In this post we’ll be talking about classic rock songs in memes. We’ll be examining the 60s, 70s, and 80s
Once upon a time I used to make classic rock memes that were popular on a website called Tumblr. At the time I made them, they were called macros. I’ll show you a couple I made:
Because I’ve long since deleted my Tumblr, I don’t have most of them.
It was a fun way to pass the time and make myself laugh. Many of these were mixed with pop culture references from the noughties like Mean Girls and Spongebob. As much as I liked to call myself a classic rock purist, I wasn’t really one. I loved some things from my childhood.
How could I not? SpongeBob is amazing and was a huge influence on meme culture.
Memes have revived classic rock songs. Just recently, “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac has returned to the charts thanks to a meme on Twitter. In this post we’ll be exploring the songs of yesteryear that are memes today:
I think it’s great that these songs have been revived for a fresh, new, young audience. Remember, if you see a video with these songs, please refrain from commenting “I knew this song before it was a meme”.
An intro to memes:
Memes aren’t something millennials came up with. Memes have been around as long as people have had a sense of humour. According to USA Today, a meme is a concept, catchphrase, or byword that spreads from person to person. The article this definition comes from is from 2003, back when Spongebob was at its peak.
However, the word, meme, was coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, as an attempt to explain away cultural information spreads.
Some of the earliest memes of recent history include: “Kilroy Was Here” from WWII, “Frodo Lives” graffiti from the 70s, The “Obey” logo, and that S thing we used to draw in primary school. If we’re thinking in classic rock terms, You can say that “Clapton is God” graffiti was a meme.
Classic Rock Memes:
“Africa” – Toto (1982)
It’s one of my favourite songs of all time. It sounds perfect and I can’t explain why. When it comes to physical copies, the shaped picture disc with a map of Africa with Africa superimposed in red letters and Toto superimposed in yellow letters, it’s pretty epic. The picture disc was recently rereleased, looking just like it did back in 1982, with the old country names like Zaire, Rhodesia, and Southwest Africa and all, and I sadly couldn’t get my hands on it. If anyone wants to send me a copy, be my guest! 😉
Why the comeback of everyone’s favourite 80s soft rock song? TV shows. In South Park the Memberberries were singing this song at the White House and listening to this song in the car. In season one of Stranger Things, this song is playing in the background while Nancy and Steve make out.
Even before 2016, some people recognised the greatness of this song. According to KnowYourMeme, in 2010, YouTuber Mike Massé uploaded an acoustic cover of the song that went viral, getting millions of views. A few years later, Angel City Chorale recorded their own version of it.
People recording their own version of “Africa” became such a big thing that there was a subreddit dedicated to it and the song really took off in Google search interest last year. I could go on and on all day about memes based on this song, so just go on the subreddit and see for yourself.
One version from last year that caught my attention was this Irish version. Now that’s a way to make learning Irish interesting! 😃🇮🇪
In August 2016, a Twitter account called “africa by toto bot” opened and it tweets the lyrics of this song cyclically. As I write this article, the account has over 41,000 followers and the tweets get hundreds of likes.
Toto formed in 1976 in LA and their sound mixes a lot of different influences from rock to jazz to soul.
This song was released in 1982 and was on the album, Toto IV. “Africa” is about a boy’s fascination with the continent as an outsider who has only seen it through the lens of the media. It topped the charts in the US in February 1983 and made it to #3 across the pond in the UK. It’s easily Toto’s most popular and commercially successful song. Toto continue to write and release songs even to this decade.
Now lets take the time to appreciate the original:
“Another One Bites The Dust” – Queen (1980)
John “Disco Deaky” Deacon wrote one of Queen’s biggest hits, the disco inspired “Another One Bites The Dust”. This song was a crossover, appealing to classic rock fans and disco fans. While at my parents house, my dad (who is a big disco and Motown fan) said he wasn’t a big fan of Queen, but loves this song.
With the release of the biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, a lot of Queen songs are becoming memes. This song though did have meme status outside the Queen fandom. Similar to the “Video Killed The Radio Star” meme, the words “Another one” are superimposed on the person or animal biting someone else, which has the words “the dust” superimposed on it. Examples below:
No need to repeat ourselves with Queen history, so we’ll just focus on the song. It was a #1 hit in the US, Canada, Israel, and Spain. This was Queen’s breakthrough in America even though they had toured there before.
Songwriter John Deacon is a big fan of disco music. Listen closely to the bassline and you’ll hear the similarities between it and the bassline for Chic’s “Good Times”. Originally, the song’s lyrics were about cowboys, I can kinda see how the song could have been about cowboys. Coincidentally, the music video for the song was shot at Reunion Arena in Dallas (not where the Cowboys play, but that’s the name of Dallas’s NFL team).
Michael Jackson attended one of Queen’s concerts and suggested to Freddie Mercury that the song be released as a single. A smart suggestion and lucrative for the band!
“Atmosphere” – Joy Division (1980)
This song was made a meme on YouTube as a sequel of sorts to the more famous meme of “I Remember Nothing” – which we’ll talk about later in the post. Someone from the website, AV Club, was inspired and wanted to do a play on words meme with the opening lyrics and so this video titled “Ian Curtis crosses the street” was made:
Joy Division were an incredible band cut short by the death of Ian Curtis on the eve of their first American tour. They were made up of Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris. The band members made a deal if any of them were to pass away or leave the band, they would no longer call themselves Joy Division. So the rest of the group became New Order and reached higher levels of success.
In a short period of time, they released acclaimed albums Unknown Pleasures and Closer. “Atmosphere” was not actually on either album, but released as a single in March 1980 in Germany under the title “Licht und Blindheit”, which translates to “Light and Blindness.”
“Baba O’Riley” – The Who (1971)
You might have seen this in meme videos where there’s a record scratch noise and a freeze frame, then the synthesiser intro of this song plays while a narrator says “That’s me. You are probably wondering how I got into this situation.” Even before that meme, a similar idea was seen in Robot Chicken. The meme is kind of a parody of a trope, sometimes seen in teen movies or action movies.
