Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Most would say that the music of a song is more important than its lyrics.

Can you think of any hit songs that became popular more because of words rather than music?
— Barry Wise, Milwaukee

DEAR BARRY: In a general sense, I would rate both components equally, which would likely exclude me, and most lyricists, from membership in your club. There are thousands of hits in each category — made by lyrics and made by music — and just as many popular thanks to a combination of the two.

Immediately coming to mind are songs that tell a story, a tiny sampling of which are: “Candle in the Wind” (Elton John); “The Battle of New Orleans” and “North to Alaska” (Johnny Horton); “My Way” and “It Was a Very Good Year” (Frank Sinatra); “Me and Bobby McGee” (Janis Joplin and Jerry Lee Lewis); “Creeque Alley” (Mamas and the Papas); “In the Ghetto” (Elvis Presley); “Garden Party” (Rick Nelson); “Like a Rolling Stone” (Bob Dylan); “Harper Valley P.T.A.” (Jeannie C. Riley); the poems of Rod McKuen put to music; and most anything by Marty Robbins or Tom T. Hall.

Novelty and teen tragedy hits, such as these, almost always owe their success to the lyrics: “M.T.A.” and “Tijuana Jail” (Kingston Trio); “The Purple People Eater” (Sheb Wooley); “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” (Royal Guardsmen); “The Name Game” (Shirley Ellis); “Tell Laura I Love Her” (Ray Peterson); “Last Kiss” (J. Frank Wilson); “Teen Angel” (Mark Dinning); “Ebony Eyes” (Everly Brothers); etc.

Most holiday, inspirational, message, and protest hits rely entirely on words to make the point: “Sleigh Ride” (Ronettes); “Pretty Paper” (Roy Orbison); “Amen” (Impressions); “Turn, Turn, Turn” (Byrds); “If I Can Dream” (Elvis Presley); “Everything Is Beautiful” and “Mr. Businessman” (Ray Stevens); “Eve of Destruction” (Barry McGuire); “For What It's Worth” (Buffalo Springfield); etc.

Then there are countless garden variety tunes whose sales soared because of some marvelous lyrics, for example: “Too Many Rivers” (Brenda Lee); “The Long and Winding Road” (Beatles); “King of the Road” (Roger Miller); “The Tracks of My Tears” and “Shop Around” (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles); “Everybody Needs a Rainbow” (Ray Stevens); “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (Sammi Smith); “Life” (Marty Robbins); “My Eyes Adored You” and “Can't Take My Eyes Off You” (Frankie Valli); “Rock N' Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life)” and “I'll Paint You a Song” (Mac Davis); “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” and “Rose Garden” (Joe South); “The Glow Worm” (Mills Brothers); “For the Good Times” (Ray Price); “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (Tony Williams and the Platters); “Crazy” and “I Fall to Pieces” (Patsy Cline); “A Change Is Gonna Come” (Sam Cooke); “What a Difference a Day Makes” and “Manhattan” (Dinah Washington); “Operator” and “Time in a Bottle” (Jim Croce); “Photographs” and “There's a Place in My Heart” (Nana Mouskouri); etc. There are thousands more.

DEAR JERRY: Based on my fondness for the 1982 hit, “Everybody Wants You,” I decided to search eBay for more records by Billy Squier.

I was surprised to find about a hundred listings that identify him as Billy Squire. Are those dealers just not reading their records right, or is he really credited both ways?

What are his biggest hits?
—Jessie Garcia, Flagstaff, Ariz.

DEAR JESSIE: Billy's last name is definitely Squier. Transposing the last two letters is a typo caused by sellers not looking closely at the record they hold in their hands.

The two homophonic names sound the same, but most folks are far more familiar with the “squire” spelling.

Besides “Everybody Wants You,” his other Top 40 hits are: “The Stroke” (1981); “In the Dark” (1981); and “Rock Me Tonite” (1984).

IZ ZAT SO? There really is a Squire (not Squier) in the music world, the bass player with the group Yes whose name is Chris Squire.

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