40 Famous Songs With Interesting BackstoriesBy Jennifer Snow
It cannot be denied that music has a significant impact on our lives. You may even have a song stuck in your head without realizing it! And while some of your favorite songs may seem like they were just created out of thin air, they all had a beginning. Every track tells a story, but what about the story that gave rise to the music?
To save you from the trouble of doing research, we took it upon ourselves to unearth some interesting facts about some of the world’s most beloved songs. These little-known details give us a peek into certain artists’ creative processes.
You probably have no idea who or what inspired many of these tracks!
Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys
Have you ever found yourself liking a certain song yet failing to fully comprehend its meaning? While some modern songs may not be taken as seriously as others, this doesn’t mean that they lack depth. Sometimes, it’s these songs that have the most compelling stories to tell.
Okay, we’ll admit it: we had no idea what Alicia Keys was talking about the first time we listened to Girl on Fire. However, the song makes a lot more sense now that we know it was inspired by the dark moments in the singer’s life when she felt caged in.
Walk This Way by Run DMC and Aerosmith
While some musicians prefer to work alone, others will occasionally push the envelope and test the waters. The best musical collaborations often begin as experiments of this nature.
It is safe to assume that, back in the 1980s, no one would have ever imagined pairing Run DMC and Aerosmith together for a project. But after some trial and error, these two groups discovered that they could make a record together. We’re so glad they did because their two very distinct styles go together so well in this song!
Over the Rainbow by Judy Garland
Although many songs may not be to everyone’s taste, they have unquestionably had a significant impact on society. And while every piece of music has a unique contribution to make to the world, some songs stand above others.
You may be familiar with the song Over the Rainbow from the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, but did you know that the composer was inspired to create the song while driving by a pharmacy? We don’t know about you, but the last few times we drove past a pharmacy, nothing amazing has ever happened to us.
You’re so Vain by Carly Simon
While some songs are easily forgotten, others remain hits for life. Though some of these hits may not always be heard on the radio these days, they will always hold a special place in many people’s hearts.
And nothing can inspire a great song that is still relevant today like a relationship between two Hollywood celebrities. Everyone knows that Carly Simon’s hit You’re so Vain was about a former boyfriend. However, not that many people know that the song was referring to actor and filmmaker Warren Beatty.
In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins
Celebrities are just normal people like us, though it may not seem that way. They may have a lot of fame, expensive mansions, and fancy cars, but they still experience challenges in life. These challenges are what fuel many artists’ creative breakthroughs throughout their lives.
Despite going through a divorce at the time, Phil Collins nonetheless managed to produce one of his most influential songs, In the Air Tonight. His divorce also led him to decide to temporarily leave his band Genesis, though he rejoined the band not long after.
Thank U, Next by Ariana Grande
There is a broad understanding that when it comes to seeking love, you should try to limit the number of people you are with. However, if there is anything we’ve learned from the past several years, it’s that we must accept the random, inconsistent turns our lives might take.
That seems to be what Ariana Grande did when she released the hit Thank U, Next in 2019. She even specifically names her well-known exes in the song, proving that she is not ashamed to admit to her interesting dating history.
Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus
There are some songs that, whether you like it or not, define a whole generation. There is no denying that these songs have had a significant impact on both the music industry and society at large.
When Miley Cyrus released the song Wrecking Ball in 2013, fans were quick to guess that the song was about her breakup with Liam Hemsworth. The song’s now-iconic music video would go on to influence pop acts in the years to come. Although the two briefly rekindled their romance (and even got married!), they ultimately ended their relationship in 2020.
Something by The Beatles
It’s hard to discuss the music industry without mentioning a few well-known names. Despite what some may claim, certain people in the business have significantly influenced how people today perceive, consume, and even select music.
It’s logical to assume that The Beatles drew a lot of inspiration from those around them, particularly their girlfriends and spouses, given their long list of notable hits. The very well-known Beatles song, Something, apparently took inspiration from George Harrison’s ex-wife, Patty Boyd. What could be cooler than being the subject of a Beatles song?
True Love by Pink
There are performers out there that never fail to wow their audience. They always manage to create amazing music, regardless of how fantastic or bad things are. It seems that what they say about how our lives serve as inspiration for our art is true.
Despite what its title may imply, Pink’s song True Love isn’t about what you might expect. Yes, it discusses her enduring love for her husband Carey Hart, but she also complains throughout the song, which is validating for many people.
Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana
Over the years, many rock bands have managed to make a lasting impact on the music industry. While some of these bands no longer exist, they left us with some fantastic music that remains influential today.
