Music is essential in human life. We listen to songs in order to better express how we feel, from the slow boom bap beats of hip-hop to the energetic riffs of a rock song; from the haunting ballad notes to the upbeat pop choruses. But do you ever just sing in the shower and ask yourself “Wait, who was this song written for, really?”. With this list, we will help you uncover some juicy celeb secrets and the songs they inspired.
Aerosmith – Dude Looks Like a Lady
You just know what happened here from the get-go. This story involved Steven Tyler, a person with a big volume of blond hair, and a dimly lit bar. As we all know, Steven Tyler was one of the best vocal powerhouses of his time, and it is not easy to impress him; he is a rockstar after all. But this one night at this particular bar, his interest was piqued with the owner of this golden mane of hair. But as he turned around, he then realized that it was Motley Crue frontman and known pretty boy Vince Neil. The incident must have been so memorable that Tyler was able to make a hit out of it. Can you even call it a mishap then?
Bob Dylan – Like a Rolling Stone
Like A Rolling Stone was probably Bob Dylan’s most famous hit, and up to this day its inspiration is widely debated. Although most music scholars argue that it simply is a song made for what Dylan called “phony” people, those in the know-know of the scene’s who’s-who says differently. As some would have it, Like A Rolling Stone was directed at Andy Warhol, whom Dylan was known to intensely dislike. This row was rumored to have started because Dylan blamed Warhol and company for the decline of then-superstar Edie Sedgwick, who Dylan was briefly involved with.
Def Leppard – Photograph
If you have seen the music video of Def Leppard’s chart-topping 1983 hit, then you will know for sure to whom it was dedicated. As the chorus goes “All I’ve got is a photograph/But it’s not enough”, it is a song that was made for an intense feeling of longing. And that longing was for someone none other than the legendary Marilyn Monroe. “Something you can’t ever get your hands on,” Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott said when asked about the song.
Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way
With words that went “Packing up, shacking up is all you want to do,”, it would be acceptable to think that the song was directed at a certain group of people, but as it turned out, it singled out just one. Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham, the guitarist, aimed this song at fellow musician and bandmate Stevie Nicks, whom he shared a long-time relationship with. This song (that was about being dumped) went on to be first single off of Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumors. Nicks was obviously furious about the song, for their relationship has been challenge amidst the band’s success. Buckingham refused to take out that particular line, however.
The Rolling Stones – Brown Sugar
Mick Jagger has always been the type to stir up issues and raise controversies, and he certainly did just that in this famous rock song from his band. With themes involving opiates, slavery, intimacy within interracial relationships, with hints of sadism, Mick Jagger raised a few eyebrows during his time. In a couple of interviews, it was said that Jagger wrote this with African-American model Marsha Hunt in mind, whom he dated and gave birth to his first child Karis in 1970. Although the two agreed not to marry, they have Karis and this song to remind them of each other.
Prince – Valentina
This one can be a bit tricky. The Artist, also known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, created this song in 2009, for years after meeting the inspiration for it. The inspiration, Valentina, was then a toddler when Prince worked with her mother, the beautiful Salma Hayek. Prince has taken a liking on Hayek ever since meeting her, obviously, for even years after that he was able to write these famous words in the hit: “Hey Valentina tell your mama / She should give me a call / When she get tired of running / After you down the hall.”. Romantic, or a bit creepy? You decide.
Toto – Rosanna
This entry does not tell you who the inspiration was, but instead breaks the myth of who we thought it as. During the time of its popularity, Toto’s Rosanna won the Grammy Song of the Year in 1983, and was widely thought to be inspired by Rosanna Arquette, who was then dating Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro. As it turns out, everyone was wrong! It was all just a coincidence, and Arquette just wanted to play along and have some fun with the fans. To this day, it is not known who it really is for.