Here’s another example of the meme:
The Who are one of the biggest British classic rock bands of the 60s and 70s. I don’t think they need much of an introduction. You have a curly blond haired lead singer, Roger Daltrey. Quiet, influential bassist John Entwistle. Crazy, party animal drummer Keith Moon. Last but not least, Pete Townshend, lead guitarist and brain of the band as the main songwriter.
In my opinion, The Who had a holy trinity of three incredible albums back to back to back: Tommy, Who’s Next, and Quadrophenia. The best years for the band, in my humble opinion. “Baba O’Riley” is one of the most popular songs off Who’s Next.
The song was originally written for scrapped rock opera, Lifehouse. The title of the song comes from Meher Baba, one of Pete Townshend’s inspirations and Terry Riley, minimalist composer and electronic music pioneer. If you listen to A Rainbow in Curved Air, you can hear the inspiration behind the synthesiser intro.
“Baker Street” – Gerry Rafferty (1978)
That one sexy saxophone riff song, ’nuff said. You hear that song with that saxophone solo, it’s probably this song… Or “Careless Whisper”. Famously heard in vines and funny videos on YouTube.
Gerry Rafferty was born in Scotland and was best known for “Baker Street”. A few years earlier, he was in the group Stealer’s Wheel and sang vocals on the song “Stuck in the Middle With You”. His influences range from traditional Irish and Scottish music to The Beatles and Bob Dylan.
As for “Baker Street,” the song is named after the street in London and topped the charts in Canada, Australia, and South Africa. As of 2010, “Baker Street” has been performed over 5 million times.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen (1975)
Queen are just a meme friendly band. While this song wasn’t necessarily in any memes, you’ll see it quote a lot in picture memes that do word play with the lyrics or just quote it. Some examples include “Fanta Sea” and “I’m just a Poe Boy”. This song was popularised in the movie Wayne’s World, just after Freddie Mercury’s death. You can see Wayne, Garth, and their pals headbanging to it in the car during the opening credits. The song got popular again, charting at #2 just behind “Jump” by Kris Kross (Kriss Kross who? 😂) thanks to that movie.
Since then, people have made their own versions and remixes, but the most famous one is when the Muppets did their own version with Animal (likely inspired by Keith Moon) on drums. The song made it back to the top 40 thanks to the Muppets’ cover.
All I know is you can’t trust people who don’t headbang or sing along to this song in the car every time it comes on in the car.
In just a few words, Queen were formed by four very educated men and arguably, they’re the most formally educated of the classic rock bands: Freddie Mercury went to art school, Brian May has a PhD in Astrophysics, Roger Taylor originally studied dentistry and then switched to biology before dropping out, and John Deacon earned a 1:1 degree in Electronics from Chelsea College. The band were originally called Smile until Freddie Mercury joined and suggested they change their name to Queen. The rest is history.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” was released as a single in 1975 and was off the album A Night at the Opera. It’s an epic made up of an intro, a ballad, an operatic segment, a guitar solo, and a coda. As a result, this song was the most expensive single ever made at the time and no one knows how much it cost to produce. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was a sound investment and the song topped the charts in the UK for 9 weeks and sold over a million copies in just a couple of months. Incredible!
“Careless Whisper” – George Michael (1984)
Wonder where that other sexy saxophone solo (that is not “Baker Street”) comes from? It’s from George Michael’s “Careless Whisper.” You’ll hear this bit from the song used ironically or humorously in vines and YouTube abridged series.
George Michael was one of the most famous gay icons of the 80s. He made up half of Wham! You probably know the song “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”.
The song came out in 1984 and was George Michael’s first solo single and a huge success, reaching #1 in 25 countries. One out of every 3 copies of the single (of which 6 million copies were sold) was sold in the US.
Appreciate the full song here:
“Chariots of Fire” – Vangelis (1981)
Usually played when there’s a slo-mo. You might have seen this used in the movies Chariots of Fire during the opening scene and National Lampoon’s Vacation when the Griswolds arrived at Walley World (channelling Chariots of Fire). You’ll see many people parodying the scene over the years.
Vangelis, born Evángelos Pappathanassíou, is one of the most famous Greek musicians. He started off in the band Aphrodite’s Child and then went onto have a solo career in the 70s and 80s. He is a self-taught pianist. Since the early 80s, he has collaborated with former Yes frontman Jon Anderson.
“Chariots of Fire” was the theme of the film of the same name and one of Vangelis’s most famous works. The song topped the charts in the US and was a success in Europe, Australia, and Canada. The song is often used in coverage of The Olympics.
“Dreams” – Fleetwood Mac (1977)
One of the most recent memes, this one was a boon for the band, getting them back in the charts 40 years later and making them some more money. The tweet with a video of a drill team from Alcorn State University doing a routine well timed to Dreams was posted on 22 March 2018 and since then has gone viral, receiving over 300,000 likes and over 100,000 retweets. You can find the original video here. At 14 minutes in, you’ll see what was in the meme.
Maybe this will get people more interested in the band and maybe we’ll get a cheerleading routine to Dreams. All I have to say is can we get a cheer or drill team routine to “Rhiannon”? Or why not some old Fleetwood Mac songs from the Peter Green era?
In short, Fleetwood Mac have changed their lineup and sound over the years going from the Peter Green blues rock era to the pop era with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. The pop era was full of soap opera style drama, but good songs. I love Stevie Nicks’ witchiness and her aesthetic, how could you not? Unless you’re some sort of hipster elitist who only likes bands before they “sell out”.
“Dreams” is just one of a few hits off the classic album Rumours. That album is a must have in any vinyl collection. It happens to be my luckiest cheapest vinyl find and I got a perfect copy for just 75 cents. Stevie Nicks wrote “Dreams” in only 10 minutes in a black and red room with Victorian drapes and a black velvet bed. The song went to #1 in the summer of 1977.
Let’s appreciate the song that got us here:
“Down Under” – Men at Work (1981)
People have made memes of the bottle intro and have used it in vines and funny videos on YouTube, mostly of people hitting their heads or dropping things to the rhythm of the bottle intro.
Men at Work were founded in Melbourne in 1979 and they got a hit with “Down Under” in 1981. They were the first Australians to simultaneously have a #1 single and album on the Billboard charts. Two years later they won the Grammy for Best New Artist.
