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These Women Were The Inspiration Behind These Famous Hit Songs



When we hear a hit song that sings of a long lost love, we can’t help but wonder who exactly inspired those lyrics. Many songs are about a certain someone it seems like, and we all tend to relate them to someone in our lives. But these songs were written with specific people in mind…
Artists tend to be very secretive about who they write about, considering the inspiration behind some of the most famous songs can be pretty personal. However, these famous singers have revealed who some of their most popular songs are really about, and it all makes so much more sense when you relisten…

“The Girl from Ipanema”

Composed by Astrud Gilberto, João Gilberto and Stan Getz, the song’s inspiration came from 17-year-old Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto (Helô Pinheiro) when they saw her strolling down the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Pinheiro became famous because of the song and it launched her modeling career, landing her the cover of Brazilian Playboy in 1987 and 2003. She also owns a bikini store in São Paulo.

“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”

This suite of short songs was written as a tribute to Stephen Stills’ singer-songwriter girlfriend, Judy Collins. She was famous for her piercing blue eyes and he was head-over-heels for her, but she broke his heart when she left him for Stacy Keach, her co-star in a musical she was doing at the New York Shakespeare Festival. The band originally formed to record this suite but ended up staying together to create more music.


Originally written as a poem, Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” references his strong attraction to Suzanne Verdal. He said that “everyone was in love with Suzanne,” but insists that their relationship always remained platonic. Judy Collins recorded the poem as a song in 1967 with Cohen performing it himself later that year with the release of his album “Songs of Leonard Cohen.”

“In Your Eyes” and “Rosanna”

Both songs are reportedly inspired by the actress Rosanna Arquette who was living with Peter Gabriel when his song, “In Your Eyes” was released. After they broke up in 1992, she went on to appear in TV shows such as Ray Donovan, and the film Pulp Fiction. Although Toto claims “Rosanna” isn’t about Arquette, she did date the band’s keyboardist Steve Porcaro, so the evidence suggests otherwise.

“Our House”

Written by Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Our House” documents an endearing moment between Nash and Joni Mitchell after they had moved in together. The couple had gone out for breakfast and stopped on Ventura Boulevard in L.A. to purchase a vase. When they returned home, Mitchell went out to pick flowers for the vase while Nash sat at the piano and composed this song about domestic bliss.

“Wild World”

During Cat Stevens’ two-year-long relationship with Patti D’Arbanville, he was inspired to write many songs about her, the most famous being “Patti D’Arbanville” and “Wild World.” The latter he wrote after she left him for Mick Jagger and was his way of saying goodbye to her.


Despite being only 3 years old at the time of Marilyn Monroe’s death, Joe Elliot from Def Leppard still couldn’t help but be enraptured and inspired by her beauty when he was older. He wrote this song as an ode to her, a memory of something he could never have. Her photo was placed on the cover of the single, and they used Marilyn Monroe lookalikes in the music video.

“Maybe I’m Amazed”

This poignant love song was written by Paul McCartney to express his undying love for his wife, Linda McCartney. When The Beatles split up, it was a difficult time for him as he started his solo career and adjusted to a completely different life away from the band. His wife supported him through thick and thin, and he wanted to write this song to express his gratitude for that.


This song is from the album that John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono collaborated on right before his tragic death in 1980. The song pays tribute to his wife and all women. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine that took place right before his death, Lennon shared that the song was a “grown-up version” of his song “Girl.”


The secret behind “Layla” is somewhat scandalous considering Eric Clapton wrote it for Pattie Boyd, the wife of his best friend, George Harrison. Clapton was so obsessed with her that he moved in with her sister, Paula. When his band, Derek and the Dominos, released the song in 1970 and Paula realized who the lyrics were about, she kicked him out. Clapton eventually achieved his goal and the two were married in 1979.

“Lady in Red”

“Lady in Red” describes the first time Chris de Burgh saw his wife. He wrote the song to point out how many times men forget what their significant other was wearing the first time they met them. The woman in the song was his future wife, Diane Davison. The song was released as the second single from de Burgh’s album, “Into the Light.”

“Walk Away Renee”

The Left Banke recorded quite a few songs about Renee Fladen-Kamm who was dating the band’s bass player, Tom Finn. The band’s keyboard player Michael Brown admitted to being so distracted by her during rehearsals that his hands would shake and he would have to come back once she was gone. Fladen-Kamm was a vocal coach and singer from San Francisco and Brown would later say that he was, “mythologically in love” with her.


