The Top 10: Pop Songs Based on Classical Music

Modern music that has some of the notes in the same order as older compositions

John Rentoul
Saturday 19 January 2019 10:51 GMT
Village People ‘ripped off’ Pachelbel’s Canon in D for their 1979 hit ‘Go West’
Village People ‘ripped off’ Pachelbel’s Canon in D for their 1979 hit ‘Go West’

This list was suggested by Tom Harris, who nominated nos 4, 5 and 8. I am not qualified to adjudicate on the difference between “based on” and “happens to contain the same notes in the same order as”, so I simply present the ones I either like or find interesting.

1. “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”, Procul Harum, 1967: JS Bach, “Air” (known as “Air on a G String”). Nominated by Mark Wallace, Lesley Smith, David Higham, Andrea Mann, Dr Mark Shanahan, Alex Mason, Robin Prior, James, Alex Taylor, Mick The Moggster, Andy Ecelson, Gareth Alston and Matt Round.

2. “I Believe in Father Christmas”, Greg Lake, 1975: “Troika” from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé. Nominated by Ian Moss, Rev GreenDragonReprised, Padraig Reidy, Andrea Mann, Seb, John Peters, Chris Morgan, Watcheu and Andrew Kinsman. “Russians”, Sting, 1985, uses another theme – “Romance” – from Lieutenant Kijé. Nominated by Ian Moss, Martin Campbell, Adam Lloyd-Binding, Tom Joyce, Cameron and Captain Wragge.

3. “All By Myself”, Eric Carmen, 1975: Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor. Nominated by Frank Webster.

4. “Go West”, Village People, 1979. “My favourite of hundreds of songs that rip off Pachelbel’s Canon in D because it also manages to sound like the Soviet national anthem,” said Adam Greves, although he was referring to the Pet Shop Boys’ 1993 version, which was also suggested by John Peters and Eoin O’Callaghan. “Altogether Now”, The Farm, 1990, is the best Pachelbel tribute song, said Chris Condon.

5. “Lady Lynda”, the Beach Boys, 1979, was a popular nomination: it starts with JS Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” on a harpsichord, and my experts tell me the melody of the song itself is based on it. Euan McColm pointed out that the guitar solo in “She Don’t Care About Time”, The Byrds, 1965, is the same tune.

6. “Death Disco”, Public Image Limited, 1979: Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Written by John Lydon when he left the Sex Pistols “for his mum when she was dying of cancer and asked for a disco tune – it even scraped into the top 20,” said Chris Condon.

7. “O Superman”, Laurie Anderson, 1981: Massenet, “O Souverain” from Le Cid: Thanks to Arthur S.

8. “This Night”, Billy Joel, 1984: Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 8, “Pathétique”.

9. “Natural”, S Club 7, 2000, and “Little Me”, Little Mix, 2013, “both used the main lick from Fauré’s Pavane in F-sharp minor”, said Jo Turner.

10. “Seven Nation Army”, The White Stripes, 2003: supposedly inspired by Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony. So that’s what they’re singing when they chant “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn”. Nominated by Simon Landau.

This was a popular list, and there are many more suggestions on this Twitter thread.

Next week: Asymmetrical animals, such as the fiddler crab

Coming soon: Worst conjunctions of book title and author, such as You Are My God, David Watson

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to

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