Rock’s Most Repetitive Songs Rock’s Most Repetitive Songs
Repetition can be a powerful thing — it helps you emphasize a point, bringing home your thought with force and authority. It can also be mind-numbing — you've made your point once; why repeat it? Martin Luther King, Jr. used repetition in his "I have a dream" speech, and it was mesmerizing; Steve Perry sings "Na-na-nana-na" in "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'," and leaves you wondering if the record skipped.
Those are, admittedly, two extremes of any conversation on repetition. We submit to you more than 20 songs that use repetition, repetition and more repetition — for some it works; for others it doesn't. Check 'em out and see if your favorites made the list.
The Trashmen, “Surfin’ Bird” (1963)
It’s unclear whether the Trashmen — a garage-rock crew bred in Minneapolis, probably under a snow bank — understood the full consequences of what they did when they came up with this two-minute ode to avian awareness. First of all, they introduced the word papa-um-mow-mow to the lexicon; secondly, they gave Peter Griffin (who didn’t exist in 1963) a way to annoy his family forever; thirdly, they gave the world one of the great ice-pick-to-the-ear-canal earworms of all time. Well played, Trashmen. Well played.
Foo Fighters, “Best of You” (2005)
Not only does Dave Grohl’s “THE BEST, THE BEST, THE BEST of you” lyric make for a REPETITIVE, REPETITIVE, REPETITIVE listening experience, but the melody casts many of the other lyrics in the song in a similar light. Or structure. Or sound. It’s hard to think when this song is playing.
Rod Stewart, “Every Picture Tells a Story” (1971)
The odd meter and rhyme scheme of the verses give way to the repeated refrain at the end (“Every picture tells a story, don’t it?”) that goes on for so long, you’ve forgotten there were verses by the end of it.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Give It Away” (1991)
The four-headed funk-rock monster machine got famous by getting audiences to shout “Giveitawaygiveitawaygiveitawaynow” back to them, over and over and over again. Thirty thousand of them, 40,000, sometimes (in Europe and South America) 60,000 of them at a time. “Giveitawaygiveitawaygiveitawaynow.” And it takes us back to 1991, when we heard it for the first time. And then it occurs to us how much time has elapsed between then and now, and how many times we’ve shouted/sung “Giveitawaygiveitawaygiveitawaynow” in that time. That’s a lot of giving.
Journey, “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’” (1979)
This makes it to the list for the 1:45 “Na-na-nana-na” coda, with at least three or four Steve Perrys stacked atop one another (just their voices; this isn’t Rock Star Twister: The Clone Edition), with chunky piano chords and Neal Schon’s bent notes punctuating the occasional “na.” It’s tailor-made for a singalong, which is why they still play it every na-na-nana-night.
Spirit, “Nature’s Way” (1970)
Ostensibly an anthem for our ecology, “Nature’s Way” also is an anthem of repetition. No one who hears it can leave that engagement without knowing, beyond a shadow of doubt, that it (whatever it is) is definitely nature’s way of telling us something, of receiving and retrieving us. And there’s cowbell. Lots of cowbell.
The Zombies, “Tell Her No” (1965)
The song in which one man implores another to decline the amorous advances of a young lady, because, in spite of the fact that she is making said advances to that other young gentleman, her heart really belongs to the man doing the imploring. Tell her “no,” he says, 63 times if you have to. If she’s still around after that, though, go ahead and give in.
The Beatles, “Hey Jude” (1968)
The Beatles understood the power of the repeated word or phrase, from the “yeah, yeah, yeah” refrain in “She Loves You,” to the bizarre chorus that comprises the whole of “Wild Honey Pie” and the artsy pastiche of "Revolution 9," with its repeated “Number nine, number nine, number nine.” The latter two were off The Beatles (as some still refer to the White Album), and around the same time, the band recorded “Hey Jude,” which is three minutes of pop song and another four minutes of “Na-na” refrain. It was the band’s biggest hit in the U.S., which speaks to that repetitive power, and to the cultural moment in which the biggest pop band of all time could make a record with four minutes of wordlessness and people would scoop it up in droves.
Cheap Trick, “I Want You to Want Me” (1977)
In its original studio incarnation, “I Want You to Want Me” is a pure power-pop confection; in the more famous live take on Cheap Trick at Budokan, it becomes a rallying cry and opportunity for all the females in the audience to scream for Robin Zander’s Supreme Zanderocity. What it is, though, is a song with one verse, repeated twice, and a chorus that is repeated many more times. It is also perfect.
