Bono, the lead singer of U2, wrote “Sweetest Thing” by way of apology to his wife Ali Hewson for leaving her alone for weeks at a time due to his hectic rock star schedule and for skipping out on her birthday due to commitments involved with recording their “The Joshua Tree” album. In his wife’s honor, Bono agreed to donate to Ali’s favorite charity, Chornobyl Children’s Project International, all the profits from the single. The original version of “Sweetest Thing” appeared as the B-side of “Where the Streets Have No Name.” In 1998, U2 re-recorded the song for inclusion in their Best of 1980-1990 compilation.
Ali Hewson, the inspiration for this lovely song, has been married to Bono for over 35 years. They have, by all accounts, one of the most stable, loving, and long-lived marriages in the entertainment world. She has always shunned the spotlight but has been working tirelessly on various poverty-related projects.
“The Hurricane” by Bob Dylan
The subject of the topical protest song “The Hurricane” was the American professional boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who spent almost 20 years in prison for murders that many believed he was innocent of. The song was written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy to bring attention to Carter’s plight in hopes of securing the boxer’s release. After the song was completed but before it was released, Dylan was forced to re-record it because his record company feared some of the lyrics would leave them liable to defamation lawsuits by some of the trial’s witnesses.
Bob Dylan had largely left behind protest songs by that time in his career, and “The Hurricane” was a notable exception. More than 20 years later, the song prominently featured in the Hollywood biopic about Carter’s life, also called "The Hurricane."
“The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel
Folk-rock duo Simon and Garfunkel had one of their biggest hits and most evocative songs in 1969 with “The Boxer.” One might think that it goes without saying that the song must literally be about a boxer, but the truth is a little more mysterious and enigmatic. Almost as soon as the song came out, competing rumors and theories as to the real meaning behind the song started coming out. One popular one was that “The Boxer” was none other than Bob Dylan, who had been an amateur boxer earlier in his life, and who would eventually cover this very song!
Paul Simon, the man who wrote the song, has never given credence to any of these theories. If anything, he has sometimes stated that the song is autobiographical, as he felt that he and his partner were being unfairly attacked in the press.
“True Blue” by Madonna
By the time she wrote “True Blue” in 1986, Madonna was already dating her soon-to-be husband, actor Sean Penn, and her feelings for him were too powerful to keep bottled up inside. She thought he was the most amazing guy she had ever met, and she needed to write a love song for him, or else she would burst. Unfortunately, the marriage only lasted four years, ending amid rumors and allegations of abuse by Penn. Penn has denied the allegations and even sued people who made them, and Madonna, for her part, has always carried warm feelings for her ex-husband, remembering the letters he wrote her after her performances.
Talk about reinvention. It would have been hard to imagine at the dawn of the 1980s that this new bubblegum pop singer would continue to find new ways to stay one step ahead of the culture year after year, decade after decade. Madonna has truly been one of the driving forces of popular culture for over thirty years.
“Photograph” by Def Leppard
Marilyn Monroe has been the inspiration for so much art for so long that it’s easy sometimes to not even notice it. Lead singer Joe Elliot of Def Leppard was just three years old when Monroe passed away in 1962, but that didn’t stop her from being his muse for one of the band’s first big hits: “Photograph,” about a deep longing for someone who is unattainable. Clearly, Elliot could never have Monroe, but at least he could put her photograph on the single cover art and hire her doppelganger to star in the song’s music video. Joe Elliot would say in later years that the song had nothing to do with Marilyn Monroe, but that seems a little unlikely, given the evidence to the contrary.
Def Leppard was among the most prominent bands in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) in the 1970s and 80s. They had a string of massive hits in the 80s that made them one of the most successful groups of the decade. Their style often fused fun, sex, and playfulness together with a truly powerful sonic attack. And 40 years later, they’re still going strong.