Friendship is a complicated thing. It can save your life — like when a good buddy gets you through a bad breakup — or it can drive you absolutely nuts. After all, some friends lie and let you down, and if they’re not secretly plotting your demise, they might be harboring romantic feelings that threaten to destroy the relationship. Or maybe it’s you doing the crushing. Either way, pop musicians feel your pain. Over the years, everyone from strutting stadium rockers to steely gangsta rappers have penned songs on the subject. Read on to see what 20 odes to friendship rank among our favorites.
The White Stripes, “We’re Going to Be Friends”
Long before he made scuzzy rock ‘n’ roll with Meg White, schoolboy Jack White dug playing in the dirt with sweet Suzy Lee. This one’s warmer and fuzzier than just about any vintage guitar tone White has deafened us with in his post-elementary-school years.
Queen, “You’re My Best Friend”
(Hot 100 Peak: No. 16; Peak Date: July 31, 1976)
If the whole androgynous rock-god thing hadn’t worked out, Freddie Mercury would’ve found a home at Hallmark. Pair these lyrics with a photo of a puppy and a kitty snuggled up on a carpet, and you’ve got the kind of extra-special thank-you card you send a buddy after he or she saves you from a shark attack or bails you out of prison.
Bill Withers, “Lean on Me”
(Hot 100 Peak: No. 1 for 3 weeks; Peak Date: July 8, 1972)
The Grammy-winning ’80s remake by Club Nouveau has a better beat, but in terms of sheer tear-to-the-eye tenderness, there’s no beating Withers’ 1972 original. Hopeful and heartfelt, it cuts through 21st century cynicism faster than the NSA tapping into your phone line.
The Beatles, “With a Little Help From My Friends”
(Hot 100 Peak: No. 71; Peak Date: Sept. 30, 1978)
We should all have friends like John, Paul, George, and Ringo. They’ll help you get by and get high, and when you’re really feeling low, they’ll cheer you up with a secret dick joke. (“What do you see when you turn out the light? / I can’t tell you but I know it’s mine.”)
Randy Newman, “You Got a Friend In Me”
This cuddly Toy Story soundtrack tune is basically the Cheers theme for folks too young to hang out in bars. And after a few beers, most adults will weep over Newman’s gooey lyrics and the fond memories of childhood dolls they invoke.
Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight, “That’s What Friends Are For”
(Hot 100 Peak: No. 1 for 4 weeks; Peak Date: Jan. 18, 1986)
These four superstar buddies did a world of good with this 1985 single, which raised millions for the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). The charity angle distracts from the mawkishness, though Rod Stewart‘s 1982 version — a warm bath of synth and sax — might be the better listen.
The Jackson 5, “I’ll Be There”
(Hot 100 Peak: No. 1 for 5 weeks; Peak Date: Oct. 17, 1970)
Little Michael Jackson was just 12 years old when he recorded this soul-pop classic, and yet he sings about grown-up concepts like undying love and respect with as much passion and sincerity as he did in his later years. There’s something incredibly sweet and terribly sad about that.
(Hot 100 Peak: No. 1 for 7 weeks; Peak Date: June 9, 2007)
Figuratively speaking, Ri’s there on gloomy days to offer shelter from the storm. Literally, she probably hasn’t hoisted her own umbrella for years, and when the skies open up, the Fonzworth Bentley type in her entourage ain’t letting you get anywhere near the star.
The Spice Girls, “Wannabe”
(Hot 100 Peak: No. 1 for 4 weeks; Peak Date: Feb. 22, 1997)
“Friendship never ends,” the Spice Girls told us on their breakthrough single, and while they went on indefinite hiatus in 2000, seemingly contradicting that super-positive “girl power” message, they’ve since regrouped a couple of times, most recently for a performance at the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics. Technically, these gals weren’t lying. Friendship doesn’t end, but it does take breaks.
50 Cent, “Best Friend”
(Hot 100 Peak: No. 35; Peak Date: May 13, 2006)
It’s a fine line between friend and lover, and here, it takes Fiddy two filthy lines to render the thing invisible. He’s not looking for a buddy to fly kites with in the park. He’s looking to fly his private jet a mile high and do freaky things that’ll get commercial planes diverted.