You might think they were one hit wonders, but they actually were not, as they got other hits with the songs “Who Can It Be Now”, “Overkill”, and “It’s a Mistake”.
“Eye of the Tiger” – Survivor (1982)
This song was famously used as the theme song for Rocky III. You’ll see this song used in memes depicting training montages or athletics.
Survivor were formed in Chicago by Jim Peterik of Ides of March Fame. So that means the guy behind “Vehicle” was behind “Eye of the Tiger”. Strange how things change in a matter of a decade! They were not a one hit wonder and they had other successful singles like “Burning Heart”, “High On You”, and “Is This Love?”.
“Eye of the Tiger” was not Sylvester Stallone’s first choice for a theme song for Rocky III. Rather, his first choice was “Another One Bites The Dust”, but Queen did not give permission to use the song in the film. Interestingly enough, “Eye of the Tiger” was not originally intended for Rocky III, but for The Karate Kid. The latter film instead used “You’re The Best” by Joe Esposito for the fighting montage. “Eye of the Tiger” was #2 on the end of year charts in 1982.
“Fortunate Son” – CCR (1969)
Twenty-five years after it was released, this anti-war song was used in the Forrest Gump soundtrack during Vietnam War scenes. The repeated lyric, “It Ain’t Me” was also used in 4chan memes in green text about Vietnam War movies.
Some people think Creedence Clearwater Revival were southerners because of their country rock sound, but they were founded by brothers John and Tom Fogerty in California. They famously performed at Woodstock. Three years later, they broke up.
“Fortunate Son” is one of the most famous anti-Vietnam War songs. The title, as you can tell in the lyrics, is a reference to being the privileged son of a rich family or a politician. Working class men were the ones most affected by the draft, as more affluent men could afford to go to university and get a deferral or run away to Canada. The song was a top 20 hit in the autumn of 1969. On an unrelated note, the song was used in adverts for Wrangler Jeans.
“Hoedown” – Emerson, Lake, and Palmer (1972)
This song was clearly an inspiration for the Nyan Cat song. The Nyan Cat meme was popular back in 2011, getting millions of views. It’s an 8-bit looking video of a cat that looks like a pop tart flying through space with a rainbow behind it. The song came from a video uploaded to Japanese video sharing site, Niconico. The meme inspired a lot of products: games, apps, ringtones, and phone wallpapers (remember when that was a big business?).
The Nyan Cat meme can be found below:
ELP were a prog rock supergroup made up of keyboard/organ player Keith Emerson from The Nice, bassist Greg Lake of King Crimson, and drummer Carl Palmer of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster. Emerson was known for his crazy stage antics and stunts playing organ and piano, stabbing the organ with knives and jumping on top of it. He also played a piano while flipping in the air.
The band’s music was very inspired by classical music (particularly songs like “Nutrocker” and the album Pictures at an Exhibition) and they gave it a modern twist by incorporating Hammond Organs and synthesisers.
“Hoedown” was an adaptation of Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo”. It’s not a 20 minute long song either, so don’t worry, it’s easy to get into and really exciting.
“I Am Very Glad, As I’m Finally Returning Home” – Eduard Khil (1976)
Also known as the “Trolololol Song”, a 1976 performance of a non-lexical vocable version of this song was one of the biggest viral videos of 2010. You don’t need to know Russian to appreciate the weirdness of this song.
Russian musician Eduard Khil was born in Smolensk and grew up during WWII. A difficult childhood, his kindergarten was bombed and he ended up separated from his mother and not reunited with her until 1943. It wasn’t until he was in his 30s that he got famous singing. He sang in various contests in the 60s and he was known as “The Symbol of Leningrad”.
“I Remember Nothing” – Joy Division (1979)
The more famous Joy Division meme that played off the intro of the song. This meme made the rounds on Facebook and YouTube. The video is titled “Ian Curtis rides a rollercoaster”. The intro sounds a bit like the chain when a rollercoaster is going up the slope and then the “Weeeeeeeee” is timed in the video when the rollercoaster goes down. When I first saw this video I couldn’t stop laughing and I hit the replay button many times.
This song was the last track on the album Unknown Pleasures.
“I Wanna Rock” – Twisted Sister (1984)
Famously made a meme in the Spongebob Squarepants Movie, when it was parodied as “Goofy Goober Rock” in this epic scene at the end of the movie.
Twisted Sister were a hair metal band popular in the 80s, best known for the songs “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock”. “I Wanna Rock” was the follow up single to their biggest hit “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and it was written by frontman Dee Snider.
“I’m in Love with My Car” – Queen (1975)
Thanks to the biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, this song has become a meme for the Queen fandom on Twitter and Tumblr. Just see the movie and you’ll know what I mean. I don’t want to spoil it too much but here are two quotes from the scene where this was discussed: “It’s a metaphor Brian” and “Not the coffee machine!”
Below are some memes I found on Twitter. I’m not sure who made them. If you made them, let me know so I can credit you.
Queen were not just Freddie Mercury. Each of the band members wrote hit singles. Sometimes the member who wrote the song would sing lead vocals. Roger and Brian both have great voices.
In this case, Roger sang lead vocals on this song and he was very proud of the song, begging Freddie to allow it as the b-side to “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Like the meme above says, Roger Taylor apparently locked himself in a cupboard until Freddie said yes.
This song is sometimes interpreted as being a metaphor for sex. These lyrics point to that meaning: “When I’m holding your wheel/All I hear is your gear/With my hand on your grease gun/Mmm, it’s like a disease, son.”
“In The Air Tonight” – Phil Collins (1981)
One of those adored songs of the 80s, everyone adores the drum break from this song and you can find edits to this song. One popular Spongebob meme features Patrick hitting his stomach to the beat of the drum break. The song is often used in TV shows and movies like Miami Vice, Family Guy, and The Hangover. The song was also often sampled in rap songs.
Phil Collins was the drummer and (after Peter Gabriel’s departure) singer for prog rock band Genesis. He has a successful solo career and is well known for the songs “Easy Lover”, “In The Air Tonight”, and “Sussudio”. He also did the soundtrack for Tarzan.
