Songwriters sometimes have a lot invested in the characters and pursuits they immortalize in their lyrics. A musical artist can be forgiven in sometimes not wanting the magic to end after that one song, especially if it was notably successful. Thus, we have the phenomenon of the “sequel song.”
A sequel song is one in which an artist takes very specific characters or situations from one song and continues the storyline or situations beyond the original in a new song. (Not to be confused with an “answer song,” in which a different artist responds to or extends a concept from someone else’s song.) Sometimes the sequel song follows hot on the heels of the original.
An early rock ‘n’ roll example of the answer song comes from Buddy Holly. After Holly scored his second hit with “Peggy Sue” in 1957, he returned to the idea and wrote “Peggy Sue Got Married” the following year. Although Holly recorded a demo version of the song, he died two months later -- before he was able to make a proper recording of the sequel.
Song: "Peggy Sue"
"Johnny B. Goode" has always been a calling-card song for Chuck Berry. The 1958 track was neither his first nor his biggest hit, but it’s a song that has captivated rock audiences in the ensuing decades since its release. Elements of the song about the talented guitar slinger were inspired by Berry’s own experiences as a lauded guitarist, so he obviously had a fondness for the song’s character. He brought Johnny back in the 1960 song "Bye Bye Johnny," in which the mom of the guitar-playing kid bids him farewell as he heads to Hollywood to make movies. On Berry’s final album, 2017’s Chuck, he continued the saga in "Lady B. Goode." The girl from Johnny’s hometown who was always in love with him finally marries him and brings Johnny Junior into the world.
Song: "Johnny B. Goode"
In 1962, singer Bobby "Boris" Pickett hit upon the idea of a Halloween-themed “dance craze” song. "Monster Mash" went to the top of the charts by the end of that October, and Pickett then tried to catch lightning in a bottle again. Before Christmas of the same year, he had the sequel "Monster's Holiday" on the charts. While nowhere near as successful (or enduring) as the original, the Christmas song still made it to a respectable #30 on the pop charts. Pickett also turned “Monster Mash” into a lifelong pursuit. Along with “Monster Holiday” in late 1962, he released a monster-themed LP with songs like “Blood Bank Blues” and “Graveyard Shift.” He was still making monster novelty songs and even musicals decades later.
Song: "Monster Mash"
A rock group from Florida called The Royal Guardsmen struck pay dirt on their second single, a 1966 song called "Snoopy vs the Red Baron." The song was based on the iconic character from the Peanuts comic strip, who had just recently been depicted in the strip as imagining himself fighting against World War I German ace combat pilot Manfred von Richthofen (a.k.a., the “Red Baron”). The song was a smash, nearly topping the pop chart at #2. Snoopy creator Charles Schultz sued the band for using his character without permission, and eventually Schultz won all of the publishing royalties from the song. Since Schultz was now getting a cut, he gave permission for the band to record a sequel, and in 1967, The Royal Guardsmen released "The Return of the Red Baron." In this song, after having bested the Red Baron in the air, Snoopy engages the song’s villain in a ground-based pistol duel with an open-ended finale that left the door open for further sequels. "The Return of the Red Baron" was a top 15 hit, and like Bobby “Boris” Pickett, The Royal Guardsmen made a mini-industry of singing further songs featuring Snoopy (“Snoopy’s Christmas,” “Snoopy For President”) to much lesser commercial results.
Song: "Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron"
In 1968, George Harrison was writing songs for what would become The Beatles’ White Album, and he wanted to introduce an element of randomness to his songwriting. He picked up a random book, opened to a random page, and randomly pointed to someone on the page. His finger was on the phrase “gently weeps,” so he wrote a song based on that phrase. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was a standout rocker from that album, and although it was not released as a single (except as a B-side to “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da” in several European countries), it quickly became a mainstay of rock radio stations for years to come. Seven years later, Harrison revisited the notion of a weeping guitar in a pointed song called “This Guitar (Can't Keep from Crying)” from 1975’s Extra Texture (Read All about It) album. The song was written in response to criticism of Harrison’s 1974 tour (the first North American tour by a former member of The Beatles), including harsh coverage in Rolling Stone and in newspaper headlines like “This Boy Now a Nowhere Man.” Harrison’s song mentions Rolling Stone by name and includes lines like “I thought by now you knew the score but you missed the point just like before, and this guitar can't keep from crying.”
Song: "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
David Bowie’s first big hit in the U.S. was "Space Oddity," but although it was originally released in 1969, it wasn’t until 1973 that it peaked on the American pop chart (at #15). The song, about an astronaut named Major Tom, was always an important one for Bowie, and he brought the character back in 1980 in "Ashes to Ashes.” Bowie has described this latter song as a personal wrapping-up of the 1970s, so it made sense to bookend the decade with another look at Major Tom.
Song: "Space Oddity"
From the sublime, we must now transition to the slightly tongue-in-cheek. Carl Douglas, a Jamaican singer who grew up in Great Britain, recorded "Kung Fu Fighting" in 1974 as a B-side song, but its appeal was quickly realized and it was issued as the main single. The song gained a following in dance clubs and made its way to top the pop charts in both the U.S. and the U.K. After such a massive song, Douglas tried to mine more gold from the same material with "Dance the Kung Fu." The sequel song, very similar in sound but with a much less catchy hook, rose to #48 on the U.S. charts in 1975, and thus left Douglas as a one-hit wonder in the United States. (The song fared slightly better in England, cracking their top 40 to #35.)
Song: "Kung Fu Fighting"
Another gigantic single in the 1970s with a now nearly-forgotten sequel was by country singer C.W. McCall. Riding the C.B. (“citizen’s band”) radio craze in the mid-70s, McCall issued “Convoy” in 1975 about a group of truckers organizing rolling protests against law enforcement using their C.B. radios. The song not only topped the pop and country charts, but it spawned a 1978 film adaptation starring Kris Kristofferson and helped inspire other movies like Smokey and the Bandit. In 1976, McCall attempted to draw from the same well with the single “'Round the World with the Rubber Duck,” bringing back the main character from “Convoy” (with the C.B. radio handle “Rubber Duck”) and his trucker buddies somehow driving across oceans and having fresh skirmishes with law enforcement in England, Germany, Russia, Japan, and Australia. This second-helping of ridiculousness barely brushed the country top 40 and didn’t even make the pop chart.
Rick Dees was a Memphis disc jockey when he had the idea to lampoon the then-raging disco craze with a song featuring a Donald Duck voice, and the resulting "Disco Duck" single ended up going straight to the top of the charts. The song has become an iconic pop culture symbol of the 1970s, but much less well-remembered is Dees attempt to recreate the magic the following year. The 1977 single "Dis-Gorilla" attempted another disco novelty song but instead of a duck voice, this one was centered on cartoonish monkey chattering. Needless to say, the sequel was a pale imitation of the original and only managed a feeble #56 on the pop chart. (As a sidebar, those interested in the height of 1970s kitsch, be sure to check out episode #8 of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. It not only features the usual jaw-dropping Brady-Bunch-as-a-variety-show shenanigans, but guest stars from the sitcom What’s Happening!! and, as if that’s not enough, an appearance by Rick Dees performing “Dis-Gorilla.” It’s the stuff of nightmares.)
Song: "Disco Duck"
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