Sure, musicians can be a self-involved bunch, with egos running wild as they demand their tea be stirred three times anticlockwise. But they also know when to doff their caps to their superiors when situation demands. Here are 32 of your favourite artists, confessing to the songs that they wish they’d penned…
St Vincent - Stevie Wonder, ‘Maybe Your Baby’:
“The groove is impeccable. It wouldn’t fit well into my repertoire though – it would be horrible! I wouldn’t be able to lock the gospel chops in the song. I could hit the notes, I could practice and do the licks, but it would be such a fucking bad look. It would be corny if I covered it, but it’s such a good song.”
Billy Corgan - Judas Priest, ‘Breaking The Law’:
“It’s so simple, so fantastic, utterly classic. It’ll never get old."
Courtney Barnett – Lou Reed, 'Perfect Day':
“Every time I hear it just kills me a little bit. I got into Loud Reed fairly recently, just from meeting other musicians and them introducing me to stuff.”
Ad-Rock, The Beastie Boys - Keith Murray, ‘The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World’:
“It’s just a really good rap song. Oh and ‘Best Bop’ by Rammelzee and ‘Where Eagles Dare’ by the Misfits.”
Shirley Manson, Garbage - Marianne Faithful, ‘Why D’ya Do It’:
“It’s such a great story. She’s basically speaking to her lover saying, ‘why did you cheat on me?’ The lyrical brilliance is so spiteful and ingenious that I just wish I’d written that song."
Father John Misty - Dory Previn, ‘Lady With The Beard’:
“I primarily listen to music by women. I like Björk, Nina Simone, Fiona Apple, Joni Mitchell, Erykah Badu and Dory Previn. Those are like the big ones for me – and this song is probably the one I’d like to have written.”
Ryan Jarman, The Cribs - Queen, 'Friends Will Be Friends':
“It’s such a good vibe-no cynicism, no negativity. If I try and write a song from the heart there is always cynicism and negativity in it, and I can’t work that out. I sometimes think 'God, my life is much better than I convince myself it is. Shit’s good so… what’s your problem?'"
Tricky - T.Rex, ‘Cosmic Dancer’
“The lyrics are incredible. And it almost foretold his premature death. ‘I danced myself right out the womb/ Is it so strange to dance so soon? / I danced myself into the tomb’. It sums up the progression of life- very simple, very beautiful, melodic and sad, but still uplifting at the same time.”
Justin Young, The Vaccines - The Kinks, ‘Waterloo Sunset’:
“'Waterloo Sunset' has everything: perfect lyrics, melody. The way it moves and changes feels so complete and evocative. When I was 13 I got a ‘Music of The Millennium’ compilation which contained what people had voted the most important tracks of the 20th century, this was one and I loved it."
Raekwon - Big Daddy Kane, ‘Aint No Half Steppin’:
“I wish I could have wrote some of the Big Daddy Kane records back in the day. His records were like he was talking for me, you know. This was one of my dope records right here. I constantly played and emulated his songs."
Shaun Ryder, Happy Mondays - Happy Mondays, ‘Step On’:
“Step fucking on… even though I stuck in a few line of my own I get no publishing money for it. Someone made a tidy sum out of the Monday’s biggest hit though."
Dan Auerbach, The Black Keys - Ann Peebles, ‘Until You Came Into My Life’:
“I don’t know if it would sound as good sung by anybody else, but the way she sings it makes me wish I’d written it. I used to listen to my Dad’s huge record collection and I’d study this song over and over like a proper knucklehead. It’s amazing."
Angel Haze - Taylor Swift, ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’:
“You know how much money that song must have made? I’d have totally cleaned up if I wrote that song! Seriously though, I walk around my house for weeks at a time singing that shit. She’s super-talented. It’s also the song I’d get a lap dance to."
Ian McCulloch, Echo & The Bunnymen - Abba, ‘The Winner Takes It All’:
“It’s incredible that Bjorn Ulvaeus wrote it, knowing what his missus [Agneta Faltskog] was going through because of him, especially when he was the ugliest cunt in the world. He sees it from the woman’s point of view so well.”
Ice Cube - Public Enemy, ‘Bring The Noise’:
“Take your pick of Public Enemy songs, I wish I wrote ’em all. It’s the attitude, the energy they bring. I learnt so much from them musically, in terms of having a voice and having a say on things that matter. This track’s got so many good lines, I don’t know where to begin. It’s like an explosion of thought.”
