By Kelsey Miller and Brooke Wylie
Whether the songs are about a broken heart, friendship, family loyalty, or just their talent, strut, or attitude, real women have been tantalizing artists and leading them to songwriting inspiration as far back as the days of Beethoven. Few know the stories behind many of history's greatest musical odes to women. This list compiles 50 songs (and more!) that were written about the real-life women (and in 2 cases, "not exactly" real women) that inspired some of the greatest songwriting of all time.
(In chronological order)
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Written By: Beethoven, 1800s
Written For: Countess Guilietta Guicciardi
Women have inspired musicians even as far back as the Classical and Romantic Eras in history. Renowned composer Ludwig Van Beethoven wrote one of his most famous works Sonata 14 or “Moonlight Sonata,” about his pupil, 17-year-old Guilietta Guicciardi. It was believed that the composer was in love with the young girl and, even to this day, the classical tune is one of the most well-known love songs of all time. Also, Beethoven’s song “Fur Elise,” was originally titled “Fur Therese,” which many believe is in reference to the composer’s student and other love interest Therese Malafatti. A transcribing error left us with the title we associate the composition with today, giving a nod to Beethoven and his unique student-teacher relationships.
Watch a video of "Moonlight Sonata"
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Written By: Hank Williams, 1951
Written For: Audrey Sheppard
Pioneering country singer Hank Williams wrote his classic, spiteful ballad “Cold, Cold Heart” about his wife, Audrey Sheppard. Apparently, Aubrey's previous relationship left her with a good dose of bitterness and suspicion about relationships in general. Singing about his frustrations with Audrey's distant nature, the tune proves that not all is love and happiness in the world of songwriting. “Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart?”
Watch a video of "Cold, Cold Heart"
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Written By: Buddy Holly, 1957
Written For: Peggy Sue Gerron
Originally called “Cindy Lou,” Buddy Holly’s rock and roll hit “Peggy Sue” was a simple love song written for The Crickets’ drummer Jerry Allison’s girlfriend. Peggy Sue Gerron would later become Allison’s wife, and it could be the pioneering rock hit (written first for Holly’s niece) that saved his relationship and made Peggy Sue a household name.
Watch a video of "Peggy Sue"
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Written By: Ritchie Valens, 1958
Written For: Donna Ludwig Fox
Written by 1950s artist Ritchie Valens, "Donna" was a tribute of pure crush-dom for the singer's high school sweetheart Donna Ludwig, now Donna Fox. Released as the A side of Valens' famous single "La Bamba," the track was a crooning song that has gone down in history as a sweet tune singing, "Since she left me/ I've never been the same/ 'Cause I love my girl/ Donna, oh where can you be?"
Watch a video of "Donna"
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Written By: Neil Sedaka, 1958
Written For: Carole King (Carole Klein)
The bouncy pop song “Oh! Carol,” written by 1950s crooner Neil Sedaka, is a simple exclamation of love for then-girlfriend and high school sweetheart Carole Klein. An artist in her own right, Klein later changed her name to Carole King and responded with the humorous “Oh Neil.” Earning the singer chart-topping success, Sedaka’s simple yet fun love song led to international fame, with foreign language versions interpreting, “Darling I love you though you treat me cruel…”
Watch a video of "Oh! Carol"
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Written By: John Lennon, 1960
Written For: Julia Lennon
John Lennon dedicated this song to his mother who was killed when she was hit by a car in 1958. This song was released a decade later on The White Album. Lennon also named his first son, Julian for his mother.
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Written By: Paul Anka, 1960
Written For: Annette Funicello
It has been reported that Paul Anka wrote this song for Annette Funicello during a period of time when they had an affair while on tour together. Eventually Funicello recorded an album of covers entitled Annette Sings Anka, but sources say she ultimately ended up marrying Anka’s manager, Jack Gilardi.
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Written By: Antonio Carlos Jobim, 1965
Written For: Helô Pinheiro
The famous island-esque bossa nova hit “The Girl From Ipanema,” by Antonio Carlos Jobim was originally sung in Portugese about a 15-year-old girl living on the streets of the Ipanema district of Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Helô Pinheiro, the “girl from Ipanema" is the real-life inspiration for the mysteriously romantic girl who “swings so cool and sways so gentle…”
Watch a video of "The Girl From Ipanema"
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Written By: Chris Hillman, 1967
Written For: Girl Freiberg
According to ebni.com Girl Freiberg was a friend of David Crosby and a follower of the San Francisco ‘60s folk scene. Her parents gave her the nickname due to the fact that she was the only girl out of their six children. She ran away from home at the age of 16 and married fellow scenester David Freiberg who would later play with Crosby on his first solo album and in Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship.
