You never know where a spontaneous jam will get you, and you can bet that the young and relatively unknown members of Guns N’ Roses had no idea what their little practice session that fateful day would do to their lives and careers. They were warming up at the house they shared in Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip, and in no time, the instrumental backbone of the song had taken shape. Hearing it, singer Axl Rose rushed downstairs and started writing the lyrics, which were completed by the next day.
And the inspiration for the lyrics? Axl Rose’s girlfriend, of course, Erin Everly, daughter of Don Everly of the legendary rock duo, the Everly Brothers. She must have been quite the muse, considering the memorably evocative lyrics that fill the song. “Sweet Child o’ Mine” was the third single off of Appetite For Destruction, one of the most successful and influential debut albums in the history of recorded music. Taking the then-popular hair metal genre and making it harder, dirtier, and more immediate, the song changed the face of popular music for a decade.
“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.
“She’s Always a Woman” by Billy Joel
One of the greatest musical storytellers of the 20th century, Billy Joel told one of his most evocative and memorable stories in 1977 with “She’s Always a Woman.” It tells the story of a man’s deep and abiding love for a tough, modern, and flawed woman. That the man is Joel himself is no surprise. The woman behind the song was his then-wife, Elizabeth Weber, to whom he was married from 1973 to 1982.
After several years of growing musical success, Joel was finding himself far from the level of financial security he had earned due to a number of unwise contracts he had signed and deals he had made. It all turned around when Weber took over managing his career. Her tough take-no-prisoners style led to friction with Joel’s business partners, and he wrote the song in support of her. One of the greatest soft rock anthems of all time, the haunting key and time signature keep “She’s Always a Woman” in the listener’s memory long after the song is over. Keep reading to learn more true stories behind some of Billy Joel’s most beloved songs.
“Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney
One of the most acclaimed songwriters of the 20th century, Paul McCartney has been responsible, both with his Beatles partner John Lennon and as a solo artist, for many of the most beloved songs of all time. And his love songs are on another level. “Maybe I’m Amazed” was one of his first releases as a solo artist, and it thanks his wife Linda for her unwavering support as the Beatles was breaking up. Paul wrote many songs for his beloved Linda, to whom he was married for almost 30 years until she passed away from breast cancer in 1998.
The original studio version of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” recorded as a solo performance, was never released as a single. A few years later, when Paul was the leader of the popular band Wings, they performed the song live and released it as a huge international smash hit single.
“Man on the Moon” by REM
REM’s 1992 hit “Man on the Moon” is filled with just about every sort of cultural reference. But the center of gravity that they all revolve around is comedian Andy Kaufman. When Andy wanted to be funny, you would laugh, whether on Saturday Night Live, on Taxi, or on any of his many guest appearances. The song was written by various members of REM, though the lyrics were mostly written by lead singer Michael Stipe. Bass player Mike Mills has said that Andy Kaufman is the perfect guide for a journey through questioning the accepted truths of our culture. His own cryptic and inscrutable nature made it fitting that through him, you would see the cultural contradictions.
“Man on the Moon” was a top 40 hit in 1992 and has remained among the most loved and best remembered of REM’s repertoire. When in 1999, director Milos Forman decided to make a movie about the life of Andy Kaufman, it was a natural choice to use the title of the REM song as the name of the movie.