Here's Who Inspired Some of the Most Famous Songs Ever Written


| LAST UPDATE 11/11/2021

By Molly Houghton

Listening to our favorite tracks, we sometimes wonder who inspired these beautiful works of art. From love songs to breakup ballads, here are the muses behind some of the most famous music ever written.

Wild World by Cat Stevens (1970)

Cat Stevens' Wild World truly drove the world wild with its release in 1970, topping charts globally. The track was inspired by the singers' heartbreak over his split with actress Patti D'Arbanville.

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"It was one of those chord sequences that are very common in Spanish music," Stevens later said of the song. "I turned it around and came up with that theme - which is a recurring theme in my work - which is to do with leaving, the sadness of leaving, and the anticipation of what lies beyond."

Hey Jude by The Beatles (1968)

Get the tissue box out for this one because it might be a tear-jerker. The Beatles' Hey Jude was written by Paul for John Lennon's son Julian when Lennon and his ex-wife divorced. "I started with the idea 'Hey Jules,' which was Julian, 'don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better,'" McCartney explained.

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"'Hey, try and deal with this terrible thing.' I knew it was not going to be easy for him. I always feel sorry for kids in divorces," he continued. "I had the idea [for the song] by the time I got there." Paul ultimately switched "Jules" for "Jude" because that "sounded a bit better."

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I Love Mickey by Teresa Brewer (1956)

The inspiration behind this classic hit was also featured in the song! Teresa Brewer wrote I Love Mickey, a song about famous New York Yankees center fielder Mickey Mantle. And the baseball player even appeared on the record with her. The collaboration was a huge success.

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"I wish that I could catch him/And pitch a little woo," read the clever lyrics. Baseball and music lovers alike adored the song, and Brewer fans even got a black-and-white pin button with a photo of the two stars and the words, "I Love Mickey" when they purchased an album.

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Uptown Girl by Billy Joel (1983)

This hit song was initially about Billy Joel's ex-girlfriend Elle Macpherson but was later inspired by wife Christie Brinkley. "The fact that I can attract such a beautiful woman as Christie should give hope to every ugly guy in the world," Joel hilariously said.

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The couple divorced in 1994, but it looks like there are no hard feelings. Brinkley attended Joel's concert and showed support for her former hubby in 2014. In return, the singer serenaded his ex-wife when he performed Uptown Girl. Talk about breakup goals!

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Woman by John Lennon (1981)

Woman holds a special place in the hearts of many Lennon fans, as it is one of the first songs released after the late artist's assassination. Before his passing, John explained that the track was a "grown-up version" of his 1965 Beatles' song Girl and an ode to women everywhere.

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"[It] came about because, one sunny afternoon in Bermuda, it suddenly hit me what women do for us. Not just what my Yoko does for me, although I was thinking in those personal terms," Lennon said. "Women really are the other half of the sky, as I whisper at the beginning of the song."

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Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones (1971)

Although there is some controversy around who was truly the muse for this song, it is commonly thought that Mick Jagger's secret relationship with American actress and model Marsha Hunt inspired Brown Sugar. The two stars had a short but intense affair and a child together.

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While Jagger's ex-girlfriend, soul singer Claudia Lennear, has said the song is about her, Hunt sticks by her statement that she is the muse. Marsha claimed credit for Brown Sugar in a 1985 autobiography and later released love letters from Jagger dated when he wrote the hit.

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Vera by Pink Floyd (1979)

In 2020, Pink Floyd's Roger Waters uploaded an incredible video performance of this famous song. "The Vera in question is Vera Lynn," the singer wrote alongside the post. "She was an English singer, songwriter, very popular during the Second World War."

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"She was widely known as the 'Forces' Sweetheart,"' Waters added. In the sentimental track, Pink Floyd mourns the U.K.'s losses during the war. The piece ironically references Vera's most popular song, We'll Meet Again, as Roger would not get to meet his father, who passed in WWII.

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Candle in the Wind by Elton John (1997)

It's no secret that Elton John had great admiration for Princess Diana. "She was blessed with an incredible social ease, and ability to make people feel totally comfortable in her own company," Elton wrote in his 2019 autobiography, Me, as he discussed his first time meeting the royal member.