This song is a tribute to Ritchie Valens’ high school sweetheart, Donna Ludwig. The pair remained close even when he was touring around the country. Sadly, he and Buddy Holly were killed in a plane crash, but Ludwig kept in touch with his family throughout the years.

“Uptown Girl”

When Billy Joel wrote “Uptown Girl,” he was dating 19-year-old Australian supermodel, Elle MacPherson. They broke up shortly after and he soon began dating supermodel, Christie Brinkley. “Uptown Girl” was released two years before they were married and was originally titled “Uptown Girls,” so most likely the song was an ode to more than one woman.

“Oh! Carol”

Neil Sedaka wrote this song about Carole King, whom he dated for a short time in high school. After King married Gerry Goffin they got the idea to release a song called, “Oh! Neil” in an attempt to launch their careers. It landed them a job as songwriters with the Brill Building pop music factory and they went on to write hits such as, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” and “The Loco-Motion.”

“Peggy Sue”

Buddy Holly took friendship to a whole new level when he wrote the song, “Peggy Sue” after Peggy Sue Gerron, the girl his good friend Jerry Allison was in love with. Not only did it secure Holly a hit song, but it secured the girl for Allison, and the two were soon wed.

“Je T’aime … Moi Non Plus”

Despite being married to Gunter Sachs, Brigitte Bardot asked Serge Gainsbourg to write a song for her to sing and he was inspired to write the sensual duet called, “Je T’aime … Moi Non Plus.” Her husband was less than thrilled when he found out about the recording, so Gainsbourg went on to re-record the song with his next girlfriend, Jane Birkin. The song was a massive success but was banned from multiple radio stations due to its overly-erotic nature.

“Isn’t She Lovely”

Stevie Wonder wrote this song as a sweet tribute to his beautiful new baby girl, Aisha Morris. It was released in 1976 as part of his “Songs in the Key of Life” album. The album version of the song featured baby Aisha crying during the opening and outro, but they edited it out for the radio version.

“And I Love Her”

Paul McCartney said this song was, “the first ballad I impressed myself with.” The inspiration for it was the English actress he was engaged to at the time, Jane Asher. Sadly, they split up just a year after the song was released. She eventually married Gerald Scarfe and he married the woman of his dreams, Linda Eastman.

“She’s Always a Woman”

“She’s Always a Woman” describes a modern woman who’s quirky and flawed, but still perfect and poised. Billy Joel wrote this song about his ex-wife Elizabeth Weber Small. She was Joel’s manager and at times could appear to be rough around the edges, but that only made Joel love her more. Unfortunately, they divorced in 1982 after nine years of marriage.

“Sweetest Thing”

“Sweetest Thing” was written by Bono as an apology song to his wife, Ali Hewson. He spent countless hours away from her when he was recording “The Joshua Tree” album with his band, U2, and even forgot her birthday because of it. All profits from the single were then donated to Ali’s charity of choice, Chernobyl Children’s Project International.

“50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”

Paul Simon wrote this song immediately following his divorce from Peggy Harper and at the beginning of his romance with Carrie Fisher. Despite a rough seven-year-long relationship, they were married in 1983 only to divorce a year later.

“The Ballad of Jayne”

L.A. Guns’ single “The Ballad of Jayne” was released in the early ‘90s and doesn’t hide the fact that it’s about Marilyn Monroe’s biggest rival, Jayne Mansfield. She made history as being one of the first Playboy Playmates, and first major American actress to have a starring role in a Hollywood motion picture that included a nude scene. She was only 34 when she died in a tragic car accident.


“Athena” talks about the time when Pete Townshend met actress Theresa Russell at a Pink Floyd concert and fell in love with her because he was drunk at the concert and had done cocaine the night before. On top of rejecting him, she was engaged to Nicholas Roeg, the director Townshend wanted for his rock opera Lifehouse. While the song was originally called “Theresa” he changed it to “Athena” when his band The Who recorded it.

“Philadelphia Freedom”

Elton John asked lyricist Bernie Taupin to help him write a song to honor his good friend, Billie Jean King, who is a tennis legend. Taupin struggled with the task as he didn’t know how to write a song about tennis, so he titled it “Philadelphia Freedom” after the World Team Tennis squad of the same name that King was part of.

“Jennifer Juniper”

Donavan wrote this song about the famous model, Jenny Boyd. After she and her sister Pattie traveled to Rishikesh, India with Donovan to meditate with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Jenny quit the modeling industry. While nothing ever happened between her and Donovan, she did have a rocky 15-year-long relationship with Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac that eventually resulted in them getting married.