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Written By: John Lennon, 1968
Written For: Prudence Farrow
Half of the infamous Beatles songwriting duo, John Lennon often wrote songs about the women in his life. From the mystical, experimental album The Beatles, “Dear Prudence” was written about the sister of actress Mia Farrow. Present during The Beatles’ spiritual trip to India, Prudence Farrow inspired Lennon to write a song coaxing Farrow to come outside after the girl had locked herself away in spiritual solitude. Also not to be forgotten, Lennon’s fascination for wife Yoko Ono inspired many of his post-Beatles songwriting including the mushy yet simple love song, “Oh Yoko,” complete with background vocals from the song’s subject herself.
Watch a video of "Dear Prudence"
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Written By: Donovan, 1968
Written For: Jenny Boyd
The Boyd sisters are arguably the most written about in rock history. This tune, written about 1960’s model Jenny Boyd, (sister of fellow rock muse Pattie Boyd - SEE Clapton and Harrison below) “Jennifer Juniper,” was inspired by Donovan’s love for the girl. Boyd was enthralled with the Scottish folk writer but their romance was fleeting, with “Jennifer Juniper” eventually marrying (and divorcing) rocker Mick Fleetwood.
Watch a video of "Jennifer Junpier"
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Written By: George Harrison, 1969
Written For: Pattie Boyd
Written for then-wife Pattie Boyd, the incredibly raw and romantic “Something, “ states simply how Beatle George Harrison was captivated by his romance. “Something in the way she moves/ Attracts me like no other lover,” the song crooned. Also writing “For Your Blue,” about Boyd, the model captured the hearts of many musicians of the time, eventually splitting with Harrison in 1974 and marrying Eric Clapton a few years later.
Watch a video of "Something"
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Written By: Stephen Stills, 1969
Written For: Judy Collins
A suite of short songs written by Stephen Stills and performed by folk-rock group Crosby, Stills and Nash, “Judy Blue Eyes” was written about folk singer Judy Collins. As a last-resort effort to salvage his love with Collins, the four-section piece seemed to describe more of an imminent break-up between the two singers than reconciliation. However, despite the depressing content, it has become a CSN staple and the tragic song was even, most famously, played at the 1969 Woodstock festival (…of “Love,” ironically).
Watch a video of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"
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Written By: Neil Young, 1970
Written For: Unrevealed
Young himself will not reveal the identity of the cinnamon girl because he "likes to leave lyric interpretation up to the listener". However, in the liner notes of Decade Young said this about the song, “Wrote this for a city girl on peeling pavement coming at me thru Phil Ochs eyes playing finger cymbals. It was hard to explain to my wife." Wikipedia offers up the possibility that the cinnamon girl was either Paul McCartney guitarist Brian Ray’s older sister, or Pamela Courson, Jim Morrison’s girlfriend.
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Written By: Cat Stevens, 1970
Written For: Patti D’Arbanville
D’Arbanville was Stevens’ girlfriend at the time. It has been said that “Wild World” was also written for her. The kind folks at Wikipedia have provided a quote from her about her reaction to the song, which Stevens wrote while she was away.
“I just have to be by myself for awhile to do what I want to do. It's good to be alone sometimes. Look, Steven wrote that song when I left for New York. I left for a month; it wasn't the end of the world was it? But he wrote this whole song about 'Lady D'Arbanville, why do you sleep so still.' It's about me dead. So while I was in New York, for him it was like I was lying in a coffin... he wrote that because he missed me, because he was down... It's a sad song." A second D’Arbanville quote about the song sums up its meaning even more simply and clearly, "I cried when I heard it, because that's when I knew it was over for good."
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Written By: Ray Davies, 1970
Written For: Candy Darling
Although Davies later waters down his explanation for the song's inspiration by claiming that the song was inspired by his manager dancing on a bar room table with a transgender he initially believed was a woman, an earlier account to Rolling Stone magazine indicates that the song was written about Candy Darling, a regular in Andy Warhol's entourage, who Ray Davies allegedly dated for a time. Possibly the most immortalized transvestite in history, Candy Darling is also the focus in Lou Reed’s classic song “Walk On the Wild Side.”
For more on Candy Darling, SEE: Lou Reed Below.
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