FlourishAnyway believes there is a playlist for just about any situation and is on a mission to unite and entertain the world through song.
Phone Call to the Past
I found a stranger's wallet the other day and had no clue how to look up his cell phone number to let him know. Although his property was eventually returned, the incident made me think about all of the changes to telephones that I've seen since I was a kid in the 1970s and 80s.
At the time, we were just riding wild and free without cell phones, voicemail, or the internet. We commonly used free directory assistance or "information" to request unknown phone numbers, or we even looked up numbers in the relevent hard copy phone book (one for businesses and the other for residences). We dialed "0" from a landline to get operator assistance when calling collect, charging a call to a credit card, or calling internationally.
An impatient teenage girl I knew even used operator assistance several times to interrupt calls when her boyfriend was talking with someone else. That was before call waiting existed. The operator came on the line during the conversation to announce that the current call was ending because there was an emergency and Sandy needed to talk with Alan.
In some communities, we used only four or five digits to call local numbers. I still remember mine and the annoyance of switching to the whole seven digits. Other communities used party lines, a shared service that afforded zero privacy. I remember picking up my phone and having to ask a rural neighbor how much longer their conversation would be. Awkward. Oh, and the eavesdropping ... .
Before answering machines or voicemail, phone calls were hit or miss. If you really wanted to talk to someone you had to prearrange a time to talk with them or call when you were certain they'd be home. Phones often rang 10-20 times otherwise. When we did pick up the phone, it was sort of like playing Russian roulette. With no caller ID it could be grandma on the other end, a pesky telemarketer, or your crush from school. Caller ID sadly makes it all but impossible for today's kids to get away with hilarious prank calls like the ones my siblings enjoyed when not well attended.
Before cellphones we also had to contend with traveling long distances without a way to contact anyone for help. According to my memory, calls were made from payphones for a dime and then a quarter. Payphones were plentiful. Long distance rates, however, were so expensive that we had to time them for late nights and weekends. Time marches on.
Whether you've seen these things for yourself or just heard about them, make a playlist about phone calls with this pop, rock, country, and R&B playlist about the topic. We have a long list to start you off!
1. "Need You Now" by Lady A
Stay away from the phone when you're drunk and lonely! There's probably a good reason you broke up with your ex. Here goes the drunk dial which mixes heartache, alcohol, and too much time on your hands. It's all too easy to allow sloppy words of love and longing spill out to a former flame. Your confessions will make you cringe later.
The woman in this 2009 country pop crossover tune sits by herself on her living room floor at 1:15 a.m. As she downs shots of whiskey and peruses old photos of a broken romance, she's more than a little tipsy.
Memories are splayed out on the floor in front of her as the narrator drunk dials her former lover to let him know how she needs him now. Lady A's song was globally popular and won four Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year and Record of the Year. So many people could identify with it.
2. "Hello" by Adele
Adele is aching down deep in this Grammy Award-winning love ballad from 2015. She convincingly portrays a narrator who has been ruminating about an old love affair. Repeatedly the woman calls up her ex to try to discuss their failed relationship.
While she is still trying to heal from having broken his heart, it's clear that he has moved on and doesn't need such a discussion. Her attempts at apologies and sensemaking are not intended to benefit her ex but rather herself, however. She still feels remorse for treating him poorly.
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The sorrowful woman is stuck in the past thinking about what she and her former lover used to mean to one another. Her many attempts to reconnect with him via phone have sadly proven fruitless. Although she's finally leaving him this voicemail, she's finally getting the message. His silence speaks volumes. (This song makes me wonder what she did that would make him give her the cold shoulder.)
3. "One Call Away" by Charlie Puth
We could all use at least one friend like this guy! Positive energy and enthusiastic support for one's friend bubbles up in this this uplifting, gospel-infused pop number. The chart-topping 2015 ditty describes a guy's assurances to his buddy on how he will provide love and tangible assistance when needed:
I'm only one call away
I'll be there to save the day
Superman got nothing on me
I'm only one, I'm only one call away.
4. "867-5309 / Jenny" by Tommy Tutone
Up for debate is whether the origins of this 1981 power pop song are fictitious or inspired by the name of an actual "Jenny" whose name and number were scrawled on a bathroom wall (as in "for a good time call ...). Band member and songwriter accounts conflict.
