The “answer song” goes back to the dawn of recording. In the first decade of the 20th century, Pioneer Era artists Arthur Collins and Billy Murray recorded songs that responded to earlier records of their own. But those might just as easily be seen as sequels. Answer songs seem more properly to be responses to one song and artist by a different artist. We have mentioned a few answer songs at this website in the past: Jeanne Black’s “He’ll Have to Stay,” which answered Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have to Go”; Jody Miller’s response to Roger Miller’s “King of the Road,” “Queen of the House”; “Dawn of Correction,” the response to Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction”; and “Harper Valley P.T.A. (Later That Same Day).” One of the most famous answer songs came in 1952, when Kitty Wells responded to Hank Thompson’s huge country hit “The Wild Side of Life” with “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”—an answer arguably more famous than the record to which it responds.
(You can see Wikipedia’s whole list of answer songs here, which contains some you probably wouldn’t expect, didn’t know, or disagree with. And yes, some answer songs are more properly termed parody versions, but that’s a hair I’m not splitting today.)
The answer-song phenomenon was particularly strong in country music. There’s one we haven’t mentioned yet, and one that’s absent from Wiki’s list.
In 1974, Paul Anka spent three weeks at #1 on the Hot 100 with “(You’re) Having My Baby.” I’ve written about it here and elsewhere, and so there’s no need to rehash how it gathered haters practically from the moment of its release, and it still has them today. While “(You’re) Having My Baby” was still riding high on the Hot 100, an answer to it entered Billboard‘s country chart: “I’m Having Your Baby,” by a singer from Florida named Sunday Sharpe.
“I’m Having Your Baby” is basically a gender-flipped version of Anka’s original: “Didn’t have to keep it / Didn’t have to go through it / I could have swept it from my life but I couldn’t do it.” In the end, the lyrics work somewhat better in the mouth of a woman than they did coming from a man, but only just a bit and not enough to redeem them entirely. That said, the record is, in mid-70s Nashville style, extremely well-made (which is something I’ve said about Anka’s original, too—his was recorded at FAME Studios and produced by Rick Hall). “I’m Having Your Baby” would rise to #11 in an eight-week run on the Billboard country chart. It has seven listings at ARSA; KERE in Denver charted it as high as #6; KLAK in Lakewood, Colorado, ranked it as #98 for all of 1974.
Sunday Sharpe—that’s her real name—looks to have released her first album in 1971. In 1973, she got a bit of airplay with a song called “Everything I Touch Turns to Sugar.” After her answer hit in 1974, she tackled another Paul Anka song, “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” although it didn’t make the national charts. In 1976, “A Little at a Time” rose to #18 nationally. She was a guest on the country music TV show Hee Haw several times during the mid 1970s, but by 1977, her recording career was pretty much over.
Today, Sunday Sharpe is still with us, in her 70s, living in Florida. and working as a novelist.
On a related topic, as I was digging into record charts from the fall of ’74 looking for Sunday Sharpe, I noticed one of the countriest song titles I’ve ever come across, a real song and not a parody, “Between Lust and Watching TV” by Cal Smith:
Somewhere between Playboy magazine
And next Tuesday night’s PTA
Somewhere between a honky tonk queen
And what all the dog did today
If a wife and a lover could be one and the same
What a beautiful world this would be
And there would be us somewhere between lust
And sitting home watching TV
“Between Lust and Watching TV,” which reached #11 nationally, was written by Bill Anderson. It was Smith’s followup to his #1 hit “Country Bumpkin,” the eventual CMA Single of the Year for 1974, a classic weeper that is at the same time a fine example of country-music storytelling.
I have been in and out of country radio quite a bit over the last 40 years, and you can take it from me: they ain’t makin’ anything like these songs anymore.
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