Peter Gabriel – In Your Eyes
Well if you were a bit disappointed with the truth behind Rosanna, do not fret. This 1986 chart hit was truly written for Rosanna Arquette, with whom Peter Gabriel was living with at that time. And what a classic it turned out to be, both in the radio and in the movies! The same song was played at the 1989 classic romantic movie Say Anything, as Lloyd Bobler (played by John Cussack) did the legendary move “Boombox serenade” to Ione Skye’s Diane Court at the end of the movie.
Neil Diamond – Sweet Caroline
This widely popular song is still a karaoke anthem in pubs and bars even today, long after it hit the airwaves in the year 1969. It was long believed to be inspired by none other than the daughter of the then President of United States’ John F. Kennedy, the 11-year-old Caroline. However, Diamond has admitted in recent interviews that it was really about his then-wife Marcia. He said that during the creation of the song, he just used ‘Caroline’ solely for the syllabication.
Carly Simon – You’re So Vain
Simon referred to three guys (as far as we can tell!) in her song “You’re So Vain” that came out in 1972. For a great number of years, it was unknown who the people were that she was referring to. That is up until 2015 when in an interview, she admitted that the song’s second verse refers to Warren Beatty. She has been quoted saying that Beatty called her upon the song’s release and thanked her for it, a song which coincidentally had a line that went like “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you,”. In a 2007 interview, Beatty said “Let’s be honest, that song was about me.”
The Kinks – Lola
Sometimes, an unforgettable encounter etches itself in your mind that the only way to let it out is to transform it into a song, and that is what Ray Davies did when we wrote Lola for The Kinks’ album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One released in 1970. The song went on to detail about a man who went out with what was apparently a transsexual, he met in Soho, and the slight confusion that ensued. Davies denied the rumors that it was from his own experience, however, and stated that it was about his band manager’s experience linked with famous trans icon Candy Darling. The band members each have a varying say about it and the mystery is still around, even today.
The Knack – My Sharona
With an opening intro that is unmistakably one of the most recognizable riffs probably ever, this track is one of the first chart toppers from the power pop genre. When it was released in 1979, its melodies took over various parts of the world and made hips dance here and there. Known as one of the best one-hit wonders ever, this song was written by The Knack lead singer Doug Fieger for his then 17-year old girlfriend Sharona Alperin when he was 25. Sharona is clearly happy about the song, as the now known realtor even uses it in her own real estate website.
Alanis Morissette – You Oughta Know
Alanis Morissette is known for her charming chart toppers and an angelic voice, but what happens when she thinks she was wronged? You Oughta Know was a scathing song that is comparable to a hip-hop diss track, written with vivid pictures and fierce choice of words partnered with her newfound alternative rock sound. Released in 1995, this song signaled her departure from her then signature bubblegum pop style to a heavier sound, and heavier themes apparently.
Alanis never admitted that it was written for any of her boyfriends, but some of the lyrics hit so close to home to one of her exes, namely Dave Coulier, popularly known as Uncle Joey from Full House. Some parts of the song, particularly where it says she has been replaced by an “older version of me”, and bugging someone “in the middle of dinner”, all apparently point to Dave.
John Mayer – Your Body is a Wonderland
John Mayer is one of Hollywood’s best kept lover boys, and how could he not be? When your sound is almost synonymous to the word ‘sexy’, it should be no surprise that you have gone out and dated a number of famous, beautiful celebrities during your free time. And because of the sheer number of his past relationships and involvements, one cannot be blamed if a particularly brief hook-up would go under the radar. In the early 2000s, Mayer apparently briefly went out with none other than the gorgeous Jennifer Love-Hewitt, and dedicated to her one of his most well-known hits. Now imagine John Mayer and countless fans singing a catchy song that is about you and a brief ‘Afternoon Delight’, if you may.
Justin Timberlake – Cry Me A River
In 2002, Justin Timberlake released this song as he sang the words “You don’t have to say what you did /I already know, I found out from him,” and it made headlines immediately. And as people speculated, it was indeed about his then girlfriend Britney Spears. That same year, pop’s power couple ended a three-year relationship, apparently in messy terms. Timberlake was visibly disgusted with what transpired, enough to put a likeness of Spears in the music video, cheating on him. Maybe this one was not so subtle.
