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THE STORIES BEHIND THE SONGS

 

The Stories Behind the Songs

By Jim Farber  – Parade.com – 8-11-19

 

 

(Michael Ochs Archives/GETTY IMAGES)

Do you think you know who Carly Simon was “anticipating”? Who inspired “Dear Prudence”? How about the stories behind such classics as “Layla,” “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Killing Me Softly With His Song”? While some stars want their songs to be universally relatable and avoid leaving clues about a song’s origins, others are less subtle. We put on our Sherlock Holmes hats to figure out the people and stories behind some of pop’s biggest hits.

Related: The 20 Best Songs Joni Mitchell Wrote About Her Famous Friends and Ex-Lovers

(Jack Mitchell/Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Carly Simon’s “Anticipation”

In the early ‘70s, Simon was set to share a bill at Carnegie Hall with Cat Stevens. In order to get to know him better, she invited the fellow hitmaker to her apartment for dinner. He never showed. “I didn’t know back then that he was a flake,” she told an audience years later. In her frustration, Simon picked up a guitar and fashioned a song in the style of a Cat Stevens hit, which became her 1972 track “Anticipation,” about someone who was “making me wait.”

(Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” 

Stephen Stills first met folk singer Judy Collins at a nightclub, after which he was hired to do session guitar work for her 1968 album Who Knows Where the Time Goes. “I was smitten,” Collins says. “He was awfully good-looking.” They began a torrid affair. But when she broke it off, to concentrate on her career, a pining Stills wrote his classic “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” for her. Before its release in 1969, Stills invited his ex-lover to his hotel room to hear it. Afterward, Collins said, both she and Stills cried. Then she delivered a devastating line: “Oh, Stephen,” she told him, “it’s such a beautiful song. But it’s not winning me back.”

(Ron Galella/Getty Images)

Toto’s “Rosanna”

The keyboardist of Toto, David Paich, wrote the Grammy-winning song in 1982, when his bandmate Steve Porcaro was dating the actress Rosanna Arquette. Paich chose the name because it fit so nicely with his melody. Four years later, Peter Gabriel wrote his hit “In Your Eyes” for Arquette, whom he was then dating. And she convinced Gabriel to allow director Cameron Crowe to use the song in his film Say Anything…, in the “boombox” scene with actor John Cusack, which became iconic.

Related: 5 Things We Learned at the Say Anything Reunion

(Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe”

Dylan cast his then-girlfriend of the early ’60s, Suze Rotolo, as his co-star on the cover of his 1963 album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. The two are seen there snuggling on a wintery New York morning. The next year, when things unraveled between them, Dylan penned this classic song about diverging paths for the woman he called, in his memoir, “the most erotic thing I’d ever seen.”

(Icon and Image/Getty Images)

Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust”

Both sad and scathing, this 1975 ballad captures in verse Baez’s complex relationship with former lover Bob Dylan. There’s sincere longing, but also jealousy, bewilderment, bitterness and no shortage of admiration.

(Michael Ochs Archives/GETTY IMAGES)

The Beatles’ “And I Love Her,” “Yesterday” & “I’m Looking Through You”

All three were penned by Paul McCartney for model Jane Asher, whom he dated in the mid-’60s.

The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”

Feeling paternal, McCartney wrote this song of comfort for John Lennon’s son Julian, who was then just 5, after his father divorced his mother, Cynthia. The song, released as a “non-album single” in 1968, was the first release on the Beatles’ new Apple label.

The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence”

The “Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play. Dear Prudence, greet the brand-new day…” of the song is Prudence Farrow (now Bruns), the daughter of film director John Farrow and actress Maureen O’Sullivan, and younger sister of actress Mia Farrow. It was at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s retreat in 1968, where Prudence’s fellow students included all four members of the Beatles, that her behavior led John Lennon to write the song, which appeared on the Beatles’ White Album. “People over the years would have these reasons why I was ‘Dear Prudence’ that were completely off the wall and almost disturbing, like I was a heroin addict or I lost my mind or all these crazy reasons why John wrote the song,” Bruns told Parade. “It bothered me. Nobody believed that I didn’t have an affair with him.” Read the full Parade interview with Prudence Bruns and get her thoughts on the song, the Beatles, world peace and more!