Andy Bell, Ride - John Lennon, 'Jealous Guy’:
“It’s got such a great melody and the words to this are him at his very best, admitting all of his failings and coming across so sincere, but never corny."
Brian Fallon, The Gaslight Anthem - Elvis Costello, ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding’:
“It’s weird, because Elvis Costello didn’t even write it. But every time I hear it I think, 'Man! I wish I’d written that!' It sounds like The Replacements and a bunch of people from the ‘60s, and I feel that’s what I was aiming for when I started writing songs."
Colin Newman, Wire - Joni Mitchell, ‘All I Want':
“The emotional content is great, but the sheer musicality of it all is amazing - it’s written on a dulcimer, one drone string, which really appeals to me a lot."
Anna Calvi - Pixies, ‘Cactus’:
“Every single line is to the point and very sexy. It’s dark and suggests a bigger story that’s left to the interpretation. They’re a less interesting proposition without Kim Deal, but I wish I could see them live. They were on the exact same stage as me at Glastonbury.”
John Cooper Clarke - Hoagy Carmichael, ‘Stardust’:
“It breaks all the rules of songwriting; if you read it on the sheet, you’d never work out how you could possibly phrase it. The word ‘reverie’ is used in it, and that’s exactly what it is – it’s a meditation on a particular mood that picks you up somewhere and leaves you somewhere else.”
Tim Burgess - Arthur Russell, ‘I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face’:
“It’s a song I played on my solo tour. There’s a beauty to it that you hear in so few songs. Some songs just have a resonance that chimes with you: this does that for me.”
Taigen Kawabe, Bo Ningen - John Cage, ‘4’33”’:
“The idea is like art as much as music – it’s four and a half minutes of silence. I love John Cage: he’s amazing, and with this it was like, now he’s done it again. It was the first time anyone had thought of that.”
James Dean Bradfield, Manic Street Preachers - The Clash, ‘Lost In The Supermarket’:
“Underneath the punk exterior, they were born to be songwriters. ‘Lost In The Supermarket’ deals with not feeling a sense of place in the time that you’re in, and feeling kind of sad about it.”
Matt Berry - Roxy Music, 'In Every Dream Home A Heartache’:
“It’s original and unconventional and the lyric is superb. I have no real interest in how people write songs though – we’re all different. I’m as interested as anyone is in how people work, but I don’t analyse anyone else’s techniques.”
Conor Oberst - The Felice Brothers, ‘Wonderful Life’:
“To me, it’s clearly a perfect song – the lyrics, the melody, the mood it evokes in me. I’m good friends with them, and Ian Felice, the main songwriter, did the cover artwork for my new album. Before he wrote songs he was an amazing oil painter. I’ve always liked his artwork and he let me use a painting of his.”
Example - David Bowie, ‘Life On Mars?’:
“It feels so simple and effortless. In many ways it’s bonkers, but it also seems to make perfect sense to me. That’s the beauty of songwriting. I always try and make my chorus make sense and my verses not make sense, but when I listen to ‘Life On Mars?’, the chorus doesn’t really make much sense but the verses make perfect sense.”
Ice T - `Ice T, ‘Colors’:
“I think I wrote every song I could! I never listen to someone else’s and think, ‘Damn, I wish that was my song!’ I’m proudest of ‘Colors’, because prior to that record, people didn’t realise there were gangs in Los Angeles. In that year, 1988, 387 kids had died, and by me making that record, it shined a light on what was going on there.”
Emily Kokal, Warpaint - Dolly Parton, ‘I Will Always Love You’:
“Her version of that song gives me goosebumps; she’s so emotional and fragile and so beautiful and sweet. I heard that the song was written for her manager when she was breaking up with him. Her voice just makes me want to cry.”
Jono Ma, Jagwar Ma - James Brown, ‘Cold Sweat’:
“Tarzan Boy’ by Baltimora because it’s had over 25 million views on YouTube… No seriously though, ‘Cold Sweat’ by James Brown. Why? It doesn’t need an explanation, it’s just perfect.”
Brett Anderson, Suede - Don McLean, ‘Vincent’:
“The melody is beautiful and the lyrics are just so perfect: 'The silver thorn of bloody rose/Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow'. It gives me a shiver just thinking about it. It’s so sad and beautiful and manages to find that bittersweet holy grail the songwriter is always looking for.”