Regardless, this contagious tune details a guy placing a call to a girl whose number he lifts from a wall. What weirdo does that?
The fella is socially awkward in an era before we acknowledged that was a real thing. The narrator tries to convince poor Jenny that he's different from the other guys and that she makes him happy. A long list of unwanted phone calls have historically been associated with real-life phone numbers that have the suffix 867-5309.
5. "I Just Called to Say I Love You" by Stevie Wonder
You don't always need a specific reason to place a phone call. Sometimes "I love you" is enough. That's the message in this 1984 pop song from the soundtrack of the major motion picture, The Woman in Red.
This R&B-tinged hit song was a #1 hit worldwide. In it, a man dials up his sweetheart to convey his love, taking great steps to assure her that that is the only purpose. There is no holiday or special occasion motivating his telephone call, just his deep and abiding love. How sweet!
Hey, don't forget to call your mother, too! She needs to hear from you, you know.
6. “1-800-273-8255” by Logic (Featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid)
Suicide claims one death every 11 minutes, so for anyone who has lost a friend or loved one this tragic way like I have, this 2017 rap song is both important and bittersweet. The life-saving suicide prevention anthem is a message of hope and help. Its title is the phone number of the American National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
The song features a distressed caller disclosing that he feels hopeless and doesn't want to be alive. His thoughts of self-harm are answered with support that he doesn't have to die today, as well as encouragement for pushing through life's most difficult times because you have something to live for.
The caller in the song realizes that he doesn't want to die, he just wants to feel alive. What could have been a tragedy thus becomes a story of hope and resilience.
After the song was released, calls to the American National Suicide Prevention Lifeline spiked, as did visits to the organization's website. On July 16, 2022, dialing "988" in the US will automatically redirect calls to the helpline.
7. "Callin' Baton Rouge" by Garth Brooks
Back in a time before cell phones, the trucker in this 1993 country tune bedded down with a lady named Samantha he met while in Louisiana, and now he can't get her off his mind. This wasn't any one night stand. Every couple hundred miles he stops his semi to send his love to the young gal he spent the night with in Baton Rouge. He can't wait to make their connection more permanent.
8. "Call Me" by Blondie
Written for the movie American Gigolo, this chart-topping 1980 new wave single is about a prostitute. Although sung by a female, the song lyrics are from the perspective of the movie's male main character. (Let's hear it for Richard Gere in his heyday!)
The song flirtatiously describes being available for hire for kisses, love, or a romp in the sheets—whatever the client wants. The well-dressed narrator is on call for escort services and ready to be shown off or privately entertain customers. The song was a global hit and the band's most successful single.
9. "Picture" by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow
The couple in this fractured relationship seems to go together like booze and cigarettes—unhealthy but just something you are drawn to do. This angsty 2002 country rock crossover song is about their reconciliation phone call following three days of hard living and being apart from the one you've hurt but still ache for.
While on their relationship "break," the man holes himself up in a hotel, binges on cocaine and whiskey, and has several one-night stands. Truly classy. The woman seeks physical comfort from a friend of her lover's and goes to church. Also a nice touch.
They both try in vain to forget their estranged partner and put away each others' photos because they miss one another so much. Finally, with their reunification phone call comes a mutual promise of changing their ways as they return home to a happy life together. I give it 50/50.
10. "Kiss Me Thru the Phone" by Soulja Boy (Featuring Sammie)
Cool your jets, buddy! The guy in this 2008 hip hop tune is feeling frisky and asking for romance over his cell phone even though he says he'll see his sweetheart later. Restraint, my friend. Save it for the in-person.
The guy says he misses her, calls her his "future wifey," and compliments his beloved's beauty. Then the guy repeatedly begs and pleads for her to "kiss me through the phone." Does this mean he's wanting her to talk dirty to him? Or does it mean he is asking for dirty photos? If so, just remember those photos are forever!
11. "865" by Morgan Wallen
The man in this 2021 country song tries to drown the memory of his ex in a bottle of Jack, but he finds that it backfires. He ends up drunk dialing her instead, allegedly looking for closure in the phone call.