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The singer continued, "That night in 1981, she arrived in the ballroom, and we immediately clicked." A beautiful friendship flourished. When Princess Diana passed in 1997, Elton John released a rewritten version of 1973's Candle in the Wind as a tribute to her.

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Suite: Judy Blue Eyes by Crowsby, Stills and Nash (1969)

Band member Stephen Stills wrote the iconic Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. The multi-part ode, which they famously performed at Woodstock, was written about Stills' then-girlfriend, singer Judy Collins. The song explores his feelings about the couple's approaching breakup.

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"I've always understood that people have to write about their lives," Collins later said about Judy Blue Eyes. "Most of all, I felt the song was flattering and heartbreaking - for both of us. Neither one of us walked away from that relationship relieved. We were feeling like, 'Whoa, what happened?'"

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Angel of Harlem by U2 (1988)

U2 made music history with the release of Angel of Harlem. It topped charts worldwide, hitting number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The piece was inspired by U2's initial trip to New York City and jazz singer Billie Holiday.

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"The limo driver... had the radio tuned to WBLS," Bono recalled of his first limo ride into NYC. "Billie Holiday was singing. And there it was, city of blinding lights, neon hearts. They were advertising in the skies for people like us, as London had the year before." The sentimental moment led to a great hit.

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Hearts and Bones by Paul Simon (1983)

Hearts and Bones is a heart-melting love song written by one Hollywood icon to another. Paul Simon wrote the beauty when he was in a relationship with actress Carrie Fisher. By the time the album was released, the lovers were married but have since split.

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"I like the songs he wrote about our relationship," Fisher told Rolling Stone magazine. "Even when he's insulting me, I like it very much." The acclaimed actress's memoir further complimented her ex-beau. "If you can get Paul Simon to write a song about you, do it because he is so brilliant at it," Carrie wrote in the book.

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In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel (1986)

The muse for Peter Gabriel's In Your Eyes is one special lady and has had several songs written about her. Gabriel's then-girlfriend, actress Rosanna Arquette, was the inspiration behind the track. But it wasn't her first time influencing a famous musician.

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Before dating Gabriel, Arquette dated the Toto band member and keyboardist Steve Porcaro. She inspired the group's 1982 hit, Rosanna. In 2005, the actress reunited with some of her former flames, including Peter, as she filmed a documentary about today's music industry.

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It Ain't Me, Babe by Bob Dylan (1964)

"Cupid's arrow had whistled past my ears before, but this time it hit me in the heart, and the weight of it dragged me overboard," Bob Dylan wrote of his ex-girlfriend, Suze Rotolo. It's no secret that the young couple's relationship inspired many of his songs.

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Rotolo even appeared on The Freewheelin' album cover. In addition to It Ain't Me, Babe, Dylan's lover was the muse for Boots of Spanish Leather, Don't Think Twice, and others. She became known as Bob's "chick," a title Suze came to resent as she didn't want to be just a "string on Dylan's guitar."

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Our House by Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1970)

Graham Nash and songwriter Joni Mitchell were a 1960s power couple. They moved in together in 1968, and their home life inspired Nash to write Our House. Five decades later, the singer recalled the day he wrote the hit track and the sweet moments that led to it.

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"We passed an antique store, and Joni saw a small vase that she loved," he shared. "She bought it, and it was a miserable day when we got into Joni's car and drove to our house in Laurel Canyon. We went through the front door, and I said, 'Hey Joan, why don't I light a fire while you put some flowers in the vase you just bought?'"

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Shine On You Crazy Diamond by Pink Floyd (1975)

It's hard to imagine a world without Pink Floyd's legendary nine-part composition. Written by David Gilmour, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright, Shine On You Crazy Diamond is a song written about and dedicated to Syd Barrett, who left the band in 1968 due to personal reasons.

