Doug Feiger, guitarist and lead singer for The Knack, had been suffering from writer’s block until the day he saw 17-year-old Sharona Alperin. He was eight years older, but he was head over heels in love and started writing song after song after song inspired by the new beautiful girl in his life. One of those songs would go on to become one of the biggest worldwide smash hit singles of all time: “My Sharona.”
Feiger and Alperin dated for four years, which is a lot longer than the 15 minutes Feiger said it took to write the unforgettable song about her. He and The Knack’s lead guitarist Berton Averre constructed the song together around Averre’s catchy riff and Feiger’s lyrics. The muse behind the music, Sharona herself would go on to become a major Los Angeles area real estate agent listing available properties on — wait for it — mysharona.com! As for The Knack, their debut album Get the Knack was one of the most successful debut albums in recorded music history, propelled by its equally auspicious lead single. For a time, it looked like the future belonged to Doug Feiger and The Knack. But it was not to be. Never able to come close to their original success, today they are the virtual poster boys for the one-hit-wonder.
“Hey Jude” by The Beatles
As John Lennon’s marriage to Cynthia was disintegrating in the wake of his affair with Yoko Ono, friend and bandmate Paul McCartney grew concerned for the welfare of their son Julian. He decided to write a song (originally titled “Hey Jules”) for the boy to comfort and encourage him through that difficult time. A couple of months after the separation, Paul took a drive out to the country to visit Cynthia and Julian. She had been close to the band since they had been unknown, and he found it strange that there was now a sort of wall between them. He composed much of the song as he was driving to see them, and it warmed her heart and her son’s to see Paul’s show of friendship.
“Hey Jude” turned out to be a record-breaking song. At over seven minutes long, it was the longest number one at the time, as well as spending the longest time at number one of any Beatles song. It is on many critics’ and fans’ lists of the greatest songs of all time and continues to inspire to this day.
“Happy Birthday” by Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder has been one of the most powerful people in the music industry since the 1960s, and he was not above using his power to try to do good in the world. Whether it was politics or social issues, you could often find Stevie Wonder at the forefront. “Happy Birthday” was not written for a friend celebrating growing a year older; it came from Wonder’s long-time advocacy on behalf of making the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. a federal holiday. Ronald Reagan would eventually sign it into law in 1983, and it was observed nationwide for the first time in 1986.
Ironically, the same Ronald Reagan would be the subject of another scathing Stevie Wonder track, 1987’s “Skeletons.” Stevie Wonder famously performed “Happy Birthday” at the 1986 concert commemorating the first national Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He also performed it for the late Queen Elizabeth II in 2012 at her Diamond Jubilee Concert.
“Peggy Sue” by Buddy Holly
That’s what a friend - or, buddy, so to speak - is for. The song that would become possibly the most beloved of Buddy Holly’s hits was originally titled “Cindy Lou,” but Holly changed it to “Peggy Sue” for the sake of his drummer Jerry Allison’s love life. Allison and his future wife, Peggy Sue Gerron, had just broken up, and Holly wanted to do whatever he could to help them get back together. And it worked! Allison and Gerron got back together and got married, an event immortalized by yet another Buddy Holly song, “Peggy Sue Got Married,” although that would prove to be a less successful single.
Buddy Holly was one of the most important and popular of the early pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll music in the 1950s. Having been involved in music since he was a teenager, he rocketed to fame in 1957 on the back of two smash hit singles: “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue.” He remained immensely popular until he was tragically killed just two years later in the plane crash that also took the lives of Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper in the event that would come to be known as the Day the Music Died.
“The Girl from Ipanema” by Astrud Gilberto with João Gilberto and Stan Getz
Ipanema is a chic seaside neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 1962, a pair of songwriters were sitting in an Ipanema coffee shop and noticed that day after day, Heloisa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, known for posterity as Helô Pinheiro, would walk by on her way to the beach. Sometimes she would even come into the coffee shop to buy cigarettes for her mother. She was only seventeen years old, but beautiful enough to inspire a timeless song and win the heart of every man who saw her.
The bossa nova jazz song’s original Portuguese title was “Menina Que Passa” (The Girl Who Passes By). It is about the wistful longing for the passing beauty of youth. The song immortalized its subject; Pinhero would go on to become a model, boutique owner, and eventually a Brazilian Playboy Playmate in 1987. In 2003, at the age of 59, she was Playboy Playmate again alongside her daughter. “The Girl from Ipanema” was a worldwide Grammy-winning hit in the 1960s, both in the original Portuguese as well as in its probably better-known English version. It has gone on to become one of the most covered songs in history, with literally dozens of versions. These include instrumental tracks, gender-reversed versions, and various comic parodies.