10 rock and pop songs that were surprisingly inspired by classic TV shows
When you break it down, the majority of pop music centers around romance. Heartbreak, passion, desire — it's all fuel for songwriters. In some rare cases, however, both rockers and rappers show another kind of love, a deep love for reruns.
You'll be surprised at the metal musicians who pen odes to Raymond Burr, or grunge's bizarre trip to Mayberry. Here are ten songs you might not realize were inspired by classic television shows. Click the links to give them a listen.
Bubble Puppy - "Hot Smoke and Sassafras"
You'd earn major cool points if you recognized the name of this obscure heavy psych-rock band. We'd be even more impressed if you recognized that the title of their signature track, "Hot Smoke and Sassafras," was lifted from Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies. "We needed some words. We were watching The Beverly Hillbillies on TV," guitarist Todd Potter later explained. "Granny was berating Jethro for something and she goes, 'Hot smoke and sassafras, Jethro, can't you do anything right?' That's where it came from." The phrase was construed to mean something more… er, mind-expanding. The cut took the band from Texas rock clubs to American Bandstand, as it broke into the Top 20. Thanks, Granny!
Image: International Artists
War - "The Cisco Kid"
Perhaps best known for their funky classic "Low Rider," the Long Beach band earned its biggest hit with this ode to a TV cowboy. Growing up in racially diverse neighborhoods of Los Angeles, War blended latin groove, rock and funk. "The Cisco Kid," a No. 2 smash, paid homage to The Cisco Kid, a syndicated Western that had originally aired in 1950–56. Duncan Renaldo played the titular character. War guitarist Howard Scott came up with the opening line of the tune, "The Cisco Kid was a friend of mine," a nod to Cisco Kid being a rare minority hero on the small screen in that era. Renaldo, however, was born in Romania.
Image: United Artists
Thin Lizzy - "Suicide"
The title "Suicide" might give the impression that Thin Lizzy was referencing M*A*S*H and its theme song, "Suicide Is Painless." Nope. Bassist and bandleader Phil Lynott was singing about Perry Mason. Specifically, the Irish rock act was inspired by the episode "The Case Of The Lover's Leap," in which a businessman named Roy Comstock fakes his suicide. "Peter Brent combed his hair / And sent for the police / Policeman came, took Peter's name," Lynott sings. In that Perry episode, Peter Brent was Mason's client, a man charged with murder after Roy Comstock turns up dead.
Image: Vertigo Records
Rush - "The Twilight Zone"
A casual glance at Rush's album covers or fan base reveals that the Canadian trio deeply cares about science-fiction. Philosophical fantasy lover, lyricist and drummer Neil Peart wrote about everything from Tolkien ("Rivendell") to Ayn Rand (a whole bunch of songs). Naturally, he was big into Rod Serling, too. This shorter number from Rush's prog epic 2112 focuses on two particular episodes of The Twilight Zone, "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" and "Stopover In a Quiet Town." Geddy Lee gives away a spoiler for the former in "The Twilight Zone," when he wails, "Beneath his hat the strangeness lies / Take it off, he's got three eyes."
Image: Mercury Records
Bruce Springsteen - "I'm a Rocker"
The Boss tosses off references to a handful of his past favorites in this upbeat tune, which might have been better titled "I'm a Watcher." Springsteen name drops I Spy, the Batmobile, Secret Agent, Columbo and Kojak in "I'm a Rocker," which became a staple of his live shows, typically played before the encore.
Image: Columbia Records
Nirvana - "Floyd the Barber"
Kurt Cobain turned his personal pain into cathartic rock songs. Which is why it's pretty surprising to find a song — albeit one rather tongue-in-cheek — about The Andy Griffith Show on Nirvana's sludgy debut, Bleach. Over a knuckle-dragging riff, "Floyd the Barber" roll-calls many Mayberry citizens in its twisted lyrics. "Barney ties me to the chair," Cobain rasps, "Opie, Aunt Bee, I presume… I die smothered in Andy's clutch." Rest assured, that never happened on the sitcom.
Image: Sub Pop
Ozzy Osbourne - "Perry Mason"
The metal icon pays tribute to his favorite TV procedural with the opening track of Ozzmosis. A sinister synthesizer plays an homage to the theme song ("Park Avenue Beat") before the head-banging crunch kicks in. "Who can we get on the case? / We need Perry Mason / Someone to put you in place / Calling Perry Mason again," Ozzy cries in the chorus. Perhaps they can use this "Perry Mason" in the upcoming reboot?
Image: Epic Records
David Bowie - "Slip Away"
Leave it to Bowie to dig up the most obscure and personal vintage television homage. Few people likely got the references in "Slip Away," a cut from Heathen, the album that kicked off his late-career renaissance in 2002. The song centers around "Uncle" Floyd Vivino, a New Jersey performer who hosted the regional children's TV series The Uncle Floyd Show from 1974–98. In the early 1980s, John Lennon had turned Bowie onto the show, which featured hip local musicians like the Ramones and Cyndi Lauper as guests. Bowie adored the show, a sort of bridge between Soupy Sales and Pee-Wee Herman, which featured low-budget sets and puppets. In fact, the puppets Oogie and Bones Boy pop up in the lyrics. "Bones and Oogie on a silver screen / No one knew what they could do / Except for me and you / They slip away," Bowie sadly sings.
Image: Columbia Records
D.R.A.M. - "Gilligan"
The always smiling rapper dropped this summer single in 2017. "Lost just like Gilligan on my own island," he repeats in the chorus. Frankly, "Gilligan" has no other obvious tie to the 1960s sitcom, but the single at least kept Bob Denver's character alive for a new generation.
Weezer - "Any Friend of Diane's"
Weezer is no stranger to classic television, what with its iconic video to "Buddy Holly," the Spike Jonze–directed clip that inserted the band into Happy Days. For "Any Friend of Diane's," the closing track to the quartet's 2017 pop album Pacific Daydream, main man Rivers Cuomo was soaking up some Cheers reruns. The sixth episode of season one, in particular. Cuomo was watching "Any Friend of Diane's" when the chorus melody popped into his head. "I started singing that melody exactly as it sounds on the record" he explained to The Independent. The song's verses, however, are a tribute to the women that supported Cuomo in his early career, not Shelley Long.
Image: Crush Music / Atlantic