Britney Spears – Everytime
When one of the most adorable couples of the early 2000s broke up, it was alleged that the two wrote and exchanged songs to sing about their previous relationship. Timberlake wrote Cry Me A River for her, where it ‘slightly’ showed her cheating on him. In response, Britney wrote him Everytime, a song about subtly apologizing to people that you need in your life but you hurt badly. Talk about owning up to it. If this was a marketing strategy, we may never know, but it cannot be denied that musicians and heartbreaks make for big hits.
Gwen Stefani – Hollaback Girl
Gwen Stefani’s hip-hop-inspired pop/dance track was released in 2005, as a part of her solo debut album “Love. Angel. Music. Baby.”. Co-written by Chad Hugo and Pharell Williams, it was seen as response to a comment someone made about her, as the comment went : “Being famous is just like being in high school. But I’m not interested in being the cheerleader. I’m not interested in being Gwen Stefani. She’s the cheerleader, and I’m out in the smoker shed.” in a magazine interview. That particular someone was Courtney Love, who also claimed to have sex with her then-husband (and now-ex!) Gavin Rossdale. It was one heck of a ‘Holla’ that became a chart topping hit.
Ed Sheeran – Don’t
Who could have possibly gone and hurt Ed Sheeran for him to write something like “And I never saw him as a threat/ Until you disappeared with him to have s** of course,”? In 2014, Ed Sheeran wrote his song Don’t, and it officially became his first Top 10 US hit, something that pushed his career towards international and global success. Although he was quoted saying “I just won’t say who it’s about because… I mean everyone, everyone f***ing knows anyway,” in a 2015 interview, it was known at that time that he was referring to fellow musician Ellie Goulding, who raised some controversy for having a brief fling with Niall Horan of the group One Direction, one of his pals. Ed has said in recent interviews that he forgives Ellie for what transpired during their time together, while Ellie has consistently denied even dating him. Whatever the truth is, “Don’t” made Ed Sheeran more popular than he was ever before.
Ariana Grande – Imagine
Ariana Grande’s soulfully haunting romantic single has always been shrouded in mystery ever since its release. People have often speculated that the song was made for the singer’s former boyfriend, Mac Miller (RIP). And although it has never been truly confirmed, the song’s theme of loss and burden of memories can be pointed back to their failed relationship. Also, Mac Miller was known to be seen with a tattoo of the word ‘Imagine’ on his right arm. Can you ‘Imagine’ that song being for anyone else?
Mariah Carey – Obsessed
In one of arguably the most frowned upon career moves in music history, Mariah Carey wrote and released this song in 2009, as a part of her twelfth studio album Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. And in it, she consistently talked about someone who has taken an obsession over her, and it was directed at none other than controversial rapper Eminem. She even placed a lookalike of the rapper in the music video that appeared to be stalking her. With words like “It must be weed, it must be the E… Why are you so obsessed with me? Lying that you’re sexing me,” it was hard not to imagine Eminem hitting back with a song of his own, something he was an expert at. And so he released a song “The Warning”, and in it he challenged Carey to own up to their past together or suffer the consequences. Mariah’s then husband tried to defend his wife’s honor by releasing a comment and later on diss song, but it was not as well received.
George Harrison – Something
Although one of the quieter ones in The Beatles, George Harrison still wrote successful songs, which include “Something”. This song was even awarded Best Song in 1969 by the Ivor Novello Awards. George’s inspiration for this creation is his then wife, Pattie Boyd, an English model. She was his inspiration for George’s others songs “If I Needed Someone” and “For You Blue”. The two subsequently got divorced in 1977.
Eric Clapton – Wonderful Tonight, Layla
Proof that musical men are easily smitten with Pattie Boyd is evident, considering she has been an inspiration for not just one, but several songs. After Pattie Boyd got divorced from George Harrison in 1977, she married his friend Eric Clapton two years later. She was Clapton’s inspiration for his songs “Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight” how inspiring can one get?
