What would you do if you fell in love with the wife of your best friend? Classic rock pioneer Eric Clapton decided the best course of action was to write a thinly-veiled love song to her in hopes of winning her heart. Complicating matters was that the woman in question was the famous model Pattie Boyd and the man she was married to was possibly an even greater classic rock pioneer: George Harrison of the Beatles. The song was “Layla”, widely considered to be one of the greatest rock songs of all time and one of Clapton’s signature songs. As for its intended effect, you could call it a delayed response, but Boyd did eventually divorce Harrison, and she and Clapton would be married from 1979 until 1989.
Several versions of “Layla” exist. The original studio version was over seven minutes long, which at the time was far too long to be released as a single, so a pared-down edit of less than three minutes was created. Eventually, the full version would be released as a successful single also. And in 1992 Clapton performed an acoustic version for the famous MTV Unplugged series to wild acclaim and success.
“Oh Sherrie” by Steve Perry
Not exactly a master of subtlety, Steve Perry wrote his biggest solo hit “Oh Sherrie” in honor of the girl he was dating at the time, named Sherrie Swafford. She even starred in the video for the song, which benefited from massive airplay on MTV. You can bet that MTV’s love affair with the video was not an insignificant factor in the single’s success.
The relationship between Steve and Sherrie proved a bit more ephemeral than the song that came from it. The two never did tie the knot and ended up going separate ways, so to speak. But the song lives on as an important piece of 80s pop-rock history. Steve Perry, of course, is best known as the lead singer of Journey during its most successful period in the 1970s and 80s. His crystal clear tenor voice is instantly recognizable and has earned him the everlasting legacy as one of the greatest vocalists in the history of rock music.
“Killing Me Softly” by Lori Lieberman
The songwriting duo of Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel wrote: “Killing Me Softly With His Song” based on an idea and poem presented to Gimbel by singer Lori Lieberman. She wrote the poem as an idea for a song inspired by another song that had moved her deeply. That song was “Empty Chairs” by Don McLean off his breakthrough 1971 album American Pie. Lieberman had seen McLean perform at a club and his rendition of “Empty Chairs” was a very emotional experience for her. She scribbled some ideas for a song on a napkin, took them to Norman Gimbel, and the rest is history. Don McLean has always expressed gratitude and humility at having been the inspiration for such a classic song.
“Killing Me Softly With His Song” was a moderate hit for Lieberman, but before she could fully enjoy its rise to success, her version was overshadowed by Roberta Flack’s cover, which was one of the biggest easy listening hits of the 70s. More than two decades later, it would be a smash hit yet again when it was covered as a rap/r&b song by The Fugees.
“Always” by Irving Berlin
When 38-year-old Jewish-American songwriter Irving Berlin married 22-year-old Catholic American heiress Ellin Mackay, it was a controversial event that captured the attention of the press and the country. Mackay’s father, the wealthy Western Union tycoon, promptly disinherited his daughter, but Berlin stepped in by signing over the royalties to his love song “Always” to his bride to make up for her loss. It turned out to be a pretty lucrative move for Mackay.
Ellin’s father did all he could to prevent the marriage from taking place, going so far as to ship her off to Europe in hopes of her finding a more suitable match. But nothing worked, and they married in 1926. Both the age difference and the religious one were sources of conflict surrounding the match. And “Always” will go down as one of the greatest wedding presents in history. It probably came as a surprise to almost everyone, but the love affair between Irving Berlin and Ellin Mackay continued for more than six decades until her death in 1988. The author of around 1500 songs, including “God Bless America” and “White Christmas”, Irving Berlin is virtually synonymous with American songwriting.
“Plaster Caster” by Kiss
“Plaster Caster” is a playfully saucy song, and if you didn’t know anything about its origins, you’d still figure out that it has everything to do with sex. The truth is even a bit weirder than that. The song is about an actual real live woman who spends a good bit of her time making plaster casts of rock stars’ erect members. No really.
Her real name is Cynthia Albritton, but she goes by the name Cynthia Plaster Caster. She started this little (so to speak) project in 1968 with her first “model” Jimi Hendrix, and in the decades since it has managed to get 48 musicians to submit to the procedure. Apparently, this hobby started off as a simple ruse to get rock stars into bed with her. She was shy and was looking for some way to connect with the opposite sex. You might say she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. Albritton today refers to herself as a “recovering groupie”.