When it comes to musicians you never know what is going on in their head when they are performing their songs. That is exactly why the best songs are usually the result of a real-life story. We dug deep and went on a search to discover which of the most famous songs had great backstories.
We had discovered that the musicians usually use a loved person as their muse, but sometimes they even make songs about the people they fantasize they had. Some musicians have the courage to title their songs after their loved ones, but others tend to name it everything else but the name. Make sure to read the whole article and see for yourself!
1. Astrud Gilberto – “The Girl from Ipanema” (1964)
This story takes us all the way back to 1962. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to be more specific. The writers of this particular song stumbled upon Heloisa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto who also went by the name of Helô Pinheiro. She was just 17-years-old at the time, and was on her regular walk down the beach. She usually passed by the Veloso café. There were times when she’d stop there and buy cigarettes that her mother smoked. According to the writers, she was absolutely stunning, and each man who saw her immediately fell in love with her.
The song was named “Menina que Passa” (The Girl Who Passes By) at first and is a song about how beautiful youth is and just how quickly it passes. Pinheiro was actually quite lucky herself. If it wasn’t for the song, she would probably not have reached the fame she did. She became a bikini model and even owned her own bikini store. She reached the peak of her modeling career when she posed for the Brazilian Playboy and made the cover in 1987. She proved that beauty stayed with her, and managed to appear on the cover yet one more time in 2003, when she was 59-years-old.
2. Neil Diamond – “Sweet Caroline” (1969)
There were numerous rumors out there about Neil Diamond drawing his inspiration for this song thanks to the Life Magazine cover that was printed and released back in September 7, 1962. The cover introduced Caroline Kennedy on a horse. She was 4-years-old at the time, and that cover just sunk and stayed in Neil’s head. He wrote “Sweet Caroline” a few years later to finally put it on paper.
It took Neil fortytwo years after the release of the song to admit where the inspiration came from, and he did so by talking about it in an interview for CBS’s The Early Show. Neil even went and gave a performance at Caroline’s 50th birthday party. In 2014, however, Neil retracted his words and now claims that he wrote the song for an ex-wife of his, and only used the other name because he was in need of a name that had three syllables.
3. Ritchie Valens – “Donna” (1958)
Many of you might know Ritchie Valens for his hit that was a crowd favorite at parties, called the “La Bamba.” However, not many are actually aware that the song that reached his personal highest chart rating was an ode titled “Donna.” And yes, it was dedicated to a woman – Donna Ludwig. Ritchie fell in love with Donna back in high school and used her as a muse for this song. It managed to reach the number two spot on the 1959’s Billboard Hot 100.
Ritchie and Donna never broke contact, right until the tragic day of February 3rd, 1959. Ritchie and Buddy Holly were taking a regular flight when it crashed. Unfortunately, both were killed. Donna never broke contact with his family after his tragic death, and the remained very close.
4. Billy Joel – “She’s Always a Woman” (1977)
It seems like Billy Joel is one of those artists who can easily nail a song that has an emotional meaning behind it. “She’s Always a Woman” is one of those songs. The song was released back in 1977 and speaks of what was at the time considered to be a modern woman. She has her own flaws, but the artist admires her regardless. Billy was actually talking about his ex-wife Elizabeth Weber Small. The couple was married in 1973, 4 years before the song was released.
She was actually the one responsible for Billy’s career progress. She managed to save him from signing awful contracts and deals. That is why the song also mentions that the woman is a great negotiator and that many men would see her as a threat to their masculinity, but Billy saw her as a strong woman. The two filed for divorce in 1982. Make sure to read on, because this is not the only Billy Joel hit on this list!
5. Buddy Holly – “Peggy Sue” (1957)
Buddy Holly has a great name that fits his personality accordingly. His drummer Jerry Allison asked for a favor, and Buddy complied. Thus the hit “Peggy Sue” hit the stage. The song got its name after Peggy Sue Gerron, She was the one that Jerry had his eyes on. Buddy helped his friend out, and wrote one of the greatest hits ever at the same time.
And for those of you wondering – yes, Allison did get the girl. He and Peggy actually married not long after meeting. The band went on to release a sequel to their hit, titled “Peggy Sue Got Married.” It was, however, not as good as the first one.
6. Cat Stevens – “Wild World” (1970)
Cat Stevens was in a serious relationship with Patti D’Arbanville and the two had been together for a couple of years. Cat chose to write not one, not two, but several songs about Patti during their time together. One of the best was certainly “Patti D’Arbanville” as well as the “Wild World.”