Pat Travers Band, “Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)” (1979)
Cheap Trick’s ‘70s touring peer Pat Travers provides us with a Stan Lewis cover that is light on the verses, and heavy on the repetition of those few morsels. Travers is ready to either fight or “go” (which could also mean ready to fight, though he might be saying he’s ready to exit the room), because he’s just found out his baby don’t love him no more. The title of the song is its refrain, and that also is repeated quite a bit, most often with the crowd joining in. That little back and forth makes “Boom Boom” a tasty bit of arena-rock aggressiveness, in the Ted Nugent/Bad Company mold.
Bruce Springsteen, “I'm Goin’ Down” (1984)
Sometimes the Boss likes to get all serious and down-for-the-working-man dour for his audience; other times, he just wants to rock out to a silly ditty. And he’s written a ton of those ditties, as anyone who’s learned more from a three-minute record than he ever learned in school should. This is one — the emphasis is on how far down he is emotionally, as a result of his lover withholding affection from him. Or something like that. If he’s taking one step down every time he sings the word down in the song, he’s on a mighty tall staircase.
Knickerbockers, “Lies” (1965)
A classic bit of garage-rock goodness, with an unmistakably accusatory tone that they drive home through repetition. We would not have wanted to be on the receiving end of this one, except when we play our Nuggets compilation and crank it really loud.
Cream, “I’m So Glad” (1966)
Not sure what’s made Jack Bruce so glad, but you can’t help but be happy for him.
The J. Geils Band, “I Do” (1977)
Bless those Bostonians for digging up a 1959 Marvelows hit (though a minor one) and applying their special house-party magic to it. Even if the “doo-doo”s drive you a little crazy, it’s the J. Geils Band, and it is virtually impossible to feel down or bad or sad when a J. Geils Band record is on the turntable or the little MP3 box.
Ace Frehley, “New York Groove” (1978)
The Spaceman does the Bo Diddley beat without too much chunkiness in the guitars, and his streetwise, feel-good description of his day puts us in a good mood. But it’s the chorus that sticks in the brain, because any set of words that’s repeated this many times is bound to stick. That’s good news for Frehley — it was probably easy to memorize.
The Kingsmen, “Louie Louie” (1963)
Whether you’re swaying drunkenly like toga-clad John Belushi or studiously reading Dave Marsh’s book-length treatise on the song and its social and cultural import, you cannot help but be moved by the Kingsmen’s biggest and best song.
Steam, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” (1969)
Taunting is bad form, but you know your team has won when they blast this one out of the stadium speakers. Then taunting is okay.
Bill Withers, “Ain’t No Sunshine” (1971)
He’s got a pleasantly rough timbre to his voice, but the way Withers sings “I know, I know, I know” about 2,000 times is so silky smooth, you hardly notice, so caught up are you (and Withers himself) in the groove of the song.
Grand Funk Railroad, “Closer to Home / I’m Your Captain” (1970)
This is the one where Grand Funk Poobah Mark Farner sings “I’m getting closer to my home” repeatedly, until his voice has faded into the instruments, and we as listeners wonder where he went. As one of our readers put it, “It takes them forever to get home.” Quite frankly, we’re not sure they ever got there.
Human Beinz, “Nobody but Me” (1968)
It is very likely that when the Isley Brothers wrote this song, they did not imagine it soundtracking scenes of Uma Thurman slicing up Japanese gangsters (in Kill Bill Vol. 1), but that’s pop culture for you. The Human Beinz had the bigger hit with the song (their version is behind the Thurman scenes), so it is Dick Belley’s voice we have come to associate with the “No, no, no, no, no” lines in the verses.
Devo, “(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction” (1978)
As if a nouveau wavo cover of the untouchable Jagger/Richards classic were not strange/exciting/sacrilegious enough, the nerd kings of Akron drop a "baby" bomb in the third verse ("And I'm tryin' to make some girl / Who tells me babybabybabybabybaby ... " You get the point). The genius part here is that they add some echo effect in the middle of the segment, so it's hard to know where one "baby" ends and another "baby" begins. You can't count them, at least not completely accurately. And you know Devo figured somebody would want to count them.
John Cougar Mellencamp, “Small Town” (1985)
Hey, everybody! Did you know ol' John Cougar was born in a small town? And that he lives in a small town? Was taught to fear Jesus … guess where. That’s right! In a small town. That’s where he was educated and where his bed is, and where he can breathe and have himself a ball. In a small town. In case you didn’t know.