Scene4-International Magazine of Arts and Culture

Rock ’n’ Roll Nods and Quid Pro Quos

Patrick Walsh-Scene4 Magazine

Patrick Walsh

Musical artists have always enjoyed listening to the work of their peers. And, of course, they often cover songs by artists they admire. Early Beatles albums abound with covers of tunes by Chuck Berry, Smokey Robinson, Buddy Holly, Lieber and Stoller, and Goffin and King. Bob Dylan never had to sing a note and he still would have made a mint thanks to The Byrds and Jimi Hendrix.

But if they’re successful enough, musicians also enjoy talking to each other in their works, either through melodic or lyrical nods–little tips of the cap by way of working in a notable riff by a fellow artist or just an outright mention of the person or group. Jazz musicians have been doing it instrumentally for a century. In Rock, one group says “hello,” another returns the favor of having been hailed. Most often it’s pure homage, an artist’s way of saying “hey, I dig your sound!”

I have some favorite nods and quid pro quos.

It hardly seems possible that Full Moon Fever, Tom Petty’s mammoth first solo album, could be 30 years old this summer. (More impossible to me is how the magnificent man who made it is no longer with us.) “Runnin’ Down a Dream” was one of its many instant classics. Like a ‘Vette merging onto one freeway from another, the song is already at cruising speed when it slams into you with its controlled but powerful urgency. And in short order, Petty sings these lines:

    It was a beautiful day, 
    The sun beat down,
    I had the radio on, 
    I was drivin’
    Trees flew by, 
    Me and Del were singin’,
    Little Runaway
    I was flyin’.

A nod of pure homage. Petty wrote “Runnin’ Down a Dream” with ELO frontman Jeff Lynne (who helped co-produce the record) and Mike Campbell, ace lead guitarist for The Heartbreakers, as well as one of Petty’s closest pals. And the nod goes to Del Shannon and his international #1 smash hit of 1961, “Runaway.”

Such a lovingly rendered salute speaks to an essential characteristic of Petty: his total class. Lucky enough to stand eye-to-eye with his Rock ’n’ Roll heroes, he never lost his immense respect, even reverence, for artists to whom he had to initially look up.

In “Rock Show,” a dynamic gem off the 1975 Wings album Venus and Mars, Paul McCartney sets the scene from a fan’s perspective of that electric atmosphere just prior to a band taking the stage. In the semi-darkness, stagehands flit like phantoms making final adjustments to electrical cords or mics and placing musical instruments in their stands.

A concert-goer and his pals watch, trying to discern the make of a guitar: “What’s that man movin’ ‘cross the stage? / It looks a lot like the one used by Jimmy Page.” 

Well, my guess is that it’s a Gibson Les Paul, a favored axe of Led Zeppelin’s guitarist. I’ve always loved how even a titan like Paul McCartney wants to give a cheerful shoutout to another artist–and fellow-titan.

The Who scored a sturdy hit with “You Better You Bet” on their 1981 Face Dances LP. What makes the cut so refreshing is its adult outlook, its frank handling of love’s essential commodity: sex. Along with other tracks on the album and solo work around the same time, it’s a fine example of Pete Townshend’s ongoing maturation as one of Rock’s greatest tunesmiths. 

As he does throughout the song, Roger Daltrey sings with self-assured bravado: “You welcome me with open arms . . . and open legs / I know only fools have needs but this one never begs!” 

As the song’s realistic-minded narrator, Daltrey contemplates how his lover gives and withholds her favors: “I don’t really mind how much you love me / ooh a little is alright / when you say come over and spend the night.” He’s also honest, acknowledging that some of his other vices occasionally undermine his lust. And aye, there’s the nod: “I got your body right now on my mind and I drunk myself blind to the sound of old T. Rex.”

Once again I’ll hazard a guess and say the besotted singer has Electric Warrior cranking on the Hi-Fi. It’s sweet to picture Daltrey or Townshend kicking back listening to the exquisitely phrased croonings of Marc Bolan! 

In a rambling saga to rival “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” from 30 years earlier, Bob Dylan takes his listener upcountry and then some in “Highlands.” The longest song he ever recorded, the 16 minutes of “Highlands” concludes Dylan’s Becket-like offering of 1997, Time Out of Mind, which garnered three Grammy Awards including Album of the Year in 1998. 