“In The Air Tonight” was Phil Collins’ debut single and was played often on MTV when it debuted. It’s mostly a slower song with a melodramatic drum break at 3 minutes, 17 seconds into the song.
“It’s Your Move” – Diana Ross (1984)
This 80s song is better known to people of my generation as that one vaporwave song, something about computing Lisa Frank 420. Simply put, vaporwave is a hodgepodge of nostalgia marrying 80s and 90s aesthetics with ancient Roman sculptures and Japanese characters. The music often samples obscure 80s music from the US, elevator music, and Japanese music of the 80s.
I can’t speak for everyone else, but when I heard the original song it just sounded wrong to me and overly sped up. I guess that’s what happens when you’re used to hearing the slowed down vaporwave version.
Vaporwave is significant because it is the first genre to be completely globalised instantly because of the internet. Vaporwave started in 2010 and by the middle of the decade, it became an internet sensation, and shall we say a meme?
In 2011, the groundbreaking album, Floral Shoppe, by Macintosh Plus (also known as Vektroid) came out. It’s a strangely relaxing album and it makes great study music. The most famous song, mentioned above, has gotten tens of millions of views on YouTube.
Diana Ross went from being the lead singer of The Supremes to having a successful solo career in the 70s. In fact she was one of Motown’s most successful acts In fact, The Supremes were the best charting girl group in US history. Yes, that means better than The Spice Girls, sorry Spice Girls fans! 😉
The song, “It’s Your Move” was from the album, Swept Away. It was a cover of an America song from 1983. At the time it didn’t chart. Nearly 30 years later it was rediscovered by vaporwave fans.
“Jolene” – Dolly Parton (1973)
The meme came from the genius behind the song herself, Dolly Parton. We love a queen who can meme herself! 💖 Watch out Cher, Dolly Parton’s coming for your game! 😝
The best part is the meme tells the story of “Jolene”.
A country twist to the Distracted Boyfriend meme. Pretty self explanatory, a boyfriend and girlfriend are walking down the street, he sees a hot girl and the girlfriend is upset.
Another example of this meme, tailored to this blog, this time about Phil Collins and how he turned from prog to pop. I love prog rock, but I can appreciate some “Sussudio” and “Easy Lover” and the meme that is “In The Air Tonight”.
Dolly Parton: people associate her with plastic surgery, blonde hair, and country music. She is way more than that. Besides being a country musician, she is a businesswoman and philanthropist.
She owns Dollywood, a theme park in Tennessee; Dolly Parton’s Stampede, a popular show among tourists; and she started the Dolly Parton Imagination Library as part of the Dollywood Foundation. The Imagination Library sends one book a month to any child in the US, Canada, UK, and Australia enrolled in the programme from birth to age five. The programme has sent over 100 million books have been sent to children.
Her beginnings were humble, born in Tennessee into a large family, the fourth of a dozen children. At a young age she started singing and by the age of 13, she appeared at the Grand Ole Opry and met Johnny Cash, who told her to follow her dreams.
After she graduated from secondary school, she became a songwriter. Quite a few of her songs became hits. In the mid-60s she started recording music, at first bubblegum pop, but she really wanted to record country music.
Fast forward to 1973. She released the song “Jolene”, from the album of the same name. The story of the song is about a woman who confronts beautiful green eyed redhead Jolene, who she thinks is sleeping with her husband. She pleads “please don’t take my man” and “please don’t take him just because you can.”
The song is inspired by the time a redheaded bank clerk flirted with Dolly Parton’s husband early in her marriage. It’s the most covered song she’s written.
“Livin’ on a Prayer” – Bon Jovi (1986)
The song is usually used as a meme when we’re talking about battery life percentages. You know the lyric:”Whoa! We’re halfway there! Whoa oh! Living on a prayer!” You might also see puns relating to these lyrics like “lemon and a pear”.
Bon Jovi are an obviously New Jersey band led by namesake Jon Bon Jovi. Jon Bon Jovi was in bands starting when he was a teenager, but he started Bon Jovi in 1983.
“Livin’ on a Prayer” was released in 1986 And it went to #1 in the US and Canada. It was their second song to go #1 and it was on the album Slippery When Wet. This song was commonly played on MTV and it’s known as their signature song.
“Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight” – Tiny Tim (1968)
Spongebob Squarepants popularised “Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight” for this generation in their first episode, “Help Wanted”, aired back in 1999. A meme factory show basically made this song a meme. It’s a bizarre sounding song, but we love it. Sadly Tiny Tim was not around to see this song be adored by a new generation.
Tiny Tim was born Herbert Khaury in New York to a Lebanese/Belarusian family. He started playing string instruments as a kid, playing violin and mandolin, before picking up the ukulele, what he’s best known for. Later on he discovered he had an ability to falsetto.
“Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight” was originally written by Al Sherman and Al Lewis for the 1930 movie, The Big Pond. That same year, Bing Crosby and Al Bowily recorded their own versions of it.
Nearly 4 decades later, Tiny Tim recorded his own version of it. Not only would it be popularised by Spongebob, it would also be used in video games.
“Moskau” – Dschinghis Khan (1979)
“Moskau” is a bizarre German disco song by a band called Dschinghis Khan (Genghis Khan). People have been memeing the Soviet Union, like with their national anthem. This is just one of those goofy and bizarre, but catchy songs.
Dschinghis Khan competed in the Eurovision Song Contest with a song of the same title as their group name. Ralph Siegel formed the group and oddly enough, most of the members were not German. The band were international and had members from The Netherlands, South Africa, and Hungary.
“Moskau” was their other popular song and it was released in 1979, a year before the Olympics were in Moscow. An English-language version topped the charts in Australia (Eurovision is quite popular here too). While a lot of their songs had a Russian theme, the group were banned from the USSR.
“Never Gonna Give You Up” – Rick Astley (1987)
One of the classic memes/viral videos, doesn’t require any explanation. You all know what Rickrolling is.
Rick Astley was born in England and got famous at the age of 21 with the song “Never Gonna Give You Up”. Back then, that song had a totally different connotation. He originally performed as a drummer with a band called FBI. The lead singer left and he took over as lead singer. He was discovered by a record producer and got a job at a recording studio. At first, he was a tea boy, but he ended up recording music.