Morgan Wallen uses the full phone number (865) 409-1021 in this song and says to whomever owns that number in real life that he's very sorry. The area code (865) is for Knoxville, Tennessee and surrounding counties. Wallen grew up in Sneedville, Tennessee, a community with less than 1,400 people.
12. "Lips of an Angel" by Hinder
Can you imagine your partner taking a secret phone call from their old flame late at night? That's the context in this 2006 rock song. A man talks with his former lover while his significant other is in the other room. They still harbor feelings for one another but are in other serious relationships now.
The man in particular expresses how talking with his ex makes it a struggle to remain faithful to his current partner. Although he hasn't cheated physically, he sure hasn't told her that he's talking to his ex. He also calls the woman "honey" and "angel." His live-in girlfriend would be madder than a hornet in an old Coke can if she knew, ya think?
Someone has some unfinished emotional business to take care of that they aren't being honest about. This is what emotional infidelity looks like in a relationship.
13. "One Number Away" by Luke Combs
Stubborn is what the man in this 2017 country song is. He got angry at the woman he loved and walked out, telling her, "I'm leaving and not coming back." Now he regrets his haste. Wondering what his ex-girlfriend is doing, he's miserable and too filled with pride to call her. He just sits sits there lonely with his phone, missing her and dialing her phone number down to the last number. Eventually he'll have to choose: pride or happiness.
14. "Austin" by Blake Shelton
This 2001 country love ballad is about second chances at love. A woman leaves her partner without offering forwarding contact information (ouch!), and the crestfallen man figures that she is returning to Austin, Texas. She used to talk about the city a lot.
A year passes, and she finally calls him, only to hear that her ex-lover's outgoing message contains a coded message of love meant for her in case she tried to get back in touch. Surprised, the Austin woman leaves her number and the couple reunites. Love is worth waiting for.
15. "Hot Line" by Sylvers
Either quench this guy's desire or throw some water on him because he is seriously burning up. In this 1976 disco tune, a man flirtatiously chats up a woman telling her he's calling on the love hot line and is sexy hot for her love.
He asks that the operator connect him but requests that she not listen in. The narrator portrays his urgent love situation as such an emergency that he has used the CIA's private, super confidential phone. He is also considering getting in touch with the FBI to track down his love interest.
Time out, mister. This sounds over-the-top, predatory even. Ultimately, the song is about getting a woman's phone number.
16. "Here's a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)" by Travis Tritt
Travis Tritt wrote this 1991 country hit on the night the local sheriff served him with divorce papers from his second wife. During the day while he was at work she cleaned out their house of nearly everything they owned, leaving both the front and back door open.
As Tritt sat reading the divorce papers, his wife called to express second thoughts, however. That's when the song's hook came to his mind. The couple's divorce was finalized in 1989, shortly after Tritt signed a major record deal with Warner Bros.
"Here's a Quarter" is a kiss-off song for an untrustworthy partner who's left and wants to come back. The narrator makes it clear, however, that there are no take-backs in this relationship:
You say you were wrong, to ever leave me alone
Now you're sorry, you're lonesome and scared
And you say you'd be happy, if you could just come back home
Well here's a quarter, call someone who cares.
17. "Payphone" by Maroon 5 (Featuring Wiz Khalifa)
You can barely find a payphone in the US anymore, but the dude in this 2012 pop song manages to find one. In fact, AT&T stopped servicing the public payphone infrastructure in 2009.
In the song, the narrator reaches out to an ex-lover using a payphone, a symbol for his lack of secure belonging. He fails to reach her (as he seems to be talking to an answering machine or voicemail), thus, further indicating his isolation.
Whereas the narrator's former girlfriend has accepted the end of their relationship and moved forward with her life, he lives with bitterness and anger. The man recalls their time together as wasted even though he still cares for his ex. Their breakup causes him to feel contempt and to believe that he's been taken advantage of.
18. "Call Your Girlfriend" by Robyn
Now this is a pickup line. A take-charge woman knows what she likes in this 2010 electropop number, and without hesitation she initiates action.