Even though Kurt Cobain is no longer with us, his impact on rock and roll music is difficult to ignore. Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, was a master at making jokes out of everything. You may expect their most well-known song, the one that defined a generation, to have a more meaningful backstory, but that wasn’t Kurt Cobain’s style.
Don’t Speak by No Doubt
Not all singers entered the industry by performing alone. Many started as members of a band before going solo. In some cases, a couple in the band breaking up is the cause of a band parting ways.
The woman in the photo is someone who you may recognize. That’s pop and rock princess Gwen Stefani, who served as the frontwoman of the band No Doubt. Their hit song Don’t Speak was heavily inspired by Stefani’s breakup with her fellow band member Tony Kanal.
Uptown Girl by Billy Joel
It’s no secret that people write love songs with specific individuals in mind. But what happens when a love song draws its inspiration from multiple people? We can only imagine how awkward it must be to have to explain this to others.
Uptown Girl singer Billy Joel had to deal with that in reality. When writing the song, Joel took inspiration from supermodel Elle McPhearson, his girlfriend at the time. That, however, was short-lived as the song soon became about Christie Brinkley after he started dating her.
Jolene by Dolly Parton
There are specific elements that must be present when writing a good song. You’ll also need some fairly solid lyrics if you want your music to endure. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that singer-songwriter and philanthropist Dolly Parton continues to have an impact on the younger generation through her songs.
Who would have guessed that a ten-year-old fan was the source of inspiration for Dolly Parton’s immensely popular song Jolene? We had always assumed that the song was about a boyfriend falling for a different woman, but apparently not.
Survivor by Destiny’s Child
Although girl and boy bands haven’t been all that popular lately, they were once a dominant force in the 1990s and early 2000s. Like any profession, spending the entire day with the same group of people may be exhausting, and not everyone is suited for that lifestyle.
Before being granted the moniker “Queen B,” Beyoncé was the lead singer of Destiny’s Child. At one point, the group became notorious for losing members one after the other. Beyoncé came up with the hit Survivor after overhearing a radio DJ make fun of the group’s situation, turning it into something positive.
Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush
A song’s age does not automatically mean that it’s irrelevant or out of date. So many songs have endured and made a comeback years after their first public release. However, no one could have predicted what would happen to Running Up That Hill in 2022 considering that it wasn’t so popular when it was first released.
Nothing revives an old song like being featured on a hit TV show. When Running Up That Hill was released in 1985, it was only marginally successful. However, the song went on to dominate nearly all global charts after the premiere of the fourth season of the Netflix series Stranger Things in 2022.
Tiny Dancer by Elton John
Not every song makes it to the top of the charts right away. However, like wine and cheese, certain songs get better as they age. This happens more often than we realize, especially in the era of social media and more convenient access to movies and TV.
Tiny Dancer by Sir Elton John hasn’t always been as popular as some would think. Few people heard the song when it was first released in 1972 as many radio stations thought it was too long to play. However, the song saw an increase in popularity after it was featured in the 2000 movie Almost Famous.
I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor
There are some songs that, no matter how much time has passed, are still as relevant as when they were initially released. They are the kinds of songs that you can count on hearing at some point at a party, wedding, or even a bar mitzvah.
Gloria Gaynor’s smash hit I Will Survive was written by Dino Ferakis, who had previously written songs for Motown. After being fired from his job, he became inspired to write the song after turning on the TV and hearing one of the songs that he had composed for a movie.
Bad Blood by Taylor Swift
You can always count on celebrities to get embroiled in all sorts of drama. Whether it is their own doing or if they were inadvertently drawn into it, the world is bound to find out about it.
If you’re a fan of either Taylor Swift or Katy Perry, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of the feud between them that inspired Swift to write Bad Blood. The two did reconcile after some time, and we’re so glad they did because we can’t have two major pop queens fighting!
(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes
When writing a song, there are certain things to keep in mind. Generally speaking, a song has to have a beginning, chorus, bridge, and end. However, this may also change depending on the purpose a song will serve.
In 1987, Franke Previte, lead singer of the band Franke and the Knockouts, wrote several songs for the movie Dirty Dancing, including (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life. Writing the song proved to be a bit of a challenge for Previte, as he needed to meet some very specific criteria. Fortunately, Previte managed to fulfill every single one of them!
About Damn Time by Lizzo
Have you ever heard a song and felt as though the lyrics were speaking to you directly? Music has the power to truly speak to people, and when you discover a song that does this for you, all you want to do is to listen to it over and over again.
