My year-long series, New Year; New Types of Friends now moves to examples of friendships in the world of music. From backstage hang-outs and long-time creative partnerships to enthusiasts who bond over a specific band, friendships over music help strengthen our social bond and connection as friends.
There are several examples of friendships and numerous songs that teach us about companionship, camaraderie, support, and brotherhood. Although I’m not a trained musician, nor can I carry a tune, I do love to listen to music and will provide some examples to show how music helps develops close friendships.
Music Strengths Our Social Bonds
English composer, Sir Malcolm Henry Arnold (1921 – 2006) once said, “Music is the social act of communication among people, a gesture of friendship, the strongest there is.”
There are many reasons why music strengthens our social connections. They bond over a specific genre or band. They like the same instrument or go to the same dance clubs. People experience positive feelings over music.
As I previously wrote, finding commonality helps develop chemistry that helps build a friendship. Studies show that music leads to the secretion of hormones such as dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin (the love and happiness hormone) that strengthen personal relationships. Music increases these hormones Just like sexual contact, sports, and breastfeeding for women. This helps your confidence, empathy, generosity, and eye contact. They also improve your recognition of faces, an important part of relationships.
Another important part of developing a good friendship is the amount of time you spend together. Musicians typically spend countless hours together writing, rehearsing, and performing songs. I wrote in How Much Time Do Men Need to Become Friends? that it takes roughly 50 hours of time to move a relationship from a mere acquaintance to a casual friend and more than 200 hours over many weeks to become best friends. As such, it’s not surprising that many performers tend to develop close, personal friendships.
Some Musical Friendships
Musicians are just like the rest of us. They have friendships, romances, and fallouts. In the music industry, it’s inevitable for the world’s biggest acts to become friends due to the amount of time spent together collaborating and performing. Some brief research revealed a few musical relationships that produced important friendships:
The Father-figure Friendship
The bond between Copland and Bernstein is an example of a friendship similar to a father toward his child. The two met in 1937 when Bernstein was seated next to Copland at a performance, and Copland invited the entire front row to his birthday party. Bernstein, then a sophomore at Harvard, played Copland’s Piano Variations impressively at the party. Copland, who was eighteen years older than Bernstein, took Lenny under his wing, offered (sometimes too-honest) advice, and encouraged him to develop his own unique style. Bernstein showed his gratitude by giving his own critiques of Copland’s work and by championing his friend’s pieces throughout his conducting career. Their friendship lasted a lifetime, and the two composers died less than two months apart in 1990.
Friendship of Diversity & Love
Herb Alpert (born March 31, 1935) led the band Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass in the 1960s. Louis Daniel Armstrong (August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971), nicknamed “Satchmo” was one of the most influential figures in jazz with a career that spanned five decades. These two legends performed together countless times over the years. “It was easy to love Satchmo,” said Alpert. “You didn’t have to know a thing about music, all you had to do was be alive.”
Struggling with all the ugliness and divisiveness he saw around him, Alpert found comfort in Armstrong’s unapologetic optimism of his famous song, What A Wonderful World. Armstrong would say: “it ain’t the world that’s so bad, but what we’re doin’ to it. All I’m saying is what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance. Love baby, love. That’s the secret.” Alpert echoes Louis’ exact sentiment in a spoken-word form on the front of his cover of Armstrong’s song. Love baby, love. That’s the secret.
Support in Crisis
Elton John doesn’t shy away from addressing his issues with substance abuse and addiction in his memoir titled Me. He has become a sort of Hollywood helper to fellow celebrities struggling with addiction. “I suppose because I was a high-profile addict who turned his life around very publicly, I became someone that my peers looked to if they had a problem,” he said.
Marshal Mathers (more commonly known as Eminem) has been criticized for his use of homophobic lyrics and gay slurs throughout his career. In 2001, he was under fire for homophobic lyrics about stabbing gay people on his album, Kamikaze. But he later formed a friendship with Elton John, saying: “Me and him have had similar lives and stuff, so I reached out to him and told him, ‘Look, I’m going through a problem, and I need your advice’. He’s somebody who’s in the business and can identify and relate to the lifestyle and how hectic things can be”. Eminem’s show-stopping performance of Stan with Elton John at the Grammys put aside any rumors of discrimination, with the pair uniting, hands aloft, at the song’s end.
Friends for Career Advice
Artists, Snoop Dogg (born Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr.) and Tupac Shakur (born Lesane Parish Crooks) were some of the most iconic rappers in the 1990s West Coast scene. Snoop once said that Tupac taught him “a different kind of work ethic.” While they have vastly different styles — Snoop’s sleepy stoner drawl versus Tupac’s layered gangster rap — they often performed together. But they weren’t always on good terms.