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"So in 1784 was the year after Dark Side of the Moon came out, we convened in a crummy rehearsal room in Kings Cross to try and write, create, put together some new pieces of music," Gilmour recalled of how the track came to be. "From those sessions, we derived three pieces... [one of which] became Shine On You Crazy Diamond."

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The Hurricane by Bob Dylan (1975)

Bob Dylan co-wrote The Hurricane with Jacques Levy. The song tells the story of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, an American-Canadian boxer convicted of murder. Dylan believed the athlete was wrongfully imprisoned and described the racial profiling leading to the arrest.

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"Here comes the story of the Hurricane, the man the authorities came to blame, for somethin' that he never done," Dylan expressed in the powerful lyrics. "Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been the champion of the world." Carter was later released from prison after nearly 20 years.

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Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac (1976)

Writing a hit song is incredible. But composing a hit that's inspired by your ex-girlfriend and then performing it on stage with your former lover is legendary. That's exactly what happened when Lindsey Buckingham wrote Fleetwood Mac's Go Your Own Way.

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The track was written as Buckingham's relationship with bandmate Stevie Nicks was coming to an end. But the heartbreak led to one of the group's best-selling albums. Not to mention, Go Your Own Way became their first top-ten hit in the United States.

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Lola by The Kinks (1970)

The Kinks' Lola explored gender non-conformity and was partly inspired by Ray Davies' upbringing with six sisters. "There were women around me all the time," Davies remembered. "I thought nothing of dressing up in their clothes. It was a way of fun and experimenting."

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Years later, Lola was inspired by Ray's childhood experiences. And an unexpected encounter between the band's manager, Robert Wace, and a random woman who turned out to be Candy Darling. Candy was an American actress, transgender icon, and a member of Andy Warhol's famous entourage.

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Something by The Beatles (1969)

If ever there was someone who knew how to write a love song, it was the great George Harrison. The Beatles guitarist wrote Something for his then-wife, Pattie Boyd, who then left Harrison for his friend, musician Eric Clapton. The new lovers later wed.

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But while Boyd claimed the song was dedicated to her, Harrison said otherwise. "He told me, in a matter-of-fact way, that he had written it for me. I thought it was beautiful," Pattie recalled in her 2007 autobiography. But in 1996, George denied writing it for his ex-wife.

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Chelsea Hotel #2 by Leonard Cohen (1974)

Leonard Cohen's album New Skin for the Old Ceremony featured his hit song, Chelsea Hotel #2. The piece detailed a night he spent with singer-songwriter Janis Joplin at the famous New York hotel. But the singer later expressed regret for having associated Joplin with the track.

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"I named Janis Joplin in that song... and I've been feeling very bad about that ever since," Cohen said. "It's an indiscretion for which I'm very sorry, and if there is some way of apologizing to the ghost, I want to apologize now for having committed that indiscretion."

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Philadelphia Freedom by Elton John (1975)

John and tennis legend Billie Jean King have been friends for decades. In 1975, Elton released Philadelphia Freedom, a song for his champion friend. The track was named after the World TeamTennis that Billie used to play for when the singer began watching her matches.

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"In the summer of 1974, we were driving to one of his concerts, and he looked over at me in the back of the car - I can remember he was on my right - and he said, 'I want to write a song for you,'" King shared. "Of course, I didn't think I heard him right. I turned scarlet red, I'm sure."

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And I Love Her by The Beatles (1964)

And I Love Her was written by Paul McCartney and inspired by his then-girlfriend, Jane Asher. The young Beatles member wrote the song in Jane's parents' home. "I can actually see Margaret Asher's upstairs drawing-room," he said. "I remember playing it there."

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McCartney showed great pride in the famous track. "The title comes in the second verse, and it doesn't repeat," he said. "You would often go to town on the title, but this was almost an aside, 'Oh… and I love you.' It still holds up, and George played really good guitar on it. It worked very well."

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Layla by Derek and the Dominos (1970)

Layla was written by a lovesick Eric Clapton, as he fell in love with George Harrison's wife, Pattie Boyd. The couple later split, and Eric and Pattie married. "The relationship that developed devastated all three of us," the singer recalled. "But that was the spirit of the times."

