Danger, Fake Friends Ahead: 10 Backstabber Anthems
They smile in your face. All the time they want to take your place.
You may not be able to choose your family, but thank God you can choose your friends. Right?
Well, that would depend on your knack for judging character. The option of picking one’s friends might be a comforting privilege for those bogged down by familial discord and dysfunction, but sadly, the right to choose doesn’t always yield a positive outcome, especially in country, pop, and rhythm and blues.
Knife, meet back. For such a harmonious art form, music is brimming with backstabbers. I’m not talking about the performers themselves (though there are plenty who would qualify) but rather, some of the characters they sing about.
We’ve all met them. They smile in your face while plotting to take your place — or take your man/woman. Who needs a lover like that? (Dear Jessie: Dodge that bullet!)
Fortunately for more loyal types, they’ve inspired some pretty remarkable songs. Press play, and pay attention to who’s sneaking up behind you.
“Back Stabbers” O’Jays
The sentiment of O’Jays’ 1972 hit has always struck me as bordering on paranoia, but you never know whom you’ll encounter on the love train doing God knows what for the love of money.
“Don’t Waste Your Time” Yarbrough and Peoples
I suppose that all is fair in love and war and friendship when you’re coveting your best friend’s man, as Alisa Peoples was doing on this 1984 number one R&B single, which I used to own on 45. I’ve never been completely convinced that her low opinion of her supposed gal pal wasn’t tainted by her own agenda.
“Fake Friends” Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
Nothing particularly revolutionary or particularly eloquent here, but future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Joan Jett certainly knew how to get her point across with minimal fuss or muss.
“Friends” Jody Watley
I don’t know who made Watley unleash such venom on her 1989 Top 10 single. Maybe the woman who dared to take her place after she dumped that cad in “Looking for a New Love.” Whoever she was — and of course, it was a she — one good thing came from her backstabbing: It gave Watley her greatest hit.
“Friend of Mine” Kelly Price
She cried ugly in the video, but Price sang so beautifully on her 1998 debut single (the original album version, not the remix with Ronald Isley and R. Kelly, which became a number one R&B and number 12 pop hit), a tour-de-force R&B saga of love and betrayal.
“Jessie’s Girl” Rick Springfield
It was Springfield’s first and only number one, and when he performed it acoustic on the couch while co-hosting The View in 2013, it was like I was hearing it for the first time. Though it wasn’t my favorite Springfield hit by any stretch (an honor that would go to 1983’s “Affair of the Heart”), it holds up surprisingly well.
But then, as anyone who has read The Tenth Commandment (“Thou shalt not covet”) knows, some types of deceit are timeless.
“Layla” Eric Clapton
Speaking of that certain kind of deceit … One of Clapton’s most iconic hits, “Layla” was based on the true story of his then-unrequited love for good friend and sometime musical cohort George Harrison’s then-wife and, eventually, ex-wife Patti Boyd, who later also became Clapton’s wife and ex-wife.
The electric 1971 original is a fire-and-brimstone rock & roll classic, but it’s the 1992 Unplugged version, with its mournful tone of romantic resignation, that almost — almost — makes me feel for the interloper.
“Losers, Weepers (Part 1)” Etta James
The Sweetest Peaches wasn’t so sweet (more like a sour old prune) on her best single (number 94, 1970), which, in my book, sounds even better than “Tell Mama,” “I’d Rather Go Blind,” and her signature “At Last.”
The woman she’s singing to sounds like a piece of work who probably doesn’t deserve romantic bliss. One wonders why anyone would want to be her friend at all.
But if you’re going to accept the gig, and you feel compelled to point out the errors of her deceitful ways, must you scoop up her discarded man while you’re at it? Isn’t that against the girlfriend code or something?
“So Called Friend” Texas
To get an idea of just how not-so-influential-yet Ellen DeGeneres was in the early ’90s, consider this: When this 1993 single moonlighted the following year as the theme song of DeGeneres’s first TV sitcom (initially called These Friends of Mine), it still wasn’t enough to break Scotland’s Texas in the U.S.
“That’s What Friends Are for” Barbara Mandrell
If you (like me) found the 1985 single of the same title that Dionne (Warwick) and Friends took to number one too sickeningly sweet, get a load of Mandrell’s 1976 take on the titular concept. She’d score bigger hits on both sides of a cheating situation (“The Midnight Oil,” “Married, But Not to Each Other,” “Woman to Woman,” “[If Loving You Is Wrong] I Don’t Want to Be Right,” and “One of a Kind Pair of Fools”), but what a beautiful victim of love she made when the one that got away ended up with her BFF.