Rock band Toto was at their peak in 1982 when it released the top-five hit “Rosanna.” All about finding and losing love, it was bigger than a power ballad, and it cemented Toto’s place among the biggest bands of the 80s. It’s been a running joke from the beginning that the song was inspired by the actress Rosanna Arquette, who was actually dating the band’s keyboardist Steve Porcaro at the time. Arquette herself was not above playing along from time to time. The songwriter and fellow bandmate David Paich denied the rumor for years and years before finally admitting it in 2016. He said that Arquette was very beautiful and he had had a secret crush on her, and that’s why he named the song after her.
Though Toto has been going strong for over forty years, the 80s was their time in the sun. Their massive hits “Rosanna” and “Africa,” as well as 1978’s “Hold the Line,” established them as a supremely professional, massively talented, and endlessly entertaining group of musicians.
“Hearts and Bones” by Paul Simon
The title track of Paul Simon’s 1983 album Hearts and Bones is a tender love song that obviously draws on the singer’s experiences. As it happens, Simon was at the time in the middle of a stormy 1-year marriage to the actress Carrie Fisher. Simon proposed to Fisher at a baseball game. Even though they were only married for a year, they got back together after their divorce and remained together for a few years before separating for good. “Hearts and Bones” exists as a commemoration of their better times together.
Paul Simon was one half of the classic folk duo Simon and Garfunkel, as well as their primary songwriter. After splitting from his musical partner, he forged a tremendously successful solo career. Carrie Fisher, daughter of Hollywood royalty, was an actress best known as Princess Leia in the Star Wars film franchise. She passed away in 2016.
“Day Dreaming” by Aretha Franklin
It can be a heavy burden if you’re the man that the queen of soul has written a love song about. You’ve got the love and the passion, but the flame can be hot enough to burn. At the time she wrote “Day Dreaming,” Aretha Franklin was engaged to singer Dennis Edwards of the classic vocal group The Temptations. They never did marry, though. Decades later, Edwards would admit being in the wrong. He was intimidated by the idea of marrying such a powerful superstar. Franklin replied that she had made peace with the situation long before, that she had grown weary of the lack of commitment and had decided to move on to greener pastures.
The Queen of Soul had a career spanning over 60 years and over a hundred charting singles. She was well known both as a songwriter and an interpreter of other people’s songs. Among her best-known singles are “Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” a duet with George Michael.
“Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen
This was the song that put a previously unknown Leonard Cohen on the map when Judy Collins recorded it in 1967. Cohen had written it as a poem the previous year, and then recorded his own version on his debut album not long after Collins. It describes his deep friendship and (unconsummated) attraction to a woman named Suzanne Verdal. As the lyrics explain, they would visit Montreal and go for long walks, enjoying the sights of that classic city, and each other. At home, she would make and serve him tea.
It’s easy to imagine, listening to the song, that the two were lovers. And certainly, Cohen had more than his share over the years. But Suzanne was different. He always said that the thought of sleeping with her was always more exciting than the reality could ever have been, so they remained friends. Verdal made no money off the song named after her, and shockingly, Cohen only did from his performances of it, having been tricked into signing away the copyright years earlier. In a sad but poetic turn of fate, Suzanne Verdal passed away just weeks before Leonard Cohen. Cohen, who knew he was dying and was unable to travel to Suzanne’s funeral, sent a note to be read at the service, saying he knew they would be together again soon.
“The Ballad of Jayne” by L.A. Guns
The second L.A. Guns album, 1989’s Cocked & Loaded, was also their first gold record. The lead single off the album, “The Ballad of Jayne,” was inspired by the life of Jayne Mansfield, one of Hollywood’s biggest sex symbols of the 1950s and 60s. Mansfield was one of the original “blonde bombshells,” a pinup girl, and one of the very first Playboy Playmates. Despite her above-average intelligence, she took advantage of her looks in provocative ways to further her career with every imaginable sort of publicity stunt. She was only 34 years old when she died in a horrific car crash in 1967.
The glam metal scene in Los Angeles produced a lot of acts with lasting influence, and group members would often move from one band to another. At one point, L.A. Guns merged with Hollywood Rose to form Guns n’ Roses, which is a classic case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. The other bands would eventually regroup in one form or another.