Call and response antiphonal pop songs

You, then you.

call and responseOne of my oldest friends, Carol in Texas, wrote: In your thousands of blog posts you may have covered this, but I’m wondering what your favorite call and response songs are. 

We happened to be listening to classic vinyl on Sirius radio when they played Pinball Wizard. I hadn’t recalled that it included that lyric “how do you think he does it’… ‘I don’t know.'” Led me to wonder what other songs with that device I love and the obvious With a Little Help from My Friends popped up, and Jefferson Starship’s  Miracles, sort of, and… such fun, especially when you sing along.

Well, Carol, I had NOT put together a list of pop songs with call and response. I started going down a rabbit hole in noting that what is called the antiphon existed in 5th century Christianity. Classical composers as early as Handel and Bach used it. In jazz, the call and response might be instrumental.


“The looser term antiphony is generally used for any call and response style of singing, such as the kirtan or the sea shanty and other work songs, and songs and worship in African and African-American culture.” I even found a dissertation on antiphony in hip hop. I associate it with both children’s songs, and Marines running and responding to the drill sergeant’s chants.

Any time the singer in a band asks the audience to echo what they sing, that’s antiphony. Think Freddie Mercury of Queen at Wembley Stadium. There’s a scene in One Night in Miami, where Sam Cooke is leading the audience in antiphony.

It is interesting that you noted Pinball Wizard. One of the most referenced antiphonies I found was another Who song, My Generation. Now, the FIRST piece I thought of was part 2 of What’d I Say by Ray Charles.

I was always fond of the bit by Diana Ross and the Supremes in Love Child. Most of the time the lyric by the backup singers, the Andantes would echo Diana. But in one case they had lyrics that propelled the message:
Love child, never meant to be
Love child, (scorned by) society


Here are some more, by no means a complete list, because there are zillions of them. Some of my favorite songs are here.

Going to the Mill – Chambers Brothers. This is for me, the epitome of call-and-response.
Oh, Happy Day – The Edwin Hawkins Singers, featuring Dorothy Combs Morrison. You may say this isn’t pop, but it went to #4 pop and #2 RB for two weeks in 1969.
Lay Down (Candles In The Rain) – Melanie with the Edwin Hawkins Singers. I seriously love this song.

Midnight Train to Georgia – Gladys Night and the Pips. In 1977, the Pips (minus Gladys) appeared on comedian Richard Pryor’s TV special that aired on NBC. They sang their normal backup verses for the song. During the parts where Gladys would sing, the camera panned on a lone-standing microphone.
A Girl Like You – Edwyn Collins. Note the response is instrumental, not vocal.
A Girl Like You – the Young Rascals.
Good Lovin’ – The Young Rascals, first recorded by Lemme B. Good.

Itchycoo Park  – Small Faces.
It Hurts To Be In Love  – Gene Pitney.

Come and Get Your Love – Redbone.
I’ll Take You There – The Staple Singers. I adore this song.
Mickey’s Monkey – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Motown is chockablock with call and response.
Jocko Homo – Devo.
Loves Me Like a Rock – Paul Simon with the Dixie Hummingbirds. My favorite PS solo song.
Respect – QoS.

Shout – The Isley Brothers.
Twist and Shout – The Beatles.
My Sweet Lord  – George Harrison.
He’s So Fine  – The Chiffons. 
Once in a Lifetime – Talking Heads.

Night Time Is the Right Time – Ray Charles.
I Don’t Need No Doctor – Humble Pie.
Haul Away Joe – the Longest Johns.
The Banana Boat Song (Day-O) – Harry Belafonte. Of course.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

2 thoughts on “Call and response antiphonal pop songs”

  1. Thank you, so interesting and informative. Hope you enjoyed putting this together. I will listen to them all, so appreciate the links. The religious connection doesn’t surprise me, although I hadn’t thought about it. The Catholic mass includes quite a few familiar ritualistic prayers initiated by the priest, responded to by the congregants. Occasionally they’re sung.

  2. You had me at Tell Me What’d I Say. But O, Happy Day finished me off!

    The Edwin Hawkins Singers have a special place in my heart. My old friend Jeff was fighting AIDS in the 80s. By 1987, he was planning his own funeral and decided that the final song would be that particular record, so people might be moved to dance out the door.

    Then my brother-in-law, Rollie, died suddenly – he was only 36 and had just celebrated the first birthday of his younger son. We were in shock, of course, just in pieces. My ex put himself in charge of helping out with the music. He sifted through all of Rol’s favorite records, especially the ones that he and Jo danced to. Lots of Elton. The Kingbees. Tons of CCR and Blood, Sweat and Tears.

    The only thing missing was what to play as people left the church. Jo put her foot down about organ music at the service because she felt it was too depressing for the funeral of a man in his prime. So she asked The Ex to make a tape for that. He couldn’t think of a good closing song.

    I called Jeff, who was too weak to travel for the funeral (he was in NYC with Christopher). I asked him whether it would be ok to use O, Happy Day. He said, “Just make sure you find Edwin Hawkins. It doesn’t work without those singers, honey.”

    WE scoured the used record stores and found a single. The Ex put it onto a cassette tape. Jo was so happy. Jeff was happy to have contributed. The Ex was affirmed for his musical gifts and craftsmanship. And Rollie was just about rocking his coffin. AMEN

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