It’s not every day that mild-mannered pop and funk superstar Stevie Wonder releases a seriously political song. Love songs were more up his alley. But this was the mid-70s. The Vietnam War was still a fresh memory, and the societal fabric seemed to be fraying badly. And along comes Stevie Wonder, who throws some serious shade at president Richard Nixon, who was the clear and unambiguous target of Wonder’s ire. And as a huge coincidence (or was it?) Nixon resigned a mere two days after the song was released.
In a further surprise twist, the Jackson 5 (featuring a young Michael Jackson), another band not known for their overt political statements, sang backup vocals on this track. Stevie Wonder even called the Jackson boys out by name right in the middle of the song. “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” was later covered by Roger Daltrey of The Who.
“Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper
Cyndi Lauper’s debut album She’s So Unusual was one of the most successful debuts in pop music history, and her first number-one hit single was the deep and moving ballad “Time After Time.” It was obviously a love song, and the inspiration was the man behind the music in more ways than one. At the time her debut album was getting recorded, and she was at the beginning of her career, her boyfriend David Wolff was also her manager. He even appears in that role in the video. Aside from that, Lauper claims that the reference in the song to the ticking clock was about an actual loud clock that he had given her.
Arriving out of nowhere like a bolt out of the blue and like a breath of fresh air, Cyndi Lauper conquered America and the world in 1983 with her debut album. Her first single, the smash hit “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” set the tone for things to come. All four of the first singles off the album hit the top five, a record at the time.
“Lola” by The Kinks
The slightly creepy but undeniably infectious song “Lola” tells the story of an innocent young man’s unexpected romance with a transvestite. But who is the man, and who is the trans woman in real life? Well, that depends on whom you ask. Rolling Stone says that the woman was Candy Darling, a popular actress in Andy Warhol’s circle of artists and one of the inspirations behind Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” and that she and Kinks frontman Ray Davies had dated. Davies claims that while he and Darling had gone to dinner a few times, he was never under any misapprehension as to her true identity. Davies claims that the song was inspired by his manager’s drunken romance with a trans woman at a bar one night. They had danced the night away, with the manager never realizing that his partner was not the woman he thought she was. She had, as the song would later say, “walked like a woman and talked like a man.”
The Kinks, along with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, were at the forefront of the British Invasion in the 1960s. And they’re still going strong to the present day. Among their best-known songs, in addition to “Lola,” are “Where Have All the Good Times Gone,” “You Really Got Me,” and “Come Dancing.”
“Jennifer Juniper” by Donavan
Oh, those Boyd sisters! Older sister Pattie Boyd was the inspiration for “Layla” as well as a number of other songs by Eric Clapton and George Harrison, and here we have younger sister Jenny Boyd inspiring classic folk and psychedelic rocker Donovan’s 1968 song “Jennifer Juniper.” Like her older sister, Jenny was a well-known model, but she quit the business when, along with much of the rock community she was hanging out with, started visiting India and getting into Transcendental Meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Donovan and Jenny were never a couple, though, at the time, he wished they were. Boyd ended up with Mick Fleetwood of the classic rock band Fleetwood Mac, marrying and divorcing him twice after having two daughters with him. She later married and divorced King Crimson’s drummer Ian Wallace. After her modeling days were over, she got a Ph.D. in psychology and worked as a clinical consultant, co-authoring the book "Musicians in Tune."
Donovan, on the other hand, has been going strong in the music business for over half a century. While he never again reached the heights of fame and success that he had in the 60s, still he has barely slowed down. He is best known for the hits “Sunshine Superman,” “Mellow Yellow,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” and “Atlantis.”
“Girl from the North Country" by Bob Dylan
People can’t seem to agree who was the woman behind Bob Dylan’s early composition “Girl from the North Country.” Many are convinced it was his high school sweetheart, the fellow Minnesota native Echo Helstrom. Others insist it was another early girlfriend, actress, and activist, Bonnie Beecher. The third woman who is often mentioned as the source for the song was Dylan’s long-time girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, who was with him as he progressed from a relatively unknown folk singer to one of the most important cultural icons of his generation. Her political beliefs influenced Dylan to write songs with a more political bent, and it is she who is walking arm-in-arm with him on the cover of "The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan."
Musically, “Girl from the North Country” was inspired by Bob Dylan’s recent trip to England is his immersion in the various styles of folk music prevalent there. He met many of the local folk musicians and based this composition partly on a local version of the classic “Scarborough Fair.”