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15 Songs About Telephones

Home > Everywhere > Lists | Music | Performing Arts | Quirky | Vintage and Retro
by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published August 15th 2020
When the rotary dial ruled our lives
I recently tried to track down an old friend, so I went online to the White Pages website and discovered said friend did not exist. I went to the local post office and asked them, and was told that if you have a mobile phone then you have to opt into being in the White Pages, and more and more households are opting to not have a landline, so finding someone's phone number has become harder.

This got me thinking. Many people today do not know what it is like to have a phone connected to the wall, to have only one phone in the whole household. I remember back in the 80s talking to a girlfriend late at night, and she had to drag the whole phone into her room and hide under the covers, thinking this would hide what she was doing, but the cord was a dead giveaway. No text messages, no emails, no social media, just a single, simple phone line.

This also means so many of the songs from back then about telephones would not make sense to the modern, younger listener. It is like a completely different world and yet it was not that long ago. And so, in order to celebrate this bit of culture that is slowly dying, here are songs about telephones… the old fashioned variety.

Three rules:
1) One song per artist.
2) I have to like the song.
3) The telephone has to be central to the song.
Simple. Let's go!

'Pennsylvania 6-5000' by The Glen Miller Orchestra (1940)

I think this is the oldest song I've had on one of these lists! I have always enjoyed some big band jazz, and even though I was introduced to it through the works of Woody Hermann (even saw him live in the early 80s at the Adelaide Festival Theatre), it was Glenn Miller who drew me in… and then the Brian Setzer Orchestra solidified my love for it. And this track is so good. Back to the days when phone numbers were letters and numbers. Before I was born. Doesn't matter. The music here is so wonderful.

'Chantilly Lace' by The Big Bopper (1958)

"Helllloooo, Bay-ay-ay-beh!" And with that opening, we get a telephone conversation – one-sided, as we only hear Bopper talking – in song that is absolutely magnificent. This track was one I heard from a very early age, so maybe that is part of it, but I still know every word. An all-time rock music classic. This man's early death in the plane with Buddy Holly and Richie Valens really was "the day the music died" (Don McLean).

'He'll Have To Go' by Jim Reeves (1959)

Let's go early country-pop. Jim is talking to his girl on the phone and telling her she has to dump her current guy and come to him. It is a sad song, and Reeves' voice does so amazingly well. I know Elvis covered it sometime later, but no-one matched Reeves.

'Memphis, Tennessee' by Chuck Berry (1959)

Something people would have such a hard time with – using the operator to talk long-distance. And this Chuck Berry classic puts that so very clearly, the frustration and everything else. When I was younger, we used an operator to call collect; I am not sure if this was still a thing back then. But this is a great track. And the live video from many years later shows why Berry was considered a guitar hero – he really is good.

'634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.)' by Wilson Pickett (1966)

Giving his phone number out so, if you need some lovin', you know who to call. Simple. I guess that is still done today, but maybe you'd exchange mobile numbers by syncing up instead. Does not matter, I suppose – it's still the same hoped for outcome. But, really, this is Wilson Pickett; does it ever get more soulful than this?

'Sylvia's Mother' by Dr Hook And The Medicine Show (1972)

Back to country, this time country-rock. This rather depressing song about a guy trying to talk to Sylvia, but being blocked by her mother… and then the operator asking for more money to keep the call going. Again, something people today just could not get a handle on. But this is one of the best songs Dr. Hook recorded. And it is so sad.

'Rikki Don't Lose That Number' by Steely Dan (1974)

A girl has run out on a guy, but he reminds her she has his phone number, so don't lose it because you'll want it again one of these days! Losing phone numbers… that has happened to me too often in the past. But the thing about this song is that it is fantastic. Country-rock again, and really good.

'Balwyn Calling' by Skyhooks (1974)

One of the few tracks NOT banned from their Livin' In The 70s album. And yet, it is about a one-night stand where the guy gave the girl his phone number and now she won't leave him alone. Tells you how "naughty" the rest of the tracks were. (For what it's worth – one of the greatest Australian albums ever.) Just glorious Australian rock.

'Hanging On The Telephone' by The Nerves (1976)

Probably better known for the Blondie cover two years later, this original version is more punk and I like it a little more. Calling on a payphone, and he's going to stay there until she answers. Oh, the days before message-bank! Before answering machines, even…

'Telephone Line' by Electric Light Orchestra (1976)

Depressing song… again. ELO is a favourite band of mine and this is one of their all-time classic tracks. A girl will not answer the phone and he is feeling worse and worse about it ("living in twilight…") because it tells him their relationship is really through. Love this song, but… dang! It's depressing.

'Love On The Telephone' by Foreigner (1979)

The singer is trying desperately to convince his girl that the long-distance relationship they are having over the telephone can work, and that she should hang on until he gets back to her. With some great Foreigner instrumentation and Lou Gramm's voice, as always, soars. Today, I guess it'd be a Zoom or Skype relationship…

'Call Me' by Blondie (1980)

Blondie were moving towards pop by the time of this track, but still maintained some of their original punk roots. This great song is another one about asking the object of desire to call when they get the chance, but this song goes a little more in-depth, telling the guy what he'll receive if he does call. One of Blondie's best.

'8675-309/Jenny' by Tommy Tutone (1981)

I have loved this song since it was released… and yet I did not understand it until In was 16 or so, some six years later. A guy falling in love with a girl because he saw some graffiti on the wall of a men's bathroom is strange, but there you go. He hasn't even met her – it's just the phone number and "for a good time call" scrawled there.

'Call Me' by Go West (1985)

Go West was one of those bands who had a few hit singles in the 80s and then faded from the public consciousness. I liked all of their singles… but their one album I own has a few more duds on it than I was ready for. Still, this track is a great song about a guy who – wait for it – wants his girl to call him so they can patch things up. I sense a recurring theme. Nice bit of 80s pop-rock here.

'Telephone Booth' by Ian Moss (1989)

In the late 1980s, with Cold Chisel on hiatus, Ian Moss released the fantastic album Matchbook, one of my first CD purchases. And this was the lead single, written by fellow Chisel member Don Walker. Moss is in the middle of nowhere and all he has is this telephone booth. It is a magnificent song.

And that's it. 15 songs about telephones and using them. A throw-back to the old days before smart-phones, before simple mobile (cell) phones. It is a shame that these things have passed us by in a way, but through music like this, those times can still be relived… or at least imagined by those with no experience of them.
telephone, song, music

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Why? Old fashioned technology can still lead to great songs
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Your Comment
Can I add another one - by a great Scottish band? When will You Make My Telephone Ring by Deacon Blue.
by May Cross (score: 3|8225) 838 days ago
As a former Postmaster General telephonist (1961-1967), 'Telephone Line' by ELO is my choice.
by Gloria (score: 2|545) 837 days ago
Thankyou, this has bought back memories of the clunky rotary dial Phone. Phone booths and Bakelite Telephones.
Very much enjoyed reading your list of songs related to Phones.
by vonni (score: 1|14) 837 days ago
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