Answer songs serve as responses to established popular songs. These answers take different tones, from heartfelt nods to great compositions to cheeky parodies. The following 10 examples span the history of country music, showing a range of artists with answers to others’ hits.
One of the earliest answer songs in popular music hardly had a subtle title. While the original “Rainbow at Midnight” (recorded by Tubb and numerous others) found a soldier coming home to a happy life and a future wife, Tubb’s answer centered on heartache.
Perhaps the best-known response song in country music history came when Kitty Wells countered Hank Thompson’s sympathetic take on bar-hopping husbands, “The Wild Side of Life.” Both songs topped the charts in 1952.
Some answer songs offer the female perspective to a male-sung love song. Skeeter Davis countered Hank Locklin’s “Please Help Me, I’m Falling” with her own sense of helplessness. It’s practically the same song, making it a cover with a twist.
Dottie West furthered the tale of “Big Bad John,” a seminal story-song character introduced by Jimmy Dean in 1961. West tells of the “Cajun queen” that separated from John before his dramatic death in a coal mine.
Claude King became a crossover pop star in 1962 by telling of the young man who risked it all to reach the girl on Wolverton Mountain. Pop singer Jo Ann Campbell’s biggest hit gave a voice to the sought-after girl living on the mountain with her overprotective father.
“King of the Road” ranks among the greatest country songs of the 1960s, guaranteeing lasting fame for Roger Miller. Jody Miller (no relation) recorded her own signature song in response. Her “Queen of the House” won a Grammy in 1966.
Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.” is one of several 1968 hits by women that shaped the course of country music. Ben Colder, an alter-ego of “Purple People Eater” singer Sheb Wooley, parodied the song as a know-it-all town drunk.
Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” took a few shots at hippie culture. Greenwich folk rockers the Youngbloods offered a response, painting hippies as too busy lifting up others to put down self-professed country music squares.
One of the better acoustic folk tunes by Sheryl Crow, “Strong Enough,” asked an unnamed second party if he’s strong enough to be her man. Travis Tritt answered a few years later with “Strong Enough to Be Your Man.”
Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” helped define her career and inspired numerous cover versions. Estonian indie-rockers Ewert and the Two Dragons added an interesting twist, giving a voice to the man on that no-good Jolene’s lust list.