Song Requests

Here’s my hot take on folks who make song requests at live music venues.

It’s about control. [This is not a scientific analysis.]

Some people, I have observed, need to feel “in charge” of their environment. Sometimes this pathology results in aggressive and unreasonable demands being made on the staff or kitchen (if we are in a restaurant). The food is not right, the drinks are not right, et cetera. We’ve all been there with a friend who acts embarrassingly when their needs are ignored.

Or, this need may manifest itself in attempting to dictate the “soundtrack” of every experience, regardless of the intention of the performers, who presumably did not show up for the gig wondering, “What songs are we going to play tonight.”

Sending a request – and typically, more than one song is suggested – to a performer or band is a way of saying, “I’m having a reasonably good time listening to your set, but it would be so much better if you would play an unrehearsed and inferior version of my favorite song.”

Now, I’m not talking about a scenario where a guitarist or piano player has invited requests. By all means, if there’s a pad of paper and a fishbowl or a clipboard and a pen attached, send up a few ideas. Maybe you haven’t heard “Hotel California” for a while. Feel free to give the performer a good reason to roll his or her eyes as far as possible back into their head.

Let’s not pick on that song (while noting there are many Eagles songs that could be tossed into rotation). There are, clearly, songs thought to be “over-played” by cover bands and acoustic performers. Those same songs remain other people’s favorites. Who knows why? That’s music. It’s magic and unpredictable. I really don’t mind playing “Brown-Eyed Girl” or “Satisfaction” for the billionth time. However, I do actively avoid playing other songs that I am simply tired of hearing and playing,

“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” and “Wagon Wheel,” two extremely minor works associated with Bob Dylan, among them. With so many good Dylan songs to play, why focus on those two? One was written for a movie, the other he never finished. Even the somewhat over-performed “All Along The Watchtower” would be a better choice. That said, there are people who likely are tired of hearing “Like A Rolling Stone,” an iconic Dylan song that I enjoy performing.

What to do?

My friend Ped Bluesman performs regularly around Hua Hin and Bangkok, and from time to time posts on social media about requests that he receives. “Sweet Home Chicago,” “Cocaine,” and “Mustang Sally” are among the songs that people want to hear virtually every night. I asked him why he thought people make requests and he replied, “because they just want to listen to any song they know and can sing along with a band.” That begs another question: Who goes out to see live music thinking they must sing their favorite song with the band?

For me, a legitimate request comes from someone who has been triggered by some element of the performance. They like your voice. They like your repertoire. They think you might do a good job performing this or that song. Consider it a compliment. And listeners often can have good ideas about what song to cover next. At the moment, Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” is in my regular rotation when playing out live, thanks to a request. Never would’ve thought to learn that one on my own, overdubbed bassline intro and all.  

But don’t think every band you see must play “Pride and Joy” because it’s your favorite song.

Now, what song would YOU request of a live band or performer?   

Published by billpaige

Interested parties are first directed to my memoir, “Everything I Know I Learned From Rock Stars” (Eckhartz Press). While I have taken music therapy classes and read extensively about music’s effect on the brain, I am NOT professionally trained -- just a music lover who recognizes that everyone benefits from music. Giving that gift to special needs youth is highly rewarding, but again, my process is intuitive, not academic. I draw largely on personal experience. I’ve spent most of my 67 years observing a wide world of music, from working as a music critic professionally for 20 years, and holding positions in music companies in the 1970s and 1990s. Since 1990, however, I have focused on learning more about music and improving as a singer, guitarist, and performer, both solo and in ensemble settings.

2 thoughts on “Song Requests

  1. If I wanted you to play an Eagles song – “Life in the Fast Lane” or “One of those Nights” or even “Lyin’ Eyes”.

    I wonder if you play instrumentals of well-known tunes from other people.

    A Josephmooon song I would ask for would be “Floats Boat” or “Busybodies”.

    The Odyssey people made interesting observations about country music and about 1990s songs that Millennials and Zoomers might want to hear.

    There are songs from the last five years – like “Dare you” by the xx. [Paris Jackson + Eleven on STRANGER THINGS].

    Or I might ask for a Christmas carol during the season.

    And there are two good Andrew Gold songs.

    Some people might request songs they heard on Netflix or another streaming service.

    My hot take is that request culture comes from radio where everyone is isolated on their own devices.

    Then they bring this to college or to a local gig.

    1. The radio route is all but dead now — the bulk of influence has transferred to streaming and away from ownership of some type of product offered by the artist.

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