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.
“Rosanna” by Toto
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.
“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.
“Vera” by Pink Floyd
Vera Lynn was a British singer who was tremendously popular during World War II, especially with the troops. The song she is most closely associated with is “We’ll Meet Again,” which she often sang as she visited army bases throughout the war. Roger Waters, in his inimitable ironic fashion, mentions Vera Lynn and “We’ll Meet Again” while implying that his character in "The Wall" will, in fact, never see his father again. Almost as though Vera had broken her promise. It is even possible that Waters intended the title to be a double entendre on losing faith, given that “Vera” is the Russian word for faith.
After a few years of declining relevance and increased tensions, Pink Floyd returned with a bang with one of the biggest-selling albums in history: 1979’s "The Wall." It also features their only number-one single, “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2”. Three years later, it would be adapted into a successful movie of the same name.
“Woman” by John Lennon
It should come as no surprise, given that Yoko Ono was John Lennon’s muse for more than a decade before his tragic murder, that his song “Woman” was inspired by her, though it was also dedicated to all women everywhere. Included in the Lennon-Ono collaboration album Double Fantasy, it was released as a single just weeks after Lennon’s passing. Benefiting from the universal anguish at the untimely death of one of rock’s critical pioneers, “Woman” became a worldwide top-ten hit.
John Lennon said in a Rolling Stone interview just days before his murder that “Woman” was a “grown-up version” of his 1965 Beatles song “Girl.” In the song’s opening seconds, Lennon can be heard whispering, “For the other half of the sky…” part of a Chinese aphorism that Mao Zedong was known to use. What can one say about John Lennon? How many people can be considered to be even half as important as he to the development of rock ‘n’ roll as we know it? From his early simple, catchy pop songs to his later more complex and experimental compositions dealing with mature political, spiritual, and personal issues, he helped define the trajectory of the art for generations of musicians.