WXTJ Writes! by Grace Guinan: “An Obsessive Search for Song Lyrics Referencing Other Songs”

There are many ways to categorize music (verified by Reddit’s r/weirdspotifyplaylists) and recently I have become obsessed with a specific categorization: songs that reference other songs.  Music is always referencing other music, with samples being obvious examples.  But, more abstractly, all artists create music that is influenced by their predecessors.  Sometimes the lines can blur, like when Taylor Swift was recently awarded a songwriting credit on Olivia Rodrigo’s album.    

For my categorization, I am not interested in those examples.  I am only interested in song lyrics that explicitly mention the name of another song or artist.  It is especially funny to me when an artist sings about listening to another song- there’s something ironic about it (Balenciaga’s T-Shirt Shirt energy).  It can also seem like the artists are giving their fans a fun song recommendation.  Sometimes the songs referenced make perfect sense sonically and sometimes I cannot picture the artist ever listening to the song they’ve referenced. 

Over the past few months, I have searched and searched for songs that reference other songs.  It has been difficult and yet, so rewarding. All the songs I found are in this playlist.  But here are some of my favorites:


“Put Your Records On” by Corinne Bailey Rae

Probably the most obvious, Corinne Bailey Rae begins her iconic song, “Three little birds sat on my window…” referencing Bob Marley.


“Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus

An example of when the song reference MAKES the song, Miley Cyrus sings first, “And a Jay-Z song was on…” then, “And a Britney song was on…”


“Springsteen” by Eric Church

A whole song dedicated to Bruce?  Yeah, Eric Church is a fan. He sings, “I’m on fire and I’m born to run…”


Berlin” by Adult Mom

Stevie Knipe of Adult Mom sings “In the dorm room we sing Violet by Hole, screaming off our youth…”  An example of a song used to add specificity to a personal memory.


“deja vu” by Olivia Rodrigo 

Another example of specificity in songwriting, Olivia Rodrigo sings, “And I bet that she knows Billy Joel ‘cause you played her ‘Uptown Girl’…”  I love this lyric but do not understand it.  Billy Joel is super famous, how would this girl not know about him? Also, I would totally recommend listening to deju vu and Uptown Girl back to back -they are the most jarring pairing I found.  


“By Your Side” by Rod Wave vs “Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White Ts

By Your Side: “Hey there everybody, what’s it like in your city? / I’m a thousand miles way but look, tonight you look so pretty / Yes you do, oh / Times Square couldn’t shine as bright as you “

Hey There Delilah: “Hey there, Delilah, what’s it like in New York City? / I’m a thousand miles away, but girl, tonight, you look so pretty / Yes you do / Times Square can’t shine as bright as you” 


By Grace Guinan, who is a cohost of Goodness Gracious, Fridays 8-10 pm. ” Check her out on Spotify! @gracesguinan

WXTJ Writes! is brought to you by a team of 25 wonderful writers for the spring of 2022 and beyond. Our mission is to make our website come alive by diving even deeper into some of our favorite music — so get ready to talk music, media, entertainment, the arts, and read special stories told by radio-loving students every week here on wxtj.fm/articles.


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