12 Famous Songs You Didn’t Know Were Inspired By Actual People

12 Famous Songs You Didn’t Know Were Inspired By Actual People | I Love Classic Rock Videos

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Have you ever belted out a song, completely unaware it was inspired by a real person? Music often reflects an artist’s experiences, and sometimes those experiences involve other people. 

These real people can be anyone from fellow celebrities to someone you might know down the street. In our list below, we’ll unveil the fascinating stories behind 12 famous songs, and the surprising real-life characters who inspired them.

From heart-wrenching breakups that become chart-topping anthems to humorous encounters that spark iconic lyrics, the stories behind these songs are as diverse as the music itself.  Prepare to have your mind blown (and maybe sing along a little differently) as we delve into the true tales behind these popular tunes.

12. “Plaster Caster” – KISS

KISS, the legendary rock band known for their outrageous costumes and electrifying performances, has a surprising song in their repertoire: “Plaster Caster”. While the song itself is catchy, its backstory is downright shocking.

“Plaster Caster” isn’t about a fictional character, but rather a real-life artist named Cynthia Albritton, also known as Cynthia Plaster Caster. Albritton, a huge rock groupie, made plaster molds of rockstars’… well, let’s just say their most private parts. Ironically, KISS themselves never participated in her project, but their song brought her unusual art form into the spotlight.

11. “Baba O’Riley” – The Who

“Baba O’Riley,” a classic rock anthem by The Who, has puzzled listeners for decades. While some interpret the song as a celebration of teenage rebellion (“Teenage Wasteland, yes!”), Pete Townshend, the band’s guitarist, reveals a darker inspiration.

Townshend based the lyrics on the disillusionment he witnessed at Woodstock, a music festival marred by drug abuse and injuries. However, the song’s title holds a different meaning. “Baba O’Riley” is a mashup of Townshend’s two biggest influences at the time: Meher Baba, a spiritual leader, and Terry Riley, a minimalist composer. This combination inspired the song’s unique musical structure, not the lyrics.

10. “Billie Jean” – Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s iconic song “Billie Jean” might have a darker inspiration than its catchy melody suggests. According to Jackson’s biographer, the song stemmed from a real-life experience with a stalker.

Reports claim a woman started sending Jackson letters in 1981, insisting he fathered her child. The situation escalated to the point where she allegedly sent him a gun, leaving Jackson deeply disturbed. Music producer Quincy Jones also corroborated the story, stating Jackson described a woman who entered his property and was found by the pool. While Jackson himself never explicitly confirmed the existence of “Billie Jean”, the song’s lyrics seem to paint a picture of an obsessed fan.

9. “Sweet Caroline” – Neil Diamond

Neil Diamond’s classic hit “Sweet Caroline” has often been linked to Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy. However, Diamond clarified in 2014 that the song was not about her. He explained that while composing in Memphis, Tennessee, he needed a name that fit the melody and “Caroline” simply worked better than “Marsha,” his then-wife’s name.

Despite the practical choice of the name “Caroline” for the song, Diamond had previously suggested that Caroline Kennedy was the muse for the title. He reminisced about being moved by a photograph of a young Caroline Kennedy in her riding attire, which sparked the idea for the song. This duality in Diamond’s statements leaves room for interpretation.

8. “Jessie’s Girl” – Rick Springfield

Rock classic “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield may be a catchy tune, but its inspiration comes from a place of longing and secrecy.

In the 1970s, a shy Springfield found himself crushing on the girlfriend of his friend Gary.  He never acted on his feelings and eventually lost touch with the couple. However, the experience stayed with him and fueled the Grammy-winning song that topped the charts upon release.

7. “Hey There Delilah” – Plain White T’s

The 2006 hit “Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White T’s sparked curiosity about the identity of Delilah. While the lyrics paint a picture of a long-distance relationship, the truth is more one-sided.

Singer Tom Higgenson wrote the song for Delilah DiCrescenzo, a college student he barely knew. Though the song hints at deeper feelings, they never dated. Despite the lack of romance, DiCrescenzo embraced the fame, even attending the Grammys with the band in 2008.

6. “Barbara Ann” – the Regents

The 1961 hit “Barbara Ann” by the Regents might be overshadowed by the Beach Boys’ later cover, but its backstory is truly unique.

Fred Fassert penned the song, and the “Barbara Ann” in question? His very own younger sister.  The lyrics depict a boy smitten at a dance, which adds a humorous twist considering the familial connection. However, Fred wasn’t the one singing about his sibling – he passed the song to the Regents, where his brother Charles became the voice behind the ode to his sister. Hey, catchy music transcends awkward inspiration, right?

5. “Layla” – Derek & The Dominos

The iconic rock ballad “Layla” by Eric Clapton is more than just a catchy tune – it’s a raw expression of unrequited love. Clapton poured his heart out for Pattie Boyd, the wife of his close friend, George Harrison.

The song’s title, “Layla,” was inspired by a classic tale of forbidden love, but the real-life Layla was captivating model Pattie Boyd. Clapton’s passionate lyrics were a plea for Boyd to leave Harrison for him. While their paths would eventually cross romantically, their relationship was tumultuous, ending in divorce in 1989. Despite the heartbreak, the song “Layla” remains a timeless classic.

4. “Stacy’s Mom” – Fountains of Wayne

The catchy tune “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne might make you think of teenage crushes, but its inspiration is a bit more surprising.

Songwriter Adam Schlesinger admitted a friend’s childhood crush on…his grandmother!  This, along with classic rock influences like Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” fueled the creation of the 2003 hit that had everyone singing about “Stacy’s Mom” who “has got it going on.”

3. “My Sharona” – The Knack

The catchy “My Sharona”, of course, references a real person! Sharona Alperin dated the Knack’s lead singer for years and even toured with the band. Her picture even graces the single’s sleeve.

Alperin has embraced her pop culture fame. The song topped the charts in 1976 and got a second wind in Reality Bites. While she initially found it overwhelming, she now enjoys the recognition. In fact, she’s cleverly leveraged “My Sharona” for her real estate business – her website is mysharona.com! So, if you’re looking for a home in West LA, the real Sharona might just help you find it.

2. “Come On Eileen” – Dexys Midnight Runners

The 1982 hit “Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners, often remembered as their only major success, was penned by the band’s lead vocalist Kevin Rowland, along with Jim Paterson and Al Archer. The song’s narrative was rooted in reality, drawing from Rowland’s youthful romance with a girl named Eileen.

They were both part of a conservative Catholic community, and the song poignantly captures the inner turmoil of young love grappling with religious guilt and emerging sexuality. Despite its unique sound, divergent from the typical ’80s vibe, the song soared to the top of the American charts, securing its place as an iconic track of the decade.

1. “Jolene” – Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton’s iconic song “Jolene,” released in 1973, captured the hearts of many women with its relatable lyrics about insecurity and a love threatened by another woman. The inspiration for the song came from two encounters.

The character of Jolene, a beautiful redhead, was based on a flirtatious bank teller who had a crush on Dolly’s husband, Carl Dean. Parton admitted feeling threatened by the woman’s looks. However, the name “Jolene” itself came from a different source: a young fan with stunning red hair and green eyes whom Dolly met at a concert.