Related: Never-Before-Seen Photos of the Beatles Life-Changing Trip to India

(Chris Walter/WireImag/Getty Images)

Paul McCartney’s “Too Many People” & John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?”

On his second post-Beatles album, Ram, McCartney takes a swipe at Lennon, alluding to him busting up the band. “You took your lucky break and broke it in two,” he sings. That same year, 1971, John shot back with “How Do You Sleep?” on his Imagine album. Referencing the old “Paul Is Dead” rumors, Lennon seethes “those freaks was right when they said you was dead.”

(Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

John Lennon’s “Woman” & “Beautiful Boy”

On his final album, 1980’s Double Fantasy with Yoko Ono, Lennon features a swoon for his wife, and for all women, in “Woman,” calling them “the other half of the sky,” a reference to a Chinese proverb. “Beautiful Boy” was written for Lennon’s only child with Ono, Sean Ono Lennon.

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Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”

Following his divorce from his first wife, Peggy Harper, in the mid-’70s, Rhymin’ Simon details different ways to ditch a relationship. In 1976, it became Simon’s sole No. 1 solo hit, after years of chart-topping success in the duo Simon & Garfunkel.

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Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”

Many assume that one of Dolly Parton’s best-known songs, originally written and recorded in 1973, refers to a romantic goodbye. In fact, it was a professional one. Her farewell was to the country star Porter Wagoner, who had given Dolly her break with a regular gig on his popular TV show. When she left him and his program to fly solo, she offered this expression of loyalty, thanks and regret.

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The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar”

A highly objectifying—and some would say racist—salivation over the sexual powers of black women, this rocking 1971 hit from the album Sticky Fingers has drawn much criticism over the years. The lyrics were written by Mick Jagger in erotic honor of his secret girlfriend at the time, the model Marsha Hunt, but may also be about backing singer Claudia Lennear. Hunt was also the mother of his first child, Karis, who wasn’t acknowledged back then. Later, Jagger said that if he had it to do over, he would have chosen his words for the song with a bit more finesse.

(Paul Morigi/WireImage/Getty Images)

Lady Gaga’s “Joanne”

In December 1974, Gaga’s aunt, Joanne Stefani Germanotta, died of lupus at age 19. And though the singer never met her, the loss greatly affected her family, as well as Gaga’s work as an artist. Her debut album, The Fame, features a poem written by Joanne in the album booklet. The singer has a tattoo of the date of her aunt’s death on her left bicep. In 2012, her parents named their New York restaurant after Joanne. Four years later, Gaga wrote this song and used it as the title track of her fifth solo album.

(Theo Wargo/WireImage for Clear Channel Radio New York)

Taylor Swift’s “Dear John”

Man, how much did Taylor Swift hate John Mayer when she wrote this 2010 song about him? In one verse, she refers to “all the girls that you’ve run dry/have tired, lifeless eyes/’cause you burned them out.” Mayer retaliated by telling Rolling Stone, “It really humiliated me at a time when I’d already been dressed down. I mean, how would you feel if, at the lowest you’ve ever been, someone kicked you even lower?”

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Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven,” “Wonderful Tonight” & “Layla”

After the horrific death of his 4-year-old son in an accident, Clapton wrote one of his most rewarded songs, “Tears in Heaven.” (It took four top Grammys in 1992.) In a far more positive moment, he honored the beauty of his then-lover, the model Pattie Boyd, with the 1977 song “Wonderful Tonight.” Remarkably, an irritation had inspired it: She was taking forever to decide on her outfit before going out for the evening, leaving Clapton enough time to write a song—one that expressed his feelings that, whatever she picked out, she’d look “wonderful tonight.” Seven years earlier, Clapton had penned an even more famous piece for Pattie. At the time, in 1970, she was married to one of his closest friends, George Harrison. Clapton’s wild desire for his friend’s wife birthed one of the greatest pining songs (and greatest guitar solos) of all time, “Layla.” (Clearly, Boyd had something special, because two years earlier, Harrison had written another classic song, “Something,” for her, which became one of the most recorded love songs ever.)

(GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Neil Sedaka’s “Oh! Carol”

When he was a rising star of the Brill Building song factory scene in the late ’50s, Neil Sedaka wrote a song about a girl he had dated in high school, one Carol Klein. By then, Carol had changed her name—to Carole King! She had her lyricist writing partner (and husband) Gerry Goffin pen a cheeky answer song, titled “Oh, Neil!” But Neil had the last laugh. In 1959, his single became his first Top 10 hit, while the Goffin/King song stiffed.

(Rick Diamond/WireImage/Getty Images)

Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom”

In 1975, Elton John asked his lyric-writing partner, Bernie Taupin, to salute his friend, the tennis superstar Billie Jean King. Together, John and King went on to raise millions for LGBTQ-related causes, though at the time the song was released neither one was publicly out.

Related: Is ‘Candle In the Wind’ Really About Marilyn Monroe? The Real Stories Behind Classic Elton John Songs 

(Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Madonna’s “True Blue”

A Top 10 smash in 1986, this bubbly dance-pop hit captures the giddy high of Madonna’s marriage at the time to actor Sean Penn. It also served as the title track to her third studio album.

(Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images)

Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love,” “Hold Up,” “Drunk in Love,” “4:44” & Everything Is Love album

The king and queen of hip-hop share a favorite theme—their affection for each other. In “Crazy in Love,” from their freshly dating days of 2003, she sings about how nuts she was for Jay. While her 2013 songs, like “Drunk in Love,” revel in the couple’s erotic connection, in “Mine” she admits, “I’m not feeling like myself since the baby/Are we even gonna make it?” It gets worse in “Hold Up” from 2016, in which Bay smacks Jay for his wandering eye, leaving him to beg for forgiveness in his song “4:44.” It all came full circle with the songs on their joint Everything Is Love album last year. In song after song, the couple claims to have weathered their storms.

(Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images)

Nick Cannon’s “I’m a Slick Rick”

In “Bagpipes From Baghdad,” Eminem pines for his alleged old flame Mariah Carey. But after she, and then-husband Nick Cannon, insisted that the two had never been a couple, Em hit back with “The Warning,” in which he puts down both Mariah and Nick. Cannon answered with this raw song in 2010 in which he calls Em a “clown,” and impotent to boot.

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Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine”

Guns N’ Roses modeled the music for the band’s only No. 1 hit on Lynyrd Skynyrd. But when it came time for the lyrics for this 1988 head-banger, frontman Axl Roselooked no further for inspiration than his then-girlfriend, the model Erin Everly, the daughter of Don Everly of one of the world’s greatest harmony duos, the Everly Brothers.

(Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty Images)

Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman,” “Just the Way You Are” & “Uptown Girl”

“She’s Always a Woman” and “Just the Way You Are” were each written in 1977 for Joel’s first wife, Elizabeth Weber, who was also his tough-minded manager. Because Weber’s hard style caused some sexists to label her unfeminine, Joel asserted that “She’s Always a Woman” to him. Six years later, after the couple had divorced, Joel penned “Uptown Girl” for model Elle Macpherson, whom he was dating at the time. Before the song came out, however, he got involved with another model, Christie Brinkley, who appears in the song’s video, and whom Joel married two years later.

(Daniel Vorley/Getty Images)

Ed Sheeran’s “Supermarket Flowers”

Though Ed wrote this 2017 song to grieve, and honor, his grandmother who had just died, he penned it from the point of view of his mother for the woman who had given her life.

(CBS Photo Archives/Getty Images)

Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way”

Fleetwood Mac’s biggest album, 1977’s Rumours, was fueled by anger, jealousy and frustration. Some of its most potent songs reflected the breakup of two of its key singer-songwriters, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. In “Go Your Own Way,” Buckingham lashes out at Nicks, who had dumped him. In the song, he claims that “packing up, shacking up’s all you want to do.” Stevie demanded he remove the lyric. He refused. “It was like, I’ll make you suffer for leaving me. And I did [suffer),” Nicks told Rolling Stone. She retaliated with “Silver Springs,” a gorgeous ballad in which she declares, “I know I could have loved you/But you would not let me.” “Springs” was left off the original album, which incensed Nicks. The song did, however, become the B-side of “Go Your Own Way” when it was released as a single, which became a Top 10 hit. Even so, each artist remained bitter over the other’s song for years.

(Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

U2’s “Angel of Harlem”

“Lady Day,” aka Billie Holiday, became the subject of this fan-letter/anthem, with lyrics by lead singer Bono, to the doomed and brilliant vocal legend. It appears on the band’s 1988 Rattle and Hum album.

(David Redfern/Redferns)

Don McLean’s “American Pie” & “Vincent”

It’s hard to think of a hit that was inspired by a greater number of real life people than the 1971 blockbuster “American Pie.” It was as much a name-that-star quiz as a song. “Pie” used as its central image “the day the music died,” referencing the deaths of early rockers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper in a 1959 plane crash. The highly encoded words also feature allusions to Elvis Presley (“the king”), Bob Dylan (“the jester”), the Byrds (“eight miles high”), the Beatles (“Sergeants played a marching tune”), the Rolling Stones (“Jack Flash sat on a candlestick”) and Janis Joplin (“a girl who sang the blues”).

The next year, McLean scored another hit with one of the most sensitive songs ever written about an artist. His “Vincent” presented an empathic view of the troubled Vincent van Gogh, using as its subtitle “Starry Starry Night,” which alluded to an iconic 1889 painting by the artist.

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Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song”

Given how many stars he alluded to in his songs, it’s only fitting that Don McLeanshould have inspired a hit by someone else. Singer-songwriter Lori Leibermanwas so besotted by his song “Empty Chairs” that she and co-writers Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox created “Killing Me Softly With His Song.” She released her version in 1972, but it was Roberta Flack’s take, the next year, that went No. 1.

(Rick Maiman/Sygma via Getty Images)

R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon”

R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe penned the lyrics to this 1992 single about the performance artist/comedian Andy Kaufman. In it, he alluded to the star’s consciously bad Elvis impersonation, as well as the rumors that he had faked his death in 1984. Later, film director Milos Forman used the song’s name as the title of a movie based on Kaufman’s life.

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David Bowie’s “The Jean Genie”

Smitten with the wild moves, and slinky figure of proto-punk rocker Iggy Pop, Bowie penned this tart piece, a hit in 1972. For another reference, the title is a pun on the name of the transgressive French novelist Jean Genet.

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Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue”

Holly named his 1957 hit for Peggy Sue Gerron, girlfriend to the drummer in his band, the Crickets, during a period when the couple had broken up.

(Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Ritchie Valens’ “Donna”

Seminal Latin rocker Ritchie Valens scored the biggest hit of his career with this 1958 song of devotion to his high school sweetheart, Donna Ludwig. Believe it or not, “La Bamba” was that song’s B-side!

(Kevin Winter/FOX/Getty Images)

Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River”

After a contentious breakup with his girlfriend of the early aughts, Britney Spears, Justin wrote this song, which appeared on his 2002 debut album, about the pain of his rejection. “Your bridges were burned/Now it’s your turn to cry,” he sang. Though Spears never admitted it, her co-writer on her song “Everytime” later revealed that the song served as her apologetic, and regretful, response.

(Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage/Getty Images)

Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”

The trippy 1975 masterwork from the album Wish You Were Here was conceived and written by the band as a tribute to their former member Syd Barrett, a founding member of Pink Floyd, who had been ousted by his colleagues due to his drug use and his mental health issues. Having removed and replaced him, however, the band felt guilty and still much admired his brilliance—as this song notes: “You shone like the sun: Shine on, you crazy diamond.”

(Michael Montfort/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Hall and Oates’ “Sara Smile”

Daryl Hall penned the lyrics to his group’s breakthrough 1976 hit in honor of his longtime girlfriend, Sara Allen. She went on to earn co-writing credits on four big H&O hits, including “Maneater.” The couple stayed together for nearly 30 years before breaking up in 2001.

(Rick Diamond/Getty Images / Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”

The greatest sing-along chorus in the Neil Diamond catalog found inspiration in tragedy. Diamond began writing this piece after seeing a picture of young Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy. He completed the song in 1969, six years after the president’s assassination, when Caroline was 11. It is an eighth-inning staple at Boston Red Sox games.

Related: See All the Classic Albums Celebrating 50th Anniversaries

Source – https://parade.com/909006/jimfarber/song-meanings-beatles-elton-john-taylor-swift/

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