The narrator is an alpha female who is magnetically attracted to a man she has just met. After hooking up, she subsequently orders him to call his girlfriend and break up with her so that they can be together. The narrator dictates to him what to tell his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend:
- that it's not the girlfriend's fault
- he just met somebody new
- don't get upset
- she'll learn to love again
- he never meant to hurt anyone, and
- they can still be friends.
The narrator also instructs him what not to say to his girlfriend. To hell with any girl code. This beta male is worth it, she thinks.
19. "Mr. Telephone Man" by New Edition
When the other party hangs up on you or is trying to dodge your call, that should be pretty obvious, right? Unfortunately, the guy in this 1984 R&B tune is just not getting it, either because of youthful naivete or because he's not the brightest tool in the shed.
When the narrator doesn't reach his girlfriend by phone, he assumes that there's something wrong with his line and contacts the phone company to report the problem. In reality, his gal is hanging up on him, the phone rings 20 times and she doesn't answer, or (big red flag) an unknown man answers and reports that the woman is not at home. Although the narrator hopes that this situation can be chalked up to just a bad connection, the poor fella reluctantly begins to get a clue.
Bobby Brown was only 15 years old when he sang lead on this hit song as part of New Edition. That was before he struck out on his own in 1985. It was also before he met, married (1992) and made a mess of Whitney Houston. New Edition finally disbanded in 1996. The group received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
20. "Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels)" by Jim Croce
Years ago, when you didn't know a person's phone number you could dial the phone company's information service and ask an operator—yes, a real live person—to look the information up for you and then patch you on through. This 1972 folk rock song describes one man's conversation with such a telephone operator.
The narrator is trying to get in touch with an ex-lover who has set up housekeeping in Los Angeles with his former best friend. Their betrayal crushed him at the time, but as he relays the story to the operator, he tries to pretend that he has recovered from it.
Although his stated intent for wanting the couple's number is to let them know how he has bounced back and is thriving emotionally, that's not in fact the truth. The past hurts so much that he sheds tears while recounting the story, thereby smudging the number that the operator just gave him. Ultimately, he decides to just end the call.
Jim Croce met an untimely death in 1973 when the small plane he was riding on hit a tree during takeoff, killing all onboard. In recognition of his string of successful Billboard Top 40 hits (some of which were released posthumously), Croce was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Even More Pop, Rock & Country Songs About Phone Calls
21. Call Me Maybe
Carly Rae Jepsen
23. Hung Up
24. Hotline Bling
26. I'd Really Love to See You Tonight
England Dan & John Ford Coley
Lady Gaga (Featuring Beyoncé)
28. Beechwood 4-5789
29. The Call
30. Telephone Line
Electric Light Orchestra
31. Star 69
32. Chantilly Lace
The Big Bopper
33. Wrong Number
34. Summertime Sadness
Lana Del Rey
35. Don't Call Us, We'll Call You
36. Video Phone
37. 2 Phones
38. Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair)
39. LOL Smiley Face
Trey Songz (Featuring Gucci Mane and Soulja Boy Tellem)
40. The Fly
41. Car Phone!
42. 634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.)
43. How Come U Don't Call Me
44. Talk Dirty to Me
45. Never There
46. Party Line
47. Love on the Telephone
48. Last Call
Lee Ann Womack
50. Baby Don't Forget My Number
51. Calling All My Lovelies
52. Call and Answer
53. Don't Call Me Up
54. Just Be a Man About It
55. Cat's in the Cradle
56. It's Your Call
57. Why We Call Each Other
58. Ring Ring
60. Call Me When You’re Sober
61. One Thin Dime
63. Woman to Woman
65. The Last Train to Clarksville
66. Give Me One Reason
68. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
69. Why Don’t That Telephone Ring
70. Just Seven Numbers (Can Straighten Out My Life)
The Four Tops
71. Don't Hang Up
72. You Wear It Well
74. Cry Me a River
75. Call Me Tonight
76. Rikki Don't Lose That Number
77. Pick Up the Phone
78. Leave a Message
Mary J. Blige
79. I Called Mama
80. My Bad
81. Thinking 'Bout You
Dustin Lynch (Featuring MacKenzie Porter)
82. The Lazy Song
83. Dad's Old Number
84. Lonely Call
85. Alcohol You Later
86. Stone Cold Sober
87. Jump to It
88. He'll Have to Go
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