Monday, April 15, 2024

Beyonce Lead Track “American Requiem” from New Album Unmasked as Stephen Sills’ 1967 Classic “For What It’s Worth”


The credits for Beyonce’s “Cowboy Carter” album are finally trickling in, and we’re learning the secret sauce: real songs.

The real songs are by Paul McCartney, Dolly Parton, Chuck Berry, Brian Wilson, Linda Martell, Willie Nelson. The anchors of the album are all solid songs from the past that Beyonce reinterprets so well. They show off her voice to its best.

But what about that opening track, “American Requiem”? I had skipped over it a bit because of all the track about “Blackbird” and “Jolene.” Buried in the credits for “American Requiem” is one name of the twelve songwriters that shows that the song is based on a classic from the 1960s.

Indeed, the music for “American Requiem” is a reworked version of Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth.” That’s why is it’s so catchy. It has different lyrics, but the song would not be singable without the familiar melody Stills introduced 60 years ago with his band, Buffalo Springfield.

This is called an “interpolation” these days. I call it a cover with different words. Beyonce and Jay Z have slapped their names on it, along with Jon Batiste.

There’s no “American Requiem” without the original American requiem by Stills. That song crystallized the resistance to the Vietnam war among young people, and the fight for civil rights. It’s all in the key verse:

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

Let’s hope Stills’s reps got the bulk of that publishing, in perpetuity.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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