Softer and more tender than your typical gritty Tom Waits song, “Jersey Girl,” is a remarkably straightforward expression of love and passion for the love of his life, his future wife, Kathleen Brennan. They met while she was living in New Jersey, which is what gave the song its name. He was working on a movie soundtrack at the time and would go see her whenever he could.
The pair have been married for decades and live in California with their three children, often collaborating on projects. “Jersey Girl” has been covered by Bruce Springsteen, to the point that it is often associated with him more than its author. Tom Waits’ tough boozy musician persona makes his long, fruitful marriage to Kathleen Brennan somewhat counterintuitive. He has always been an intensely private individual and has built an impenetrable wall of separation between his professional and personal life.
“Crazy Love” by Van Morrison
Van Morrison was married to Janet “Planet” Rigsbee for six years surrounding 1970, and she was likely the muse for a number of his songs from that period, including “Crazy Love.” Their relationship was by all accounts intense and passionate, but nevertheless, it ended in 1973. Still, it was a pretty good run considering they only really married so that Van could avoid deportation to the UK. Their daughter Shana was born in 1970 and has occasionally shared the stage with her famous father in the 1990s. It is likely that Rigsbee was also the “Brown Eyed Girl” in Morrison’s possibly best-known song, as they were already dating at that point in 1967. After divorcing Van, Janet moved to California, becoming a songwriter in addition to recording five of her own solo albums.
Van Morrison has been a major figure in popular music since the 1960s. First, he was a rock performer as the frontman for Them, with whom he had the hit song “Gloria.” Later, as a solo artist, he branched out into pop, blue-eyed soul, world music, and much more. Among his most beloved songs are “Moondance” and “Wild Night.”
“I Love Mickey” by Teresa Brewer
The popular and versatile 50s singer Teresa Brewer had a hit in 1956 about the New York Yankees baseball superstar Mickey Mantle. The song was “I Love Mickey.” Mantle even showed up at the studio and recorded a short spoken word part for the song, which led to some rumors about a possible romance between them. The song was born of a visit by Brewer to Yankee Stadium to watch the team play. Watching the Yankees’ top player in action, she thought he was amazing and that someone ought to write a song about him. Her friend hummed a little tune, Brewer started writing lyrics, and before you knew it, the song was ready to present to Mantle for his approval.
Though her career lasted over four decades, the 50s really belonged to Teresa Brewer. Unbelievably, she recorded something like 600 songs in almost every conceivable style, from jazz and R&B to country and show tunes. Such was her fame that when Elvis Presley was in high school, one of his very first performances was a Teresa Brewer song.
“Je T’aime … Moi Non Plus” by Serge Gainsbourg
When Brigitte Bardot asked Serge Gainsbourg to write a song for her in 1967, the result was the scandalously erotic “Je t’aime...moi non plus” (“I love you...neither do I”) recorded as a duet while they were making out in the recording booth. However, Bardot was married at the time, and her husband was, to say the least, not pleased when he heard about it. So Bardot asked Gainsbourg not to release the song, and he complied. Two years later, he recorded the song again with his new girlfriend, English actress Jane Birkin. This version was a major international hit, despite (because of?) being censored and banned all over the place. Afterward, Gainsbourg himself was shameless about offering to re-record the song with just about any pretty singer he came across, from Marianne Faithfull to Valerie Lagrange. The original Bardot version was finally released in 1986.
Serge Gainsbourg was one of the most famous songwriters in France in the second half of the 20th century. As a songwriter, he had a rich and varied output in almost every imaginable genre. In addition, he was a singer, actor, and director of note.
“Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder
In 1976, Stevie Wonder released an ambitious double album called Songs in the Key of Life which included a sweet song dedicated to the recent birth of his daughter Aisha Morris. The song opens with the sound of Aisha’s first cry as she was born, and closes with the sound of Wonder bathing her when she was a little older. The album version of the song was over six minutes long, far too long to be released as a single at the time.
Songs in the Key of Life was Stevie Wonder’s most successful album and, in the view of many observers, marks the end of his early “classic” period. As he entered the 1980s, he developed a more polished commercial pop sound to massive success, which continues to this day.