The song “Layla” was also written by Clapton with “The Story of Layla and Majnun” in mind. It’s about a boy who falls head over heels in love with a girl he can never be with, which drove him out of his wits. This is probably what Clapton was feeling for Pattie Boyd at that time. She has driven him hopelessly and madly in love!
Ronnie Wood – Mystifies Me
How beautiful do you have to be to inspire these three songs and probably a lot more from the 60’s to the 70s? Apparently, as beautiful as British model, and alleged heartbreaker, Pattie Boyd. She was first married to Harrison during the wave of the sixties, and then to his pal Eric Clapton in the closing seventies. Pattie’s soul-staring eyes certainly worked like a spell if she was able to be a muse for many legendary artists.
Eminem – Superman
Many of Eminem’s songs feature people in his life – his daughter Hailie, his wife/ex-wife Kim, his mother, his father – but the song Superman came out as a surprise. This song is actually inspired by Mariah Carey, who repeatedly denied that she has any relationship with Eminem whatsoever. Remember Mariah’s song Obsessed (as we previously mentioned)? Well, this song is Eminem’s version of what their relationship was actually like.
Taylor Swift – Bad Blood
If you have seen Taylor Swift’s MTV on this song, you’ll know immediately see that she is seeking vengeance for a wrongdoing. And that is exactly what she was doing when she wrote this song for former BFF Katy Perry. Rumor has it that the feud was caused by Taylor hiring Katy’s dancers for a world tour, but Katy pulled out the dancers right in the middle of the tour. Others say it was due to Katy dating Taylor’s former boyfriend, John Meyer.
Katy Perry – Swish Swish
Fighting back from Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood”, Katy Perry released this song which is about fighting bullies and still thriving even with negative people around. Perry said in an interview that it is also about getting “karma” for what you did to someone, which further fueled the rumors about the feud between the two pop artists. It wasn’t one of Perry’s best songs, but it did land top spot under Dance Club Songs.
Paul McCartney – Hey, Jude
When John Lennon split with his wife Cynthia Lennon because of his affair with Yoko Ono, his family was devastated. More so his son, Julian. Paul, thinking about how heartbroken the family was and remembering their friendship, went and visited Cynthia and Julian. On his way, he wrote the song “Hey, Jules” to comfort the boy. He decided to change the name to Jude instead of Jules as he thought the reality of the divorce might weigh even heavier on the boy. Good decision.
Queen – Love of My Life
Although it is now widely known that Freddie Mercury is actually gay, he did love one woman in his life — and that’s Mary Austin. She is his ex-fiancee who inspired him to write this song when they broke up. Even though they broke up, Austin was still very much present in Freddie Mercury’s life, until his death. So even if they did not get married, he gave her 75% of his estate. Love of his life, really.
John Lennon – Dear Yoko
There are is little surprise for whom this song is made for and inspired by – none other than the famous (or infamous, whichever side you are on) Yoko Ono. Said to be the person who caused the break-up of The Beatles, Yoko has inspired several of John Lennon’s love songs. She was also featured in some of Paul McCartney’s songs, albeit in a negative way than his former bandmate’s songs.
Aerosmith – I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing (Written by Diane Warren)
Performed by Aerosmith, this song is one of the most popular love songs ever made, especially since it was used in a popular movie Armageddon. The song, surprisingly, is about James Brolin’s love for his wife, Barbra Streisand. Warren was inspired by Brolin’s interview, as she herself has never been in love at that time.
Cyndi Lauper – Time After Time
This very catchy song, which has been revived by other artists several times, was actually inspired by Cyndi’s former manager and boyfriend, David Wolff. The singer/songwriter previously mentioned that what inspired her to write the song is because of the “insanely large” clock that her then boyfriend has given her and reminded her of. The song contains several more references to the time that they were together.