“Never Gonna Give You Up” went to #1 in 25 countries. He retired only six years later. 20 years after “Never Gonna Give You Up” was on top of the world, the song was used as a meme called Rickrolling. It’s totally harmless, funny, and a good excuse to dance to this song. That wasn’t his only song. 1987 was a big year for Rick Astley and he got a string of top 10 hits from 1987-1989. In recent years, he has come back to singing and this year he released a single called “Walk Like a Panther”.
“Once in a Lifetime” – The Talking Heads (1981)
The music video is totally goofy and the song lyrics are totally quirky. It’s what we love about The Talking Heads and David Byrne. In the video you’ll see David Byrne in a suit dancing erratically with videos of religious rituals playing in the background. David Byrne is a meme.
Gotta love the totally 80s production quality with the green screen and the awkward white people style of dancing. The lyrics have been memed in the style of “Hey girls… did you know?” and the music video has been parodied a bunch of times.
One famous performance of the song was done by Kermit the Frog 15 years after the song was released. Kermit the Frog is wearing a big suit like David Byrne’s from Stop Making Sense.
My favourite parody is the Donald Trump one, because it’s memes meet memes. A living meme in a meme music video.
Frontman David Byrne was born in Scotland. His family moved to the United States when he was a kid. He also has an interest in world music, especially music from Africa and Latin America. Byrne formed the Talking Heads with Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, and Jerry Harrison in New York City in 1975 and the band broke up in 1991. They were considered new wave pioneers and they weren’t afraid to try new things. Byrne, Frantz, and Weymouth were alumni of Rhode Island School of Design and they were in a group called The Artistics. On 5 June 1975, they opened for The Ramones at CBGB, imagine being at that show!
“Once in a Lifetime” was released as a single in February 1981. The song is on the album, Remain in Light. The song was co-written by the Talking Heads and Brian Eno and takes influences from Afrobeat musicians like Fela Kuti. While the song was a hit in Canada, the UK, and Australia, Brian Eno did not initially think the song was very strong. Anyways, this song is a fan favourite.
“Piano Man” – Billy Joel (1973)
It’s a dad rock kind of song. Decades later, in 2017 it was immortalised as a meme. You’ll hear the harmonica part of the song used in video memes where something tragic happens, sometimes with the sound being distorted for comedic effect. Here’s an example:
Billy Joel also known as “Piano Man” is a singer-songwriter from New York. He dropped out of school and played in a couple bands before starting a solo career in the early 70s. “Piano Man”, released in 1973 was his first hit single, reaching #25 in the US, #20 in Australia, and #10 in Canada. The song grew even more in popularity in the late 70s with the release of his breakthrough album, The Stranger.
“Piano Man” is an autobiographical song of sorts about his experiences as a lounge piano player in LA. The song mentions various characters based on real life people he knew, like the bartender, a man who is a real estate agent and aspiring novelist, and his first wife (a waitress). The chorus is poetic, almost like a limerick, but not exactly.
“Plastic Love” – Mariya Takeuchi (1984)
You might have seen this song suggested to you on YouTube and if you haven’t listened to it yet, you’re wondering who is she and why is this song being suggested to me? Once you listen to it, you’ll fall in love, I promise! Makes me feel nostalgic for a time before I was born.
Thanks to the rise in popularity of vaporwave and future funk, which is heavily inspired by Japanese pop music of the 80s, some gems are being given new life. “Plastic Love” is a real gem!
In June 2018, Noisey dubbed it the “Best Pop Song in the World”. Who knew this would happen 34 years later?
The way this song blew up in popularity was basically through a meme. I wonder what other under-appreciated classics could be revived in the same way?
This video by YouTuber Stevem explains it well:
Mariya Takeuchi was born in Izumo in 1955 and became a successful pop star in the late 70s and through the 80s. Her music can be categorised as City Pop. Her husband is fellow city pop musician Tatsuro Yamashita.
In 1978, she released her first single, “Modotte-Oide, Watashi no Jikan”.
She took a couple years off, starting in 1982 to get married and start a family. In 1984, she made her comeback.
Interestingly enough, “Plastic Love” wasn’t her biggest hit. Her biggest hits were “Single Again”, “Kokuhaku”, “Junai Rhapsody”, and “Camouflage”.
She had a tiny impact at the time on Western pop musicians. One of her songs, “Heart to Heart” was covered by The Carpenters as “Now” in the early 80s. It was Karen Carpenter’s last recording.
City Pop started in the 70s and was inspired by adult contemporary music, jazz fusion, and popular music. It reflected the mood and role of Japan in the world: a modern, flashy world superpower. Japanese technology was everywhere: the beginning of video games, cameras, VHS, CDs, stereos, Walkmans, you name it! By the 90s, Anime and Japanese car makes started gaining popularity.
“Rasputin” – Boney M (1978)
Another bizarre and glorious Russian-themed disco song. In 2016, people made animated videos with the song playing in the background. With Putin as President of Russia, people sometimes use this song when making fun of him. Perhaps because he likes to show off his body or because you can’t spell Rasputin without Putin. You decide.
Boney M were made up of singers from Jamaica, Montserrat, and Aruba. The concept of the vocal group was the brainchild of German record producer Frank Farian. They have sold over 150 million records.
“Rasputin” was one of many hits for the group. The song was on the 1978 album, Nightflight to Venus. While not as big as “Rivers of Babylon”, it was #1 in Germany, Australia, and Austria and #2 in Switzerland and the UK and #3 in Ireland. The song is about none other than Grigori Rasputin, friend of Tsar Nicholas II. How true was the story told in the song? Not exactly, much of the story is based on rumours.
“Rocket Man” – Elton John (1972)
Donald Trump basically turned this song into a meme when he called Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man” in 2017. I don’t know if it was President Trump’s intention to be funny, but I think this was hilarious.
Trump continued to run with this joke and sent Mike Pompeo with a copy of Honky Chateau (the album that “Rocket Man” is on) on CD that he signed to give to Kim Jong Un. The CD was never given to Kim Jong Un.
