Phish, is debatable, since “David Bowie” and “UB40” are the only words uttered.) Finally, for the sake of avoiding redundancy, musicians as subjects were not repeated on the list, as songs name-dropping Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley or The Ramones could fill up entire lists on their own. With that in mind, here are the 15 best songs written by musicians about other musicians.
15. The Replacements, “Alex Chilton”
Big Star never achieved the greatest commercial success during their ‘70s heyday, but they were influential enough to inspire bands like The Replacements, R.E.M., Teenage Fanclub and countless others. In this Replacements song, the opening chorus line, “And children by the million sing for Alex Chilton” has the sting of irony, since Alex Chilton didn’t receive much recognition for his work as the lead singer of Big Star and The Box Tops until later in his life. Paul Westerberg professes his admiration for the vocalist on this track from Pleased to Meet Me, on which Chilton himself plays guitar on another song, “Can’t Hardly Wait.”
14. Kevin Morby, “1234”
Even though Kevin Morby never explicitly mentions The Ramones as a band by name in this track from his most recent album, City Music, he makes his homage clear by the end. With chords heavier than his typically mellow, folk sounds, Morby namechecks the Ramones one by one in the final chorus. He then references another muse of his, poet Jim Carroll, by…