Critics were on the fence regarding the song, and many claimed that Cat was showing a bit too much protection for a partner that has just left the relationship. Patti left Cat and got together with Mick Jagger. “Wild World” was a song for Patti that Cat wrote as a farewell. Patti was both a model and an actress. She had a successful career ever since she was sixteen when she appeared in Andy Warhol’s Flesh. She added numerous other films and shows to her portfolio later on.
7. Paul McCartney – “Maybe I’m Amazed” (1970)
Paul McCartney is the absolute master when it comes to writing love songs. One of those amazing hits is “Maybe I’m Amazed.” He performed the song strictly solo, and it was one of the best showcases of what McCartney thought about his partner Linda McCartney. He explains that he loves her for her personality and that he would never change her.
Linda truly was the most supportive person in his life, especially after the Beatles split. It is no wonder that Paul decided to make a song for her. This was actually not the last song he wrote for her. Many more came, before her death in 1998.
8. Guns N’ Roses – “Sweet Child o’ Mine” (1987)
Nobody could argue that most farfetched ideas brainstormed in a matter of moments don’t produce the best hits. During their regular warmup session, Slash, alongside Steven Adler, was simply hanging out at the Guns N’ Roses’s condo that they had on Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. The duo was then joined by Izzy Stradlin who simply added a few cords to their freestyle play. Duff Mckagan didn’t pass up the opportunity and delivered a bass-line. Axl Rose heard it all being played upstairs and a moment of pure inspiration hit him.
It was not only the song that was being played that truly inspired Axl. It was also his girlfriend, Erin Everly, who proved to be quite the muse for him. The lyrics for the next song were composed in a matter of hours. According to the lyrics, Erin had spectacular hair, seeing as how Axl saw it as a “warm safe place.”
9. Billy Joel – “Uptown Girl” (1983)
The hit single “Uptown Girl” has quite the backstory. Billy actually wrote it for two different women. The first was his girlfriend Elle MacPherson, but the couple broke up as Billy was still writing the song. He then met another woman, Christie Brinkley and continued with the lyrics. Two years after the hit was released, the couple got married.
The hit is rather simple, it is about a normal guy who unfortunately falls in love with a girl who is of a much higher financial stature than he is. Billy actually wanted to title the song “Uptown Girls” particularly due to him hanging out with “uptown girls” at the time. We mean girls like Whitney Houston.
10. John Lennon – “Woman” (1981)
“Woman” is one of those hits that we will remember for the rest of our lives. John Lennon wrote the song for his wife Yoko Ono. It was actually on his last album before his tragic death on December 8, 1980.
John wanted to dedicate something to his lovely wife, and during an interview for the Rolling Stone magazine even said that he considers this song to be a “grown-up version” of his earlier song titled “Girl.” John Lennon was shot and killed just three days after the interview.
11. The Rolling Stones – “Brown Sugar” (1971)
The secret relationship between Mick Jagger and Marsha Hunt is probably one of the most famous ones. They even managed to have a daughter despite keeping the relationship a secret. Hunt was obviously inspired by everything going on around him, and “Brown Sugar” is a song that encompasses those feelings.
Numerous other people have tried to claim the fame over the song. Claudia Lennear claims that the song was all about her, because they considered each other as close friends during the time. Hunt denied the claims.
12. The Who – “Athena” (1982)
The worst kind of love is the one that doesn’t work out, and you end up writing songs about it. Pete Townshend was the man who was on the receiving end of this one. He met Theresa Russell during a Pink Floyd performance. He tried his best to convince her to go on a date with him, but was denied immediately. She was actually engaged to Nicholas Roeg during that time, so that might have had something to do with it.
Of course, Pete wanted to name the song after her at first. He talks all about how he mistaken it for love, because he was both drunk and on cocaine at the time, and the mix of everything made the rejection even harder on him. He then changed the name of the song, as to not call her out publicly when The Who released the hit.
13. Elton John – “Candle in the Wind” (1997)
This is probably one of the most famous songs ever written. Princess Diana unfortunately died in a car crash on August 31, 1997, and it seemed like at the time the whole globe simply stopped moving. Sir Elton John had the hardest task ever laid on him, when he was asked to sing on her funeral just a couple of days after the horrific car crash. He chose his song “Candle in the Wind,” to be her farewell song. It was originally written back in 1973 for Marilyn Monroe.
The author of the lyrics Bernie Taupin changed them a bit so that they would fit Diana. The song became an incredible hit, and everyone around the world love playing it as a mourning song. It was actually a bigger hit than the original from 1973. It still holds the number two spot in the best-selling singles of all time.