Kanye West, Jay Z and Big Sean, “Clique”
(Hot 100 Peak: No. 12; Peak Date: Sept. 29, 2012)
This G.O.O.D. Music posse cut plays like a gangsta “Lean on Me.” When times get rough, Big Sean’s got Hova’s back, and he, in turn, helps Rihanna, Beyonce, and LeBron James shoulder their burdens, such that they have any. Yeezy, meanwhile, is hanging with Tom Cruise and former CIA boss George Tenet. This may be the only clique in the world that can drop bangers, preach the gospel of L. Ron Hubbard, and overthrow South American governments.
Weezer, “My Best Friend”
Being Rivers Cuomo’s bestie sure would be great. He’d let you borrow his KISS bootlegs and 12-sided die, and were you to ask him when Weezer is going to make another record as good as their first two, he wouldn’t take offense. (Hopefully, he’d say Oct. 7, the day Everything Will Be Alright In the End drops, and genuinely mean it.)
Bruno Mars, “Count on Me”
This is definitely a guy you want in your corner. If you’re “stuck in the middle of the sea,” he’ll throw down the guitar and bongos and hop in a rescue boat, post haste. When your lights go out, dude’s got a flashlight. He’ll even help you get to sleep when you’re “tossin’ and you’re turnin’,” possibly by playing this sunny, snoozy lullaby.
LCD Soundsystem, “All My Friends”
When the drugs run out, and there’s nothing to distract from the fact you’re not 20 anymore, and you can no longer rage into the wee hours — that’s when you find out who your real friends are. Props to James Murphy for realizing this and writing a killer seven-minute party jam about it.
TLC, “What About Your Friends”
(Hot 100 Peak: No. 7; Peak Date: Nov. 21, 1992)
Fame didn’t change T-Boz. When she and TLC hit, it was her friends that got weird, and that’s left her feeling burned: “Don’t you know when times got rough I was standing on my own / I’ll never let another get that close to me.” It’s like Biggie said five years later: “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” Luckily, B.I.G.’s BFF, Puffy, was probably sitting on more green than he was.
Bette Midler, “Wind Beneath My Wings”
(Hot 100 Peak: No. 1; Peak Date: June 10, 1989)
Real friends elevate and inspire you, and you can always count on them for simple acts of everyday heroism. You know, like not ratting you out for crying like a baby whenever “Wind Beneath My Wings” comes on the radio.
Andrew Gold, “Thank You For Being a Friend”
(Hot 100 Peak: No. 25; Peak Date: April 15, 1978)
Although this soft-rock nugget reached No. 25 on the Hot 100 back in 1978, it’s Cynthia Fee’s version, the theme song from the sitcom Golden Girls, that everyone knows and loves. Just try to spin it without thinking of sarcastic Dorothy, saucy Blanche, unfiltered Sophia, or sweet, naive Rose.
Biz Markie, “Just a Friend”
(Hot 100 Peak: No. 9; Peak Date: March 17, 1990)
Biz learned the lesson so the rest of us don’t have to: When a girl (or guy) you’re sweating spends a lot of time with some dude (or chick) that she (or he) claims is “just a friend,” it’s total BS. You’re getting played. They’re off in some dorm “tongue kissin’,” and you’re stranded on their campus with a bus receipt and a broken heart.
James Taylor, “You’ve Got a Friend”
(Hot 100 Peak: No. 1 for 1 week; Peak Date: July 31, 1971)
Most of the obstacles to happiness in this Carole King-penned baby-boomer classic are weather-related, so the lyrics are particularly meaningful if you live in a place prone to heavy winds and harsh seasonal storms. Even in icy conditions, if you’ve got problems, pals like King and Taylor will come running. Real friends invest in cleats.
The Rembrandts, “I’ll Be There For You”
(Radio Songs: No. 1 for 8 weeks; Peak Date: June 17, 1995)
Hop in a fountain. Swill coffee all day. Get a pet monkey. If your buddies are really your buddies, they’ll be cool with these and other poor life decisions, and they’ll sing you sweet power-pop tunes like this one when you’re hung up on that cutie across the hall you’re destined for but just can’t seem to get with.