Not exactly a master of subtlety, Steve Perry wrote his biggest solo hit, “Oh Sherrie,” in honor of the girl he was dating at the time, named Sherrie Swafford. She even starred in the video for the song, which benefited from massive airplay on MTV. You can bet that MTV’s love affair with the video was not an insignificant factor in the single’s success.
The relationship between Steve and Sherrie proved a bit more ephemeral than the song that came from it. The two never did tie the knot and ended up going separate ways, so to speak. But the song lives on as an important piece of 80s pop-rock history. Steve Perry, of course, is best known as the lead singer of Journey during its most successful period in the 1970s and 80s. His crystal clear tenor voice is instantly recognizable and has earned him an everlasting legacy as one of the greatest vocalists in the history of rock music.
“Layla” by Derek and the Dominos
What would you do if you fell in love with the wife of your best friend? Classic rock pioneer Eric Clapton decided the best course of action was to write a thinly-veiled love song to her in hopes of winning her heart. Complicating matters was that the woman in question was the famous model Pattie Boyd and the man she was married to was possibly an even greater classic rock pioneer: George Harrison of the Beatles. The song was “Layla,” widely considered to be one of the greatest rock songs of all time and one of Clapton’s signature songs. As for its intended effect, you could call it a delayed response, but Boyd did eventually divorce Harrison, and she and Clapton would be married from 1979 until 1989.
Several versions of “Layla” exist. The original studio version was over seven minutes long, which at the time was far too long to be released as a single, so a pared-down edit of fewer than three minutes was created. Eventually, the full version would be released as a successful single also. And in 1992, Clapton performed an acoustic version for the famous MTV Unplugged series to wild acclaim and success.
“Killing Me Softly” by Lori Lieberman
The songwriting duo of Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel wrote: “Killing Me Softly With His Song” based on an idea and poem presented to Gimbel by singer Lori Lieberman. She wrote the poem as an idea for a song inspired by another song that had moved her deeply. That song was “Empty Chairs” by Don McLean off his breakthrough 1971 album "American Pie." Lieberman had seen McLean perform at a club and his rendition of “Empty Chairs” was a very emotional experience for her. She scribbled some ideas for a song on a napkin, took them to Norman Gimbel, and the rest is history. Don McLean has always expressed gratitude and humility for having been the inspiration for such a classic song.
“Killing Me Softly With His Song” was a moderate hit for Lieberman, but before she could fully enjoy its rise to success, her version was overshadowed by Roberta Flack’s cover, which was one of the biggest easy-listening hits of the 70s. More than two decades later, it would be a smash hit yet again when it was covered as a rap/r&b song by The Fugees.
“Carey” by Joni Mitchell
At one point, Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash shared a home, or “Our House,” as Nash referred to it in his famous song. But it didn’t last, and when it ended, Mitchell took some time off from the music biz to travel to Greece and other European destinations. There she met Cary Raditz, who was literally a cave-dwelling hippie from America who made a living as a cook in Greece. Joni lived with him for some time and wrote the (purposely misspelled) “Carey” about him and their experiences together.
Joni was still in a fragile emotional state from her breakup with Graham, and to add to the discomfort, her newfound fame caused her to constantly be followed by a gaggle of hippies. She appreciated Cary’s fierceness in fending them off with the cane he carried and allowing her to have some peace and quiet to heal. She wrote the song “Carey” as a birthday present to him, though she called him a “mean old daddy” since, even though they were friends, she felt he sometimes enjoyed scaring her. Mitchell also referenced Cary in her next song, “California.” He was obviously a significant part of that stage in her life. They remained friends for a few years but eventually lost touch. In time, Cary ended up moving back to America, and he became an investment analyst in Washington, DC. How many cave-dwelling hippies can say that?
“Athena” by The Who
After years and years of being among the most vital pioneers of hard rock music, by 1982, The Who and their leader Pete Townsend were in an uncertain place. They were still selling albums and tickets, but it seemed like something was missing. One night, Townsend, drunk and high on drugs, went to see a Pink Floyd concert, where he ran into the actress Theresa Russell, who was engaged to director Nicholas Roeg.
Townsend fell madly in love, possibly with the help of the foreign substances in his brain, but Theresa was having none of it. Heartbroken at his rejection, he went home and penned a very personal love song that he called “Theresa.” When it came time to record it, however, he decided that maybe it was a little too personal, so he changed the name of the song to “Athena,” and the name stuck. As for Theresa Russell, she has been floating in and out of the mainstream for 40 years. She starred alongside Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, and Bill Murray in some of her early big-budget roles before starting to take riskier off-beat roles in many independent films. But you can still see her in supporting roles in major movies to this day.