14. Serge Gainsbourg – “Je T’aime … Moi Non Plus” (1969)
Brigitte Bardot wanted a song written after her, and Serge Gainsbourg complied. He wrote a fantastic erotic duet hit back in 1967 titled “Je T’aime … Moi Non Plus.” Unfortunately for Brigitte, her husband got into the mix. Gunter Sachs managed to stumble upon the plan, and prevented her from recording. Serge thus had to record the song with Jane Birkin.
The song became a massive hit all over the world in 1969, but at the same time it was probably one of the most banned hits at the time. It was simply too erotic to fit any radio station. Serge had no remorse, and many other women, such as Marianne Faithfull, Valerie Lagrange, and Mireille Darc recorded their own versions with him.
15. Irving Berlin – “Always” (1925)
This is the one that people really cannot decide which side to take. Sure, it might be cute to see Irvin being such a gentleman to Ellin MacKay, but we must remember that she was 16 years younger than him. Her father was harshly against anything happening between them. Irving was way too old for her, and her father frowned upon him due to the fact that he was Jewish and they were all Catholic.
Her father went as far as taking her with him on a trip in Europe that lasted for a whole year, thinking that Irving would back off. Her father then decided to disinherit her. She went on to marry Irving and as his wedding gift, he gave her all the royalty rights of “Always.” She might not have inherited any money from her father, but she did not need it anyway after the royalties rolled in.
16. Bob Dylan – “It Ain’t Me, Babe” (1964)
Bob Dylan never actually admitted this, but experts believe that his hit “It Ain’t Me, Babe” drew inspiration from Suze Rotolo. She was also his girlfriend at one point. According to various different sources, he wrote the lyrics in Italy back in 1963. He was supposedly searching for her, because she was a student there.
Performing the song for the first time was an ex-girlfriend of Bob, Joan Baez. She put it on her album back in 1964. The two of them actually became a couple when Bob was still widely unknown. She is the one who gave him a spot on her tour where he earned his first fans. During the tour the couple got into a fight, and split up. She wanted to make things right and went to visit him in a hospital when he caught a virus. She, unfortunately, learned that he was already happy in the arms of another woman – Sara Lownds.
17. The Beatles – “And I Love Her” (1964)
We have already established that Paul McCartney was a master of love songs. According to the people close to him, The Beatles’ hit “And I Love Her” was “the first ballad [he] impressed [him]self with.” The muse behind this masterpiece was Jane Asher. The couple were engaged during the time of him writing the lyrics.
For those of you who are unaware, Jane Asher was one of the biggest figures in arts and culture of her time. It looked like the couple would last forever. One year after it made it on the charts, the couple had already split up. She married Gerald Scarfe and Paul married Linda Eastman.
18. The Beatles – “Something” (1969)
Pattie Boyd might be remembered the most for her relationship with Eric Clapton, but before that she was married to George Harrison. He wrote the hit “Something” which talked about just how gorgeous she was. She had written in her memoir that the song was the most beautiful thing she ever received.
George did not claim that his wife at the time was the only muse for the song. He claims that song is actually devoted to Krishna, simply because he thinks that women and God are the same thing. He told the Rolling Stone magazine that he thinks that love is universal. If a man truly loves a woman, he sees her as God.
19. Elton John – “Philadelphia Freedom” (1975)
Billie Jean King was great friends with Elton John. Elton wanted to pay respect to their incredible friendship and asked his writer Bernie Taupin to write a song for her. Taupin at times thought that he was in over his head, because he had no clue how to put tennis into lyrics that sound good.
They titled the song “Philadelphia Freedom” simply due to the fact that Billie was a member of a team with the same name. Fortunately for everyone, the song is not about Philadelphia neither is it about tennis. It became very popular and reached the number one spot in no time.
20. Leonard Cohen – “Suzanne” (1967)
Leonard Cohen composed “Suzanne” in the name of his muse Suzanne Verdal. In the song he described that “everyone was in love with Suzanne.” He then goes on and describes how her and his friendship could be compared to a “spiritual union.” The first time the lyrics were sang it was in 1967 and it was performed by Judy Collins. Cohen then went on and sang the song and put it on Songs of Leonard Cohen.
Cohen described the friendship with Suzanne, particularly of the time he would visit her in Montreal. They drank tea that she served and then they would take long walks in the city. There have been numerus different versions released by now, and some changed the lyrics to have the main characters develop an erotic relationship. However, Suzanne has confirmed that the couple never had any sexual encounters.