“Highlands” is a nod in itself to a 1789 poem by Scottish poet Robert Burns, “My Heart’s in the Highlands.” The eleventh and final song on the album, it’s the perfected rendition of a sound and a mindset Dylan tries to achieve on the previous ten tracks. And at one point and apropos of nothing, the haunted narrator–which may as well be Dylan himself–explains: 

    I’m listening to Neil Young
    I gotta turn up the sound
    Someone’s always yellin’
    “Turn him down.”

Unlike the neighbors, Bob, Rust Never Sleeps….

I’m not sure if this quid pro quo is apocryphal, but it makes for a good story. The Rolling Stones recorded “Wild Horses” in early December 1969 in Muscle Shoals Sound Studio (a process famously captured on their Gimme Shelter documentary), but it was not released until June 1971 on Sticky Fingers because of legal disputes with their former record label. 

Around the time they were recording the song, the Stones took a shine to former-Byrd and meteoric Country Rock evangelist Gram Parsons, especially Keith Richards, with whom he shared many a bag of skag.

By this point, Parsons had left The Byrds with one of its founding members, Chris Hillman, to start The Flying Burrito Brothers. Since Gram was tight with Keith and the song was in legal limbo, he asked the Stones if he could record “Wild Horses” with the Burritos. The Stones agreed. As a song, “Wild Horses” debuted in April 1970 on Burrito Deluxe, the group’s second LP. 

That much is true. Now some accounts say that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote the song for Gram Parsons, others say that as quid pro quo either for the song or getting to record and release it before the Stones version went to market, Parsons rearranged “Honky Tonk Women” as the “Country Honk” version that graces Let It Bleed. Certainly he had a hand in further countrifying that Stones classic from the summer of 1969. Without question, the Country influence of the ill-fated Parsons on his English pals would inform many more of their albums, most notably Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main St., Goats Head Soup, and It’s Only Rock ’n Roll.

What has to be the greatest Rock ’n’ Roll quid pro quo in history concerns a cordial trans-continental dialogue between two first-order bands, Steely Dan and The Eagles. What a curious mutual-admiration society: a pair of street-savvy Brill Building bards and a posse of dusty urban cowboys from out West. (Ironically, like James Joyce, who wrote of nothing but his “dear, dirty Dublin” while self-exiled in Trieste, Paris, and Zurich, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker would craft their exquisite depictions of New York City and its seedier environs while living in L.A.)

Steely Dan began the exchange on their 1976 album The Royal Scam. The righteous narrator of “Everything You Did” confronts his unfaithful roller skater over the forensic trail of her recent infidelity. To mask the din of their domestic squabble, Fagen pleads: “Turn up The Eagles, the neighbors are listening.”

Certainly The Eagles were listening. Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Don Felder,  Randy Meisner, and Joe Walsh were all fans of the Dan’s slick slices of gritty goings-on. So to repay the gesture, The Eagles took some liberty with an adjective in a new song which they were crafting. It was called “Hotel California.”

    And in the master’s chamber
    They gathered for the feast,
    They stab it with their steely knives
    But they just can’t kill the beast.

Send Us Your
Comments On This Article

Share This Page

View other readers’ comments in Letters to the Editor

Patrick Walsh is a writer and poet.
He writes a monthly column and is a Senior Writer for Scene4.
For more of his columns and other writings, check the Archives.

©2019 Patrick Walsh
©2019 Publication Scene4 Magazine



Please support us with
your contribution Here


April 2019

Volume 19 Issue 11

  SECTIONS: Cover | This Issue | inFocus | inView | inSight | Perspectives | Special Issues | Books
  COLUMNS: Adler | Alenier | Bettencourt | Jones | Marcott | Thomas | Walsh 
  INFORMATION: Masthead | Submissions | Recent Issues | Your Support | Links | Archives
  CONNECTIONS: Contact Us | Comments | Subscribe | Advertising | Privacy | Terms | Letters

Search This Issue


Search The Archives


Share via Email

Scene4 (ISSN 1932-3603), published monthly by Scene4 Magazine–International Magazine of Arts and Culture. Copyright © 2000-2019 Aviar-Dka Ltd – Aviar Media Llc.

Scene4 Books at Aviarpress -

Good Reading
Is Currently
On Sale

Scientific American -
Calibre Ebook Management -
Thai Airways at Scene4 Magazine