Lizzo released About Damn Time in April 2022, while the world was in the process of trying to move on from the trauma of the last few years. It’s important for us to properly mark the end of one period and the start of another one, and that is precisely what this song is about.
Hopelessly Devoted To You by Olivia Newton-John
Nothing nearly compares to Grease when it comes to classic Hollywood musicals. The movie, which is set in the 1950s, follows high school students Danny (played by John Travolta) and Sandy (played by Olivia Newton-John) as they meet and eventually develop feelings for each other.
If you’ve watched the movie, you know how well Olivia Newton-John not only sings the song Hopelessly Devoted To You but also lets the audience understand how her character is feeling. The song earned the movie its lone Oscar nomination.
Burning Love by Elvis Presley
Some songs have been popular for so long that we have become accustomed to hearing them without ever knowing their origins. There isn’t much that can help us understand the backstory of a particular song unless we seek them out ourselves.
Did you know that Elvis Presley almost didn’t record the song Burning Love? Given that he had just ended things with his wife Priscila at the time, it makes sense why he wasn’t in the mood to work on a song like this.
Hello by Adele
Do you ever think about how your life might be without a particular song? Even when we are confident that other songs will take their place, it is nevertheless difficult to fathom. The music industry and people’s lives have both been profoundly impacted by certain songs and singers.
Hello, the lead single from Adele’s third studio album, became a worldwide success after its release in 2015. Despite what many listeners might think, Adele claims that the piano ballad was more about reestablishing relationships with everyone and with herself than it was about any specific individual.
Touch the Sky by Kanye West
Now and then, famous people get into trouble for something they did or said. After receiving criticism, they apologize, and, hopefully, move on with lessons learned from the experience. Some celebrities, however, never really seem to stay out of trouble.
In 2006, Kanye West released the song Touch the Sky. The accompanying music video shows West as the daredevil Evel Kanyevel, a tribute to American daredevil Evel Knievel. Knievel, however, did not appreciate the portrayal and sued West in December of that year. The two eventually settled the lawsuit a year later.
Eye of the Tiger by Survivor
Some songs may be old, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve become irrelevant. There are many songs on this list that prove that just because a song was released a while back, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re no longer “cool.”
Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, the iconic theme song of the 1982 movie Rocky III, is one of them. The song was chosen for the movie after Sylvester Stallone’s request to make Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust the movie’s theme song was denied.
True Colors by Cyndi Lauper
There is something so beautiful about how a song can connect with an audience and share in their hardships and aspirations. That’s exactly what Cyndi Lauper was able to do with her song True Colors.
The song’s composer, Billy Steinberg, wrote the song to pay tribute to his mother. But given the song’s lyrics, it eventually took on a completely new meaning for the LGBTQ community. Lauper, a fervent supporter of the LGBTQ community, was thrilled by the fact that the song resonated with them.
Wonderwall by Oasis
The question of whether the British or Americans are better at rock music is still up for debate. However, it is undeniable that both the US and the UK have made a significant impact on the development of rock music as a whole and will continue to do so in the years to come.
Though the song Wonderwall by Oasis has become strongly associated with the “Anyway, Here’s Wonderwall” meme, there’s no denying its legacy. For a while, fans believed that the song was about Noel Gallagher’s then-girlfriend Meg Mathews, but he later clarified that the song was about an imaginary friend.
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
We’ve all faced difficulties in life. Sometimes these challenges offer us meaning, and other times they make us want to give up. Either way, everyone must learn how to persevere under trying circumstances. And what better way to do that than by listening to some inspirational music?
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough was written by Nick Ashford of the songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson not long after moving to New York City. Inspired by the difficult challenges of living in a big city, Ashford wrote this song as a reminder to not let his experiences get the better of him.
Dear John by Taylor Swift
There’s nothing more fascinating than watching two famous people fall in and out of love – that is until they start airing their dirty laundry in public in the form of breakup songs. That’s when the fun begins.
Everyone knows that Taylor Swift is an expert when it comes to breakup songs. Her song Dear John is said to be about singer-songwriter John Mayer, who she dated for a while. Given their significant age difference, their relationship would inevitably run into some issues.
Started from the Bottom by Drake
Humans are innately competitive creatures; it’s in our DNA. Indeed, one of nature’s most fundamental processes is competition. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the entertainment industry, where some people won’t think twice about bringing other people down to get ahead.