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Clapton continued, "It didn't even seem anything unusual. It was like one of those '60s wife-swapping movies, like Rob & Carol & Ted & Alice. It got quite difficult at times, inevitably. But I think George and me always cared for one another in quite a profound way, and, amazingly, everybody remained friends."

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You're So Vain by Carly Simon (1972)

For years, fans wondered who was the muse behind Carly Simon's You're So Vain. The celebrated singer had a number of former romantic partners who could've fit the narrative, including Warren Beatty, Michael Crichton, David Geffen, John Travolta, and James Taylor.

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"It certainly sounds like it was about Warren Beatty," Simon teased in 1983. "He certainly thought it was about him - he called me and said thanks for the song." Over three decades later, the artist confirmed that the track's third verse is about Warren Beatty. And the rest of it? She's keeping it a secret.

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True Blood by Madonna (1986)

Madonna's True Blue describes her feelings for Sean Penn, the starlet's lover at the time. The album, which holds the same title, even had a note in honor of Penn: "This is dedicated to my husband, the coolest guy in the universe." The power couple later divorced in 1989.

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Luckily, we can listen to this song knowing there's still plenty of love between the former partners. "I'm very friendly with my first ex-wife," Penn told Esquire U.K. Madonna even dedicated a performance of True Blue to Sean when he attended her concert in 2015!

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Day Dreaming by Aretha Franklin (1972)

During a 1999 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Franklin admitted that Day Dreaming was about her then-lover, Dennis Edwards. "I liked him a lot," she said. "I did write that with him in mind." The pair dated in the early 1970s, and Aretha was head-over-heels.

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Edwards, an accomplished musician himself, later expressed regret over not marrying Franklin. "It was all in my court, and I think I'm the one that was so scared of marrying this superstar," the late singer admitted. Regardless, we're just grateful their love created such a beautiful legacy.

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I Will Always Love You by Dolly Parton (1973)

Singer Porter Wagoner discovered Dolly Parton in 1967 and hired her for his TV show. The two became great friends and working partners. When tensions arose between them as Dolly prepared to leave the series and embark on a solo career, she wrote this song to express her appreciation for Wagoner.

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Parton later described the first time she sang the song to her friend. "I said, 'Sit down, Porter. I've written this song, and I want you to hear it,'" the country icon remembered. "And he was crying. He said, 'That's the prettiest song I ever heard. And you can go, providing I get to produce that record.'" And he did!

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Isn't She Lovely by Stevie Wonder (1976)

Stevie Wonder wrote Isn't She Lovely to celebrate the birth of his daughter, Aisha Morris. The beautiful song starts with a baby's first cry recorded during a real childbirth. In the end, a recording of the singer bathing Aisha as a toddler is played. The track brings tears (of joy) to our eyes - and Stevies' eyes, too!

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"I remember writing Isn't She Lovely - I can almost cry right now thinking about it," Wonder sweetly said. "The sound of my daughter Aisha splashing in the bathtub created a picture. That was emotion stuck in a moment, and that can never, ever be taken away."

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God Save The Queen by The Sex Pistols (1977)

This might seem like an obvious one, but such a classic had to be included. The Pistols' God Save The Queen rocked airwaves and politics with its release in 1977. Some listeners were taken aback by the bands' open criticism of the British monarchy and its treatment of the working-class.

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The release year coincided with Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee, marking the 25th anniversary of her accession to the throne. "It wasn't written specifically for the Queen's Jubilee," Paul Cook said. "We weren't aware of it at the time. It wasn't a contrived effort to go out and shock everyone."

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Killing Me Softly by Lori Lieberman (1971)

After watching singer Don McLean perform Empty Chairs in 1971, Lori Lieberman became so inspired that she penned a poem about her feelings during the show. This was the basis for what then became Killing Me Softly. Surprisingly, Lori was initially "embarrassed" by the hit song.

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"I remember feeling about the song that it was good and I liked it," she said. "I don't think I loved it at all. It almost embarrassed me because I didn't want anybody to view me as a groupie who had gone to, you know, a concert. I just didn't want to be seen like that."

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