I can only imagine that this song will probably be even more of a meme when the Elton John biopic comes out on the 31st of May. I’m sure more of his songs will be memes.
Elton John, born Reginald Dwight, is a popular singer and wrote a lot of hit songs with Bernie Taupin.
“Rocket Man” was released as a single in April 1972 and reached #2 in the UK, #8 in Canada, and #6 in the US, Ireland, and Italy. The inspirations behind it were Ray Bradbury’s short story, “The Rocket Man” in The Illustrated Man and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”.
Rolling Stone has listed the song in Greatest Songs of All Time lists, it’s a staple at Elton John concerts, and he performed it at the launch site of Space Shuttle Discovery in 1998.
“Roundabout” – Yes (1971)
No one expects a song from a rock subgenre with a pretentious reputation like progressive rock to become a meme. Well, that is until anime Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure came along and used it as their ending theme.
You’ll see in the ending theme that there is this arrow with the words, “to be continued” written on it. People parodied this and made videos with an awkward ending frame cliffhanger with the arrow with “to be continued” on it and “Roundabout” playing in the background. This meme was popular on Vine and YouTube.
Yes were founded in 1968 by Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Peter Banks, Tony Kaye, and Bill Bruford. In the 50 years they’ve been around, the lineup has changed a lot and a total of 19 people call call themselves “Yes Men”. In the 70s, they had a progressive rock sound and they were one of the top progressive rock bands. With the 80s, came major lineup and sound changes. Musicians Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes, and Trevor Rabin brought their own ideas to the table and shaped the band’s sound, making it more poppy (which is a direction many prog rock bands went in). This has led to controversy and arguments among Yes fans. It gets a bit dramatic and messy, we’ll leave it at that.
“Roundabout” is Yes’ other big hit, besides “Owner of a Lonely Heart”. At 8 minutes, 31 seconds long, it’s a good bit longer than your average pop hit of the time, but it’s no 40 something minute long Thick as a Brick, so you can play it on the radio and not annoy people. Everyone loves “Roundabout” and each band member truly shines in this song: Jon Anderson with his vocals, Chris Squire with that bassline, Bill Bruford with his drumming, Steve Howe with his guitar, and Rick Wakeman with that organ solo. It’s a masterpiece.
“September” – Earth, Wind & Fire (1978)
This song was popularised again as a meme in 2014. YouTube user Closet Pankin uploaded a video called “Kenny’s Hat” and in the video, the first bit of “September” plays. The video was uploaded to Vine later. From there, people made memes of that song.
Maurice White founded Earth, Wind & Fire in Chicago. Other famous members of the band include Philip Bailey, Verdine White, Ralph Johnson, and Larry Dunn. The band have gotten many hits in the 70s and 80s and have been nominated for a Grammy 20 times.
“Shadilay” – Pepe (1986)
Because of the green frog reminiscent of the “Pepe” meme and the artist name of Pepe, 4chan made a meme of this 80s Italo disco song 30 years after it came out, calling it the “National Anthem of Kekistan” and calling it a prophecy.
I don’t agree with the politics of the people who made this song a meme, but I have to say this song is pretty good. Coincidentally, there is a green frog on the single artwork. Did Manuele Pepe predict this? Who knows? I’m sure he’s just happy to get some royalty cheques and extra time in the spotlight. At the time, it was not a hit in Italy.
This song has nothing to do with far right politics or Donald Trump or the made up land of Kekistan. So if you can manage to separate it from its association, it’s an actually pretty catchy pop song.
Manuele Pepe was born Marco Ceramicola in Italy. He released his first LP in 1980. Not much else information about him is available in English.
“Stayin’ Alive” – The Bee Gees (1977)
“Stayin’ Alive” was famously used in the intro of the movie Saturday Night Fever where John Travolta as Tony Manero walks down the street. Not too long after the movie came out, the intro was parodied by John Belushi on SNL as Samurai Night Fever. The movie Airplane! parodied the dancing scene from Saturday Night Fever. The walking scene was also parodied in Night at the Roxbury, 20 years after Saturday Night Fever came out.
In my opinion, The Bee Gees are one of the best pop bands because they wrote all their own songs. They are arguably the most famous people from the Isle of Man.
“Stayin’ Alive” was one of the songs on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Almost half the songs on the soundtrack were written by The Bee Gees, so you can call it a Bee Gees album. Anyway, go listen to their songs before they went disco, because they’re definitely worth listening to.
“Take Me Home, Country Roads” – John Denver (1971)
This year, John Denver’s signature song was made a meme. It was an often covered song, but what made it see a resurgence in popularity was it being used in a trailer for the video game, Fallout 76, a prequel to the popular video game series that takes place in West Virginia. The Fallout games have some good soundtracks. Personally, I can’t get enough of Dion’s “The Wanderer” and Marty Robbins’ “Big Iron”. Whoever chose the music did a good job with picking “Take Me Home, Country Roads”.
Recently on Facebook, I saw a lot of friends sharing this meme. Here are some variants of it:
John Denver was born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr in Roswell, New Mexico on 31 December 1943. His father was a United States Army Air Forces pilot who was strict with his children, not showing love for them. Like many people who had parents in the military, John Denver moved a lot as a kid and had a difficult time making friends.
He started playing guitar when he was 11 after getting an acoustic guitar as a gift from his grandmother. While playing at clubs, he started going by John Denver, as a tribute to his favourite state, Colorado. He studied architecture at Texas Tech, but dropped out and moved to California and joined The Mitchell Trio.
After a few years with The Mitchell Trio, he went on his own, recording albums and touring. He passed away in 1997 when his plane crashed. Besides music, his other hobby was being a pilot.
John Denver co-wrote “Take Me Home, Country Roads” with Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert, who would later be half of Starland Vocal Band. At the end of the summer of 1971, the song peaked at #2 in the Billboard charts.
Interestingly enough, at the time Danoff wrote the song, he had never been to West Virginia. Danoff and Nivert were a duo called Fat City and they opened for John Denver at a show in 1970. They told him about the song and he liked it. Originally, the song was going to be pitched to Johnny Cash, but Denver got it instead and it was on his next album, Poems, Prayers, and Promises.