In 2020, Snoop shared an Instagram video talking about his troubled relationship with Tupac, who died on September 13, 1996. But he said he learned something about work ethic from his friend. Tupac showed him to get out of his head and keep moving, to “Let the engineer mix it and master it, not fall in love with it, but fall in love with the craft of being able to do it and continue to do it.” In 2017, Snoop Dog gave a heartfelt speech to induct Tupac into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Songs About Friendship
Musicians have produced many songs about friendship across several genres over the years. Here are some of my favorites:
The Beatles recorded this catchy song for their album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” but never released it as a single. However, blues-rock singer Joe Cocker recorded it and climbed to #1 on the U.K. pop singles chart. It’s a song written about Billy Shears, a lonely guy who gets high to forget about his loneliness. His friends try to help him by either giving him drugs or by trying to make him happy. The reality is that The Beatles probably needed better friends to help them through their struggles with drugs and relationships.
Carole King actually wrote this song and included it on her landmark album “Tapestry” but allowed her friend, James Taylor to record it at the same time using the same musicians. Taylor’s recording hit #1 in 1971. He also won a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. She won the Grammy for Song of the Year. The song’s lyrics are about platonic devotion; the love that’s so strong you’d do anything for someone. While this type of love is often expressed in romantic ways, it highlights friendship above all else.
R&B legend, Bill Withers introduced this song in the early 1970s about his childhood in a West Virginia coal mining town that he missed after moving to Los Angeles to pursue his music career. The song went straight to #1 on the pop and soul singles charts. Club Nouveau’s re-do with a more uptempo version, sent the song back to #1 in 1987. Withers wrote the song in the form of a direct appeal to a friend: Call on me when you need a hand, “For it won’t be long, ‘Til I’m gonna need, Somebody, to lean on.” It’s a perfect anthem for troubled times since helping others in their time of need isn’t just selfless charity. It’s also for our own needs.
Popularized as the theme song for the TV series Friends, a little-known group called The Rembrandts, recorded the show’s introduction. Not intended to be released as a single, demand from fans forced the group to record a full-length version that reached the top 20 of the mainstream pop and adult contemporary radio charts. The song celebrates the humor in friendship. Its lyrics sum up the reliance we all have on our friends as we navigate adulthood.
This classic song by Queen is perfect for those who see their romantic partner as a best friend. First released on the album, A Night at the Opera, it is one of their most beloved songs. An electric Wurlitzer piano creates a distinctive sound for the recording, but the group used a grand piano played by lead singer Freddie Mercury during concerts. The song hit the top 20 on the US pop chart and the top 10 in the UK. Bass player, John Deacon wrote the song for his wife, Veronica Tetzlaff with his conclusion that she was an invaluable part of his earthly existence as his “best friend.” You might also read my post, Should She Be Your “Best” Friend? for another perspective on your friendship with your wife.
Legends Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager wrote this classic about the support provided by friendship. It was first recorded by Rod Stewart for the soundtrack to the 1982 movie, Night Shift. But Dionne Warwick was eager to help combat the AIDS epidemic after seeing friends die from the disease so she gathered Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder to record the song as a benefit for the American Foundation for AIDS Research. The single spent four weeks at #1 and earned 2 Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. It raised over $3 million for AIDS research.
The 1995 song by Randy Newman is the basis for the Toy Story franchise (as I wrote about in my post, A Friendship to Infinity and Beyond). It’s a feel-good tune that teaches little kids (and adults too!) about the meaning of friendship. Friendship is about sticking it out with good friends through thick and thin. It means having someone else’s back and them having yours.
The friendship between Michael W. Smith & Amy Grant started in 1980 when she was a junior at Vanderbilt University. The two were introduced to each other by Grant’s then-boyfriend, Christian singer-songwriter Gary Chapman, who was writing songs for the same publisher as Smith. Their friendship turned into one of modern music’s longest-running collaborations, with Grant and Smith touring together on and off for most of Smith’s career in contemporary Christian music. This song is a perfect reminder that we can have peace knowing that we will see our lost loved ones again in Heaven one day.
We Have a Friend in Jesus
Finding commonality in music strengthens our social bond and connection as friends. This common interest in music can also develop chemistry, which is another factor in creating a closer friendship. But music can also help the third part of my Formula for Turning Good Friends into GodBuddies: the common pursuit of becoming more like Jesus.
While researching for this post, I was reminded of the hymn, What a Friend We Have In Jesus, a song performed by many artists over the years. Originally written by preacher Joseph M. Scriven as a poem in 1855 to comfort his mother. Comfort and peace are something we can also use.
I was also reminded of the song Jesus Friend of Sinners by Casting Crowns. The group’s frontman, Mark Hall said he wrote the song to address the idea that the world knows Christians more for what they oppose rather than for what they support. He said the focus of the song is for the church to be “led by mercy” and speak truth to each other “as long as we do it in love”. It’s our call to be more like Jesus.
Back in Jesus’ day, the people criticized Him for spending time with the outcasts and “socially unacceptable” people, calling Him a “friend of sinners.” Now, I’m not suggesting musicians are sinners. IN fact, Romans 3:23 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The reality we are all sinners and Jesus wants to be our friend.
So just as the musicians synchronize their instruments, or a band connects with its audience, we must learn that Jesus. We do this by acknowledging Him as the Savior and learning to follow Him as our ever-lasting friend.
This series now turns us toward the home stretch with a few more posts that will complete the series by the end of the year.