Pattie Boyd was still married to former Beatle George Harrison when Harrison’s friend and fellow rock superstar Eric Clapton met and fell in love with her. After Clapton finally won her over and made her his own wife, he wrote the dreamy smooth ballad “Wonderful Tonight” for her. They say the song was inspired by Clapton watching Boyd one evening getting ready to go out to an annual musical memorial for Buddy Holly. “Wonderful Tonight” can be seen as a sequel of sorts to “Layla,” which Clapton wrote for Boyd when she was still married to Harrison.
Pattie Boyd was married to George Harrison from 1966 until 1977. After leaving him for Eric Clapton, she was married to the latter from 1979 until 1989. She divorced Clapton after his numerous infidelities led to the birth of a son with one of his mistresses. She married her third husband in 2015.
“I’m Your Boogie Man” by KC & The Sunshine Band
One might be forgiven for assuming that when a super successful disco pioneer sings “I’m Your Boogie Man,” he’s talking about himself. But the truth is that the song was written in praise of someone to whom the band felt they owed their success. A DJ from the band’s hometown of Miami was the first to play their song “Get Down Tonight” on the air. It would go on to become their first number-one hit and launch them into superstardom at the very top of the world of disco. The DJ’s name was Robert W. Walker, and he was the inspiration for “Boogie Man”.
Harry Wayne Casey (KC) started KC & the Sunshine Band as a disco and funk outfit in 1973. By 1975 they had the first of five chart-topping hits, the last of which ushered in the 1980s, which would also be the decade that would see their decline. Disco ruled for a while, but when the backlash came, it was severe.
“Chelsea Hotel #2” by Leonard Cohen
The 1974 Leonard Cohen album New Skin for the Old Ceremony contains one of the most memorable of his early songs, “Chelsea Hotel #2”. In it, he describes in surprising detail a one-night stand with a woman he would later reveal was rock star Janis Joplin. The Chelsea Hotel in New York had been a famous temporary residence for itinerant artists ever since Mark Twain had stayed there.
Cohen used to love regaling his audience not only with the song (which is explicit enough) but with the story and name behind it. Eventually, he would come to repent the “locker room” mentality that caused him to kiss and tell. He felt it was wrong to associate Joplin’s name with what he had done, and he apologized, so to speak, to “her ghost.” In 1968 it was far from given that Leonard Cohen would ever be a legend in the music industry. His one album at that point had not sold very well, and he was already older than many established stars. That was when he started staying at the storied Chelsea Hotel. Who knows; maybe between the ambiance and Janis Joplin, he got the inspiration he was looking for.
“A Day in the Life” by The Beatles
Rounding out Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” can be described as ethereal, trippy, and evocative. The main theme of the lyrics describes a man experiencing confusing and conflicting emotions as he gets up in the morning and reads the newspaper. John Lennon was the primary songwriter of this track. It was inspired by a car crash that claimed the life of his friend, the 21-year-old heir to the Guinness empire, Tara Browne. Lennon adapted the story in the Daily Mail newspaper into the first two verses of the song.
Even the third verse, the enigmatic one about “holes” filling the Albert Hall, was adapted from another article in the same edition of the same newspaper. The article was about the numerous holes in England’s roads, and Lennon was inspired to make it a little more psychedelic.
“Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John
Rock star Elton John and tennis star Billie Jean King made for an unlikely friendship, but a deep and lasting friendship they nevertheless forged. John asked his longtime songwriting partner and lyricist Bernie Taupin to help him write a song in her honor, to be called “Philadelphia Freedom” after her professional tennis team, the Philadelphia Freedoms. Taupin claimed he had no idea how to write a song about tennis. In the end, Taupin wrote a song about life, and every listener simply filled in the meaning in their own head about what the song meant to them. The song was a smash number-one hit single.
Over the years, Elton John and Billie Jean King have leveraged their friendship and their respective fame to create a major philanthropic movement that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for HIV/AIDS causes and LGBT rights causes as well.