The song is very much loved in West Virginia, becoming a state anthem in 2014 and a theme for West Virginia University.
“Take on Me” – A-ha (1984/1985)
This synthpop hit was memed in two different ways. Firstly, with the music video, one that combines live action with illustration. About 20 years after the music video came out, Family Guy parodied the music video in a scene where Chris Griffin is at the shop and he gets pulled into A-ha’s music video when he’s trying to grab milk. On the internet, the video was parodied on YTMND.
The beginning of the song was used in a Vine where this girl with frizzy hair wearing a tie dye shirt is dancing awkwardly and then at the end turns around and smiles awkwardly. That Vine has been parodied and remixed over time.
A-ha were formed in Oslo and were not a one-hit wonder. “Take On Me” was their biggest hit, but it took a couple of tries for the song to achieve success. The music video won many awards at the MTV VMAs in 1986. The song topped the charts in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the US.
“Tequila” – The Champs (1958)
Got to do karaoke and can’t sing? No problem! Here comes Tequila to save the day, I don’t mean liquid courage. Literally, the only lyrics of this song are “Tequila”. You don’t need to sing it. Just shout it!
In 2019, a 24 year old karaoke enthusiast named Andy Rowell went on America’s Got Talent and did just that! In the interview before his performance, he says that he’s nervous about what judge Simon Cowell will have to say. Cowell is notorious for hating karaoke singers.
He performs and the crowd are laughing and cheering. While the instrumental bit plays, he just stands awkwardly. He even manages to get the crowd to shout ‘Tequila” with him. At the end, Simon Cowell said “It was so stupid, I loved it”. There’s always those laughably so bad it’s good acts on the contest. On YouTube, the video of the performance got over 8.6 million views.
Even before that viral AGT video, the song was prominently featured in the 1985 film Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.
“Tequila” is a famous Mexican themed instrumental written by Champs member Daniel Flores (aka Chuck Rio). It went to #1 in the year 1958. The Champs were a group put together by studio executives at Gene Autry’s Challenge Records and the group were named after Autry’s horse, Champion. The song won the Grammy for Best R&B performance in 1959.
“The Boys Are Back in Town” – Thin Lizzy (1976)
“The Boys Are Back in Town” came out in 1976, but decades later was used in commercials for Wrangler Jeans, referenced in shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The Powerpuff Girls, and used in the soundtrack for the video game Saints Row IV.
Of course, the song has been memed a lot.
Like with “Jailbreak” (“Tonight, there’s gonna be a jailbreak somewhere in this town” – no duh it’s gonna be at the jail 😂😉), people take the piss out of the song’s lyrics. “The Boys are Back in Town?” Who are the boys? What town? Where is the context? In the end, who cares?
In 2009, a Twitter account called @intownagain, much like the “Toto Africa Bot”, started auto-tweeting the lyrics to “The Boys Are Back in Town” over and over again.
2015 was a big year for the song on the internet.
That year, a Vice article was published titled “I Played ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ on a Bar Jukebox Until I Got Kicked Out”. It’s one of those funny and bizarre articles you’ll find on Vice, and for me, relatable, #NextAprilFoolsJoke.
Later that year, famous shitposter @dril tweeted about the song:
Gotta agree with you @dril! Too many Christmas songs!
Minor correction: there is another song called “The Boys Are Back in Town” by The BusBoys – totally unrelated and no more clear about who the boys are and what town they returned to. Funny enough, when I mentioned “The Boys Are Back in Town” to my dad, my dad first thought of this song.
“The Boys Are Back in Town” even inspired a few memes on Tumblr, like these:
Thin Lizzy started off as a trio: Phil Lynott, Brian Downey, and Eric Bell. After a couple of albums, they revamped their lineup and sound to that trademark tough twin guitar attack sound we know and love, becoming one of the best (and criminally overlooked) hard rock bands and later on, an early metal band.
According to guitarist Scott Gorham, Thin Lizzy found out “The Boys Are Back in Town” was a hit when they were touring America and their manager suddenly came in and told them it was a hit. They were stunned because they didn’t think it was their best song. It wasn’t even a song that was originally going to be on the album, Jailbreak. Ultimately it was #1 in Ireland, #8 in Canada and the UK, and #12 in the US. They would never replicate that success again stateside.
Phil Lynott was a brilliant songwriter, a published poet even with the book Songs For While I’m Away. “The Boys Are Back in Town” isn’t his most brilliant songwriting, but it’s easy to see why it was a commercial success. It’s that twin lead guitar attack. Sure they didn’t invent it, but did they make it better? Abso-bloody-lutely.
Now let’s appreciate the amazing guitar work of Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham:
“The Sound of Silence” – Simon & Garfunkel (1964/1965)
It’s not often you hear a 60s song being used in a meme, but here you go, the oldest song on this list.
The part of this song that became a meme was the lyrics “Hello darkness my old friend”. People remember that lyric so much that they think that it’s the title of the song, kind of like what people do with “Baba O’Riley”, thinking it’s called “Teenage Wasteland”. My reaction is this (disclaimer: I hate Donald Trump):
The use of this song is in Vines or YouTube funny short videos where something sad/depressing happens or when someone is disappointed or sad about something that happened to them. This is usually used ironically.
Picture memes even quote this and usually accompany it with a sad pepe frog face.
The meme made Simon & Garfunkel some cash because in April 2016, “The Sound of Silence” reached #6 on Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs chart. Wow!
Simon & Garfunkel were one of the most famous folk rock musicians. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel first started working together in the 50s in New York. They were childhood friends and grew up in Forest Hills, Queens. They had a common interest in folk music and rock and roll music. They first called themselves Tom & Jerry, and then became Simon & Garfunkel.
There are two versions of “The Sound of Silence”. The original from 1964, is an acoustic version on the album Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, and the re-recorded overdubbed version from 1965 was also on the album, Sounds of Silence and heard in the soundtrack of the 1967 film, The Graduate. Song producer Tom Wilson remixed the song to attract airplay and make it more radio friendly. Simon & Garfunkel did not know about this until after the fact.
“Tiny Dancer” – Elton John (1971)
Of course another Elton John song would become a meme sometime after Rocketman came out.