“Crazy Love”

Janet “Planet” Rigsbee reportedly inspired Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love,” “Tupelo Honey,” and “Brown Eyed Girl.” The couple married and had a daughter together, but divorced in 1973. Rigsbee now lives in California where she writes and records her own songs and albums.

“The Ballad of Jayne”

L.A. Guns’ single “The Ballad of Jayne” was released in the early ‘90s and doesn’t hide the fact that it’s about Marilyn Monroe’s biggest rival, Jayne Mansfield. She made history as being one of the first Playboy Playmates, and first major American actress to have a starring role in a Hollywood motion picture that included a nude scene. She was only 34 when she died in a tragic car accident.

“Girl from the North Country”

There’s some debate over who this Bob Dylan song truly is about. While some believe the song is about his first girlfriend, Echo Helstrom, others say it was inspired by his former college girlfriend, actress Bonnie Beecher. Finally, there are some who insist that it was actually written about another girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, who is seen featured on the album cover walking hand-in-hand with Dylan.

“Sweet Caroline”

When Neil Diamond penned this song back in the day, it was inspired by a photo of 4-year-old Caroline Kennedy riding a horse on the cover of the September 7, 1962 issue of Life magazine. He performed the song in 2007 at Caroline’s 50th birthday, but recently claimed that it’s about his ex-wife Marsha.

“My Sharona”

When 25-year-old Doug Fieger met 17-year-old Sharona Alperin it was love at first sight. Over the course of their four-year-long relationship, he wrote many songs about her, but “My Sharona” became one of the biggest hits for his band, The Knack.

“Brown Sugar”

This song was inspired by Mick Jagger’s girlfriend at the time, Marsha Hunt. While their relationship was brief and secret, they did manage to have a daughter together, Karis Jagger. However, other people have come forward over the years claiming the song is about them, and not Hunt. Singer Claudia Lennear insists it’s about her since she was hanging out with Jagger around the same time, but she’s never been able to prove it.

“Sweet Child o’ Mine”

Rumor has it that Guns N’ Roses were holding a jam session at their Sunset Strip condo when Steven Adler, Slash, Izzy Stradlin, and Duff McKagan went from warming up to creating an impromptu melody. The band’s lead singer, Axl Rose, heard it from another room and started writing lyrics on the spot. His girlfriend of the time was model Erin Everly and the inspiration behind his lyrics.

“Oh Sherrie”

It’s no surprise that this song is dedicated to Sherrie Swafford, the woman Steve Perry was in love with. She appeared in the music video, which MTV constantly aired at the time, but their relationship just wasn’t meant to be and Perry never married. That year, “Oh Sherrie” hit number one on the rock chart and number three on the pop chart in the U.S.

“Candle in the Wind”

The original 1973 version of “Candle in the Wind” was written as a tribute to Marilyn Monroe. When Princess Diana was killed and Sir Elton John was asked to perform at her funeral, he chose this song. The lyrics were altered by Bernie Taupin to better fit the situation and it became an immediate hit. To this day, the 1997 version still remains the second best-selling single of all time, after Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”.

“Like A Rolling Stone”

When “Like a Rolling Stone” came out in 1965, it was a massive hit and is still considered one of Bob Dylan’s most famous songs. The song references a debutante who has been cast out of high society and many people have speculated that the song is about actress and model Edie Sedgwick. Sedgwick is most famous for being one of Andy Warhol’s muses.


Irving Berlin wrote this song about his love for Ellin MacKay who was sixteen years younger than him. MacKay was to be the heiress of Western Union, but her father greatly disapproved of their courtship because of the age difference and because Berlin was Jewish and MacKay was raised Catholic. Her father disinherited her when she refused to leave Berlin, and the two were wed in 1926. Berlin gave her the royalty rights to “Always” as a wedding present.

“Jersey Girl”

A classic ballad of love, Tom Waits wrote this song about musician and artist Kathleen Brennan whom he met in New Jersey while working on the soundtrack for the film One from the Heart. It was love at first sight, and the two were married the same year the song was released. They had three kids and now live in California where they still create music together.

“It Ain’t Me, Babe”

This song was inspired by Bob Dylan’s former girlfriend, Suze Rotolo. He wrote the song in 1963 when he went to Italy in search of Rotolo who was there studying at the time. Another one of Dylan’s girlfriends, Joan Baez, went on to record the song.


After Pattie Boyd and George Harrison married in 1966, he wrote “Something” in 1968 about how beautiful and alluring she was. He said that the Hindu deity, Krishna, also inspired some of his songs because he believed that when someone loves a woman they actually see God in her. In 1996, Harrison tried to say that the song wasn’t about Boyd at all, but no one believed him.