While prepping our recent episode with the one and only Joni Mitchell, we learned that the CSNY classic “Our House” was written by Graham Nash about his time at Mitchell’s Laurel Canyon home. Intrigued, we started snooping around for other songs inspired by famous relationships.
Here are the stories behind six tunes with some notable muses.
1. “Friend of a Friend” by Dave Grohl
He needs a quiet room
With a lock to keep him in
It’s just a quiet room
And he’s there
He plays an old guitar
Before “Nevermind” topped the charts, before the Foo Fighters were playing sold out stadium tours, Dave Grohl was just a 20-something musician with a new roommate. “I’d just moved up to Seattle and joined Nirvana,” Grohl has said about the song. “I’d moved in with Kurt [Cobain] in this dirty little apartment. That was the first song I’d ever written on an acoustic guitar.”
“Friend of a Friend” alludes to Cobain’s prolific journaling. Grohl says Cobain would close the door to his room and write for hours every night. The song was first recorded in 1990 for a cassette album called “Pocketwatch.” In 2005, Grohl revisited the tune, recording it for the Foo Fighters’ album “In Your Honor.”
2. “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette
Did you forget about me, Mr. Duplicity?
I hate to bug you in the middle of dinner
Hell hath no fury like a young Canadian scorned. “You Oughta Know,” easily the most scathing track on Morissette’s 1995 release “Jagged Little Pill,” is said to be the result of the singer’s brutal breakup with Dave Coulier, best known for playing goofy Joey Gladstone on “Full House.”
Coulier goes back and forth on taking credit (or should we say blame) for inspiring the iconic bad-breakup anthem. In 2008, he told The Calgary Herald that after hearing the song on the radio, “I said ‘Wow, this girl is angry.’ I listened to the song over and over again and I said ‘I think I have really hurt this person.'”
But lately Coulier denies being the ex in the song. He told Buzzfeed last year, “The guy in that song is a real a-hole, so I don’t want to be that guy.”
Mr. Duplicity, indeed.
3. “Chelsea Hotel #2” by Leonard Cohen
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
You were famous, your heart was a legend
You told me again you preferred handsome men
But for me you would make an exception
A night spent with fellow musician Janis Joplin inspired Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel #2.” After Joplin’s death, Cohen wrote the song about their brief relationship.
Later though, Cohen regretted being so transparent about the song’s inspiration. He told the BBC in 1994, “I don’t know when it started, but I connected [Joplin’s] name with the song …. And if there is some way of apologizing to a ghost, I want to apologize now for having committed that indiscretion.”
4. “Anticipation” by Carly Simon
Is making me late
Is keeping me waiting
Waiting for a date to pick you up can be agony. You check your phone, fuss over your outfit, pace the hallway. Or, if you’re Carly Simon, you write a song.
Simon composed her hit “Anticipation” while waiting for Cat Stevens to pick her up for their first date. “I wrote the whole song in fifteen minutes,” she’s said. The date must have gone pretty well, because Stevens turned around and wrote “Sweet Scarlet” about Simon.
But their relationship didn’t last long — Simon fell hard for James Taylor a few months later, who no doubt inspired a few songs of his own.
5. “Heart and Bones” by Paul Simon
You take two bodies and you twirl them into one
their hearts and their bones
and they won’t come undone.
Paul Simon penned “Hearts and Bones” about his then girlfriend Carrie Fisher. The pair wed in 1983 and then divorced in 1984, one month shy of their first anniversary. Fisher wrote in her autobiography, “If you can get Paul Simon to write a song about you, do it. Because he is so brilliant at it.”
We’ll get right on that, Carrie.
6. “My Sharona” by Doug Fieger, lead singer of the Knack
Ooh, my little pretty one, my pretty one
When you gonna give me some time, Sharona
If you’re trying to get a girl to dump her boyfriend for you, writing a hit song with her name in it is one way to get her attention. That was Doug Fieger’s approach. The lead singer of the Knack wrote “My Sharona” for Sharona Alperin, a 17-year-old girl he fell for while out shopping with his girlfriend. “It was like getting hit in the head with a baseball bat. I fell in love with her instantly,” Fieger said.
“My Sharona” was the best-selling single of 1979, and, like Carly Simon, Fieger claims to have written his hit in a mere 15 minutes. (That’s Alperin on the record cover.) But “my” Sharona” wasn’t truly his until Fieger convinced Alperin to dump her current boyfriend. After a year, she finally ditched her old beau and joined Fieger on the road. The couple then dated for four years and remained friends until Fieger’s death in 2010.
Fun fact: In 1979, 40 newborns were named Sharona in the United States, up from 12 in 1978, according to LA Magazine.