This song was made a meme and popularised by the YouTube algorithm in this video called “Guy at a party who only knows one line of Tiny Dancer”. YouTuber Chloe Woodard pretends as if she’s a guy at a party holding a drink and trying to sing along to “Tiny Dancer” when it comes on at the party, but the guy only knows one line in the song “Hold me closer, tiny dancer” so they awkwardly try to sing that line thinking that it’s going to come up any minute now.
What’s especially funny is that the song is about 6 minutes long, about the length of “Like a Rolling Stone” or “Bohemian Rhapsody”. You can’t help but feel some secondhand embarrassment. So yeah, the line everyone knows is further into the song than people expect.
Like I said before, “Tiny Dancer” is one of those classic rock epics and a very much loved one at that. Like a lot of Elton John favourites, Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics (inspired by his first trip to America) and Elton John composed the music. Classic rock epics are a risk. A typical radio song is about 2-3 minutes long and the average radio listener doesn’t have the attention span for a new song that is 6 minutes long. Because of that, it wasn’t initially a hit, but it did well in Canada and Australia, but only reached #41 in the US. It wasn’t even released as a single in many countries. Eventually though it became a favourite and a very enjoyable 6 minutes.
The song was featured in the 2000 movie, Almost Famous.
“Video Killed The Radio Star” – The Buggles (1979)
Almost 40 years later, this song resurged in popularity once again thanks to memes. It’s self explanatory and makes you wonder why this wasn’t memed already. In the meme, “video” signifies the killer and “radio star” signifies the victim, usually a celebrity or a character.
The Buggles were a duo made up of bassist and singer Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoff Downes. The name came from a pun on The Beatles. Trevor later said in an interview that he picked the name to stand out in the punk rock era and that he regretted it because he was thinking more about the music than the marketing.
Their debut single, “Video Killed The Radio Star” was released in September 1979 and it was a smash hit, #1 in the UK, Australia, Austria, Sweden, and Switzerland. It also was the first music video ever played on MTV when it debuted on 1 August 1981, signifying and predicting the change in the era of music. It’s not just about the sound anymore, you gotta have the marketable image too – it’s a package.
The song was written in an hour one day in 1978 in Geoff’s flat. Trevor Horn cites Kraftwerk as an influence on the song.
Their debut album, The Age of Plastic, was released in January 1980. There were a few other minor hits on that album, but nothing as big as “Video Killed The Radio Star”. All of the songs have themes about technology, the plusses and minuses of it, and its impact on humans.
Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes joined Yes in 1980 after the departure of Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman. After Yes broke up, they released one more album, Adventures in Modern Recording, as The Buggles.
Geoff Downes still plays with Yes and Asia when they tour. Trevor Horn had a successful career as a producer in the 80s and went back to recording music in the 90s. He still produces albums and records music to this day.
“We Will Rock You” – Queen (1977)
Iconic song. Even if you don’t care about Queen, you know this one because it’s literally sang at every sporting event and parodied/memed all the time.
Queen were a band that had a lot of complementary/contrasting songs, mostly one would be written by Freddie Mercury and Brian May would write its complement or contrast.
On Queen II, Brian did most of the White side of the album and Freddie did the entire Black side of the album. The contrasting songs on that would be the softer, more acoustic “White Queen (As it Began)” and the epic, darker “March of the Black Queen”. The last song on that album is “Seven Seas of Rhye” (which references the music hall song “Oh I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside”) and the first on Sheer Heart Attack was “Brighton Rock” (Brighton is a popular seaside city to visit on bank holidays). On their 1978 album, Jazz, “Bicycle Race” and “Fat Bottomed Girls” was a double-A side single and the songs reference each other in these lyrics: “fat bottomed girls, they’ll be riding today” and “get on your bikes and ride”.
The most complementary Queen songs that are almost always played together is “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions”, from their 1977 album, News of the World. What a way to open the album! Brian May wrote “We Will Rock You” as a song that the audience can participate in and he incorporated his love of maths and physics in the making of this song with the echoes and delays, all of which were in the ratios of prime numbers.
“Yakety Sax” – Boots Randolph (1963)
Also known as the closing theme music for The Benny Hill Show, I don’t know how to better explain this. Basically it’s a funny novelty song that when played over a chase scene, it makes it funnier. Here’s an example:
Boots Randolph was born in Kentucky in 1927 and he was basically a one hit wonder with “Yakety Sax”, but he played on songs by Elvis, Roy Orbison, Brenda Lee, Jerry Lee Lewis, and REO Speedwagon.
“You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” – Dead or Alive (1984)
Decades after this song came out, derivative memes on YTMND and YouTube went viral. The usage was a literal reference to objects spinning around. Pretty self-explanatory.
This song was also sampled by Flo Rida. Personally, I’d rather not hear the song he made sampling it because the original is superior.
Dead or Alive, fronted by Pete Burns, were formed in Liverpool and were one of the best known one-hit-wonders of the 80s (Todd in the Shadows made a great video about this song). Well maybe they weren’t exactly a one-hit-wonder, but it’s probably the only song the average person knows they did. Pete Burns started off doing punk and post punk music, but later on changed to a more new wave/hi-NRG sound.
“You Spin Me Round” went to #1 in the UK in the beginning of 1985. When writing the song, Pete Burns was influenced by Luther Vandross and Richard Wagner. This song is another example where the producers weren’t feeling too confident about the song being a success, but radio, music fans, and sales proved them wrong. In fact, Pete Burns had to pay out of pocket to record the song and the music video
And now for the last song on this list, but certainly not the least…
Bonus – when memes and classic rock collide:
“Badgers” meets Queen/Flash Gordon
Queen fans know all too well that Brian May is a living meme of sorts (kinda like Cher) and that he loves animals. So it’s no surprise that years later, Mr Weebl, who created the original Badger Badger Badger viral video back in the 2000s, made a special edition with Brian May and Brian Blessed, who was in Flash Gordon.
The OG video is here:
The “Save The Badger” version is below:
A funny picture of John Lennon walking in a funny way next to his wife, Yoko. The picture explains everything.
Shout out to my good friend and Topaz level Patron, Patrick.
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