It’s safe to say that Canadian rapper Drake has done well for himself given all that he has achieved. His hit single, Started from the Bottom, was written in response to the accusations that he didn’t have to work as hard as other rappers to reach the level of success that he did.
I Will Always Love You by Dolly Parton
Certain songs become so closely associated with certain singers that people often mistake their version of the song for the original one. However, there are many songs out there that may have been popularized by one artist but were originally recorded by another.
Whitney Houston may have popularized the song I Will Always Love You in 1992, but it was Dolly Parton who first recorded the song in 1973. Parton wrote this song as a farewell to Porter Wagoner, her business partner and mentor of seven years.
All of Me by John Legend
American singer John Legend has written and released many ballads over the years, but his 2013 single All of Me is undoubtedly one of his most memorable ones. The song reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2014, becoming his first number-one hit in the US.
It’s easy to guess that the song was written as an ode to Legend’s then-girlfriend, Chrissy Teigen. The accompanying music video, filmed just days before the couple’s wedding in Lake Como, Italy, included footage from their actual wedding.
Lose Yourself by Eminem
Rap music may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there is something to be said when a rapper releases a banger. Even if you don’t like a certain song, you can still appreciate its artistic merits.
There is a lot to admire about Eminem’s single Lose Yourself, even if all you remember is the line about mom’s spaghetti. The song, which largely talks about the struggles of Eminem’s character in the 2002 movie 8 Mile, won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. It was the first time that this award was given to a rap song.
The One That Got Away by Katy Perry
Celebrities hang out with each other all the time, so it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to learn that some of them have written songs about other famous people they admire. But even so, we were taken aback by what Katy Perry revealed about one of her biggest hits.
We always assumed that the song The One That Got Away was about an ex-lover. However, Katy Perry admitted to James Corden in an interview that the song was about her good friend, Josh Groban.
Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey
Karaoke singers and barflies probably already know this song’s lyrics by heart. Don’t Stop Believin’, a song by the American rock band Journey became a top-10 worldwide hit following its release in 1981. The song found renewed success in 2009 after it was featured on the hit TV show Glee.
Keyboardist Jonathan Cain’s experience as a struggling musician in Los Angeles served as the inspiration for this song. Whenever he would call his father for advice, his father would always tell him “don’t stop believing, or you’re done.”
Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend by Marilyn Monroe
Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend is a song originally performed by actress Carol Channing in the original Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The musical tells the story of an American woman who travels to Paris to perform in a nightclub.
The song was famously performed by Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 movie adaptation. While Monroe’s voice was used for most of the song, certain lines were dubbed over with Marni Nixon’s vocals, while the high-pitched intro was sung by Gloria Wood.
You Oughta Know by Alanis Morisette
Even though an artist may only be known for one particular genre of music, that doesn’t mean that they haven’t experimented with different styles at some point. It might take some time for musicians to establish a sound that will both fulfill them and help them maintain their careers.
Believe it or not, Alanis Morisette started off singing dance-pop songs in Canada before becoming an alt-rock performer in the mid-1990s. Her first non-pop song, You Oughta Know, was ranked #103 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list in 2021.
Sorry by Beyoncé
Every time we hear about a celebrity cheating on their spouse or partner, we’re reminded that they’re not that different from the rest of us. Even if they may whine about it in their expensive mansions, we are all the same.
In 2016, Beyoncé released Sorry, which sent fans into a frenzy. It didn’t take long for them to connect the dots and figure out that the song was about her husband Jay-Z’s infidelity. You may be asking, “how could anyone cheat on Beyoncé?” The answer is, we’re not sure either.
Haven’t Met You Yet by Michael Bublé
There is little question that musicians draw inspiration from their personal lives or the lives of others when writing their songs. Canadian singer Michael Bublé, who rose to fame in the early 2000s, is no different.
Contrary to what the song’s title may lead one to expect, Bublé had already met his future bride, Argentine actress Luisana Lopilato, at the time of the song’s release in 2009. However, he still wasn’t sure of the direction the relationship was taking. The two would eventually get married in 2011.
Don’t by Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran is unquestionably one of the most successful British pop acts of the 2010s. His rise to prominence began in 2011 with the release of his debut album + (pronounced “plus”), which he then followed up with his second album x (pronounced “multiply”) in 2014.
His second album included the song Don’t, which Sheeran co-wrote with record producer Benny Blanco. The song, which became Sheeran’s first top-10 single, is said to be about fellow British singer Ellie Goulding, who he reportedly briefly dated in 2013. Goulding, however, told Elle magazine in 2015 that she and Sheeran were never in a relationship.