Peggy Sue, Diana, Caroline, Sharona, Rosanne, Rikki, Claudette, Sara, Suzanne, Carol, Rita, and Lucy are but a few of the women who have inspired memorable songs down the years, by Buddy Holly, Paul Anka, Neil Diamond, The Knack, Toto, Steely Dan, Roy Orbison, Fleetwood Mac, Leonard Cohen, Neil Sedaka, and of course the Beatles.But musicians and composers have had their inspirational muses for centuries, Ludwig van Beethoven composed Bagatelle in A Minor, a romantic ode to a woman in his life, better known to struggling piano students as Fur Elise, in the early nineteenth century. The lovesick maestro was having trouble with his love life after several of his marriage proposals were rejected, first by Therese Malfatti (below) in 1810, then by singer Elizabeth Rockel, and possibly by another singer Elise Barensfeld, researchers have struggled to decipher Ludwig van’s atrocious handwriting but many now believe that the piece should be known as Fur Therese.
Women have long inspired musicians to create famous songs for many reasons – love songs, lust songs, breakup songs, makeup songs, get even songs – and these muses are rarely identified, they may be girlfriends, wives, rivals, exes, groupies, celebrities or even complete strangers, but they are not abstract people, they really existed, and for a moment they were the catalyst for the creation of a famous piece of music. And there it is, for all the world to hear about, a famous person’s love, or lust, or loathing for someone else being played publicly and climbing the charts, and if this girl wasn’t famous beforehand- then she is now.Sometimes the song is founded on a truly romantic relationship, while at other times it may nothing more than a brief flirtation, a chance meeting, or encountering someone in the supermarket queue. It may also be based on fantasy or an imagined state of existence about someone the writer admired, but which never materialized, some artists were brave enough to title the name of the song after the muse, others were more subtle, or less inclined to reveal the identity of their inspiration, lest it create disharmony in the lives of others.Over the next two weeks 4TR looks at the fascinating backstories that will answer that question “Who Was the Girl in the Song?”, including some great examples of Ausmusic inspired by girls, hope you enjoy the journey, and it helps in a small way to get you through COVID isolation and social distancing without too much stress.
The alluring Farrow sisters, Mia (below) and Prudence (above) were the inspiration for several songs that captured the zeitgeist of the 1960’s, when big sister Mia inspired Dory Previn to write her cautionary ode about predatory women, Beware of Young Girls, and Prudence inspired Lennon and McCartney to compose Dear Prudence. The Beatles and their partners and others gathered at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in Rishikesh (India) at the foot of the Himalayas to learn how to practise Transcendental Meditation. John and Paul where so concerned at the obsessive efforts by Prudence Farrow to “get cosmic” that they encouraged her to “come out to play”.Dory Previn (nee Langan, below) married composer Andre Previn in 1959 and they collaborated on many songs, Andre was 53 when he met the 24-year-old Mia Farrow, recently divorced from Frank Sinatra, in London, where Andre was conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.
Mia became pregnant to Andre in early 1969, the marriage was over, Dory had a nervous breakdown and undertook electro-convulsive therapy. During her recovery she penned Beware of Young Girls, dripping with sarcasm and bitterness, she took aim at Mia “Beware of young girls who come to the door/ Wistful and pale, of twenty-four/ Delivering daisies with delicate hands/ Beware of young girls too often they crave/ To cry at a wedding and dance on a grave.”
Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen met model/actress Julianne Phillips in 1984 and they were married a year a year later (above), but Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love album (1987) with the track Brilliant Disguise contained some not so subtle coded messages about role-playing, masks, mutual suspicion and betrayal. “So tell me what I see when I look in your eyes/ Is that you baby or just a brilliant disguise.”Springsteen had already started an affair with his backing singer Patti Scialfa (above) and was also disguising his true feelings to Phillips, following their divorce in 1989, Bruce and Patti were married two years later.
Irish actress Frances Tomelty (above) married Gordon “Sting” Sumner in 1976, and they would split in 1982 after Sting moved in with their neighbour, actress Trudie Styler, leaving Frances and their two kids, but not before he had penned a song inspired by his first wife, which would become his most successful composition. Despite the simplicity of the melody, and the rhyming phrasebook mundanity of the lyrics, Every Breath You Take paradoxically came to be regarded as a hymn of devotion and favored by those about to be married. Sumner has subsequently revealed that the lyrics are indeed much more sinister, evil, and disguise a paranoid possessiveness and distrust which came to characterise the relationship between himself and his wife, the song is now better known as the “stalker’s song.”
By 1963 the Rolling Stones line up was fully formed and they were getting regular gigs at the legendary Crawdaddy Club (Richmond) and the Ricky Tick Club (Windsor), which is where Mick Jagger met supermodel Jean Shrimpton’s little sister, Chrissie (above). She literally crowd surfed her way from the back of the venue to the stage and planted a big kiss on the Stones’ front man. Mick was impressed and the pair seemed destined to marry, but there was trouble in paradise, drugs including LSD led to Chrissie’s mental decline, triggering a paranoia in her that inspired Jagger to write the hit song 19th Nervous Breakdown.
By the time the Stones had released their album Aftermath in 1966, Jagger was moving on from his old girlfriend, and Under My Thumb was his less than subtle hymn to male domination, with Jagger claiming to have tamed the wild Chrissie “Under my thumb/ It’s a squirmin’ dog who’s just had her day/ Under my thumb/ A girl who has just changed her ways”. He had already begun an affair with Marianne Faithful and cleared Shrimpton’s belongings out of his flat on Christmas eve, a distraught Chrissie responded by overdosing on pills, she recovered, but Jagger was resolute and commented “I don’t dig the marriage bit at the moment.”
Mick Jagger and black American model-singer Marsha Hunt conducted a brief and secret relationship in the early 1970’s, but it was long and passionate enough for them to have a daughter together, Karis Jagger. Hunt was a stunning beauty who appeared on the original London poster for Hair, a musical that canonised the 70’s and inspired Jagger to write the iconic song Brown Sugar.
If you want some advice on how to leave your lover, look no further than Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. He wrote the song just after separating from his wife Peggy Harper as he began his romance with Carrie Fisher. Simon and Fisher (above) tied the knot in 1983 after a rocky seven-year relationship, but the marriage was short-lived and they divorced the following year. But the pair started seeing each other again after the divorce. The song was written after his first divorce from Harper, and the lyrics are witty advice a mistress gives to a husband to end his relationship, maybe Carrie should have got a co-writing credit, but Simon never actually revealed anything like 50 ways in the lyrics anyway.