The guy with the guitar always gets the girl — or so goes the legend popular among aspiring rockers. Yet to judge by the tales related in The Girl in the Song: The True Stories Behind 50 Rock Classics, it seems just as accurate to say that the girl with the pretty face (or similarly arresting attribute) always gets the guitarist.
In this compact collection of breezy profiles, veteran music writers Michael Heatley and Frank Hopkinson showcase the muses who inspired pop and rock’s top songwriting tier — the Beatles; the Rolling Stones; Eric Clapton; Bob Dylan; James Taylor; Elton John; Pink Floyd; U2; Crosby Stills Nash & Young — to produce their epic love songs (and, in a few cases, punishing put-downs). They also focus on hitmakers a few notches farther down the charts, including Counting Crows, the Knack, Toto, Steely Dan, Buddy Holly, Coldplay, Oasis, Billy Joel, and Leonard Cohen. Although most of the muses highlighted here were young, female and fetching, a few were unique — and at least one appears not to have started life as a girl at all.
Perhaps no modern muse is more celebrated than Pattie Boyd, credited with inspiring memorable melodies by both George Harrison (her husband from 1966 to 1977) and Eric Clapton (her husband from 1979 to 1988). The stunning blonde and former convent girl also had deeply intimate knowledge of the romantically tangled and tragic lifestyles of many rock superstars.
The first time Boyd heard “Something” — the tune she says she inspired Harrison to write (though he would later say he was thinking of Ray Charles) — was in the couple’s house in Esher, England. Like many a show-business honeymoon, the Boyd-Harrison glow was fairly short-lived; Pattie eventually came to feel neglected by George, especially upon learning of his various flings (including one with Ringo Starr’s wife, Maureen). By 1970 Boyd was romantically linked to Clapton, whom she would prompt to pen “Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight” in her honor. Intriguingly, Pattie’s younger sister, Jenny Boyd, married two rockers — Mick Fleetwood (twice) and King Crimson drummer Ian Wallace — and is credited with inspiring Donovan’s lilting “Jennifer Juniper” (though Donovan himself maintained he and Jennie were never an item).
Heatley and Hopkinson unveil the gynocentric genesis of several iconic Beatles hits. “Dear Prudence,” we learn, was written in a bid to lure Mia Farrow’s younger sister away from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Prudence Farrow shared the band’s infatuation (in their case, brief) with the Maharishi, but John Lennon, according to the account here, had become concerned that she was “going insane” from too much meditation. What she needed was a customized song that would reel her back to the real world: “Dear Prudence, won’t you open up your eyes?” Yet Prudence would later state she had “no recollection of being serenaded” by Lennon.
It was hardly the last time a Beatles muse would be less than floored by an air she had inspired. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” often thought to be an ode to LSD, was actually engendered by a drawing of Lucy O’Donnell, a friend of Lennon’s first son, Julian. Lucy — only 4 years old when Julian sketched her — would grow up to tell an interviewer that “I just don’t like [the song]. I don’t see a 4-year-old kid running around with kaleidoscopic eyes. It doesn’t make sense.” What the song did make was money, and plenty of it: By 2010 it had generated millions in royalties for Apple Records.
The girls in the songs were frequently members of the Rolling Stones coterie, too. “Hey Negrita,” for one, was sparked by Mick Jagger’s wife Bianca. She later made it clear that having a pop song written for you is no guarantor of marital bliss: “My marriage ended on my wedding day.” Another Stones standby, “Miss Amanda Jones,” reportedly honors one Amanda Lear — who, claims The Girl in the Song, may have undergone a sex-change operation in Casablanca in 1963, possibly paid for by surrealist Salvador Dalí.
The award for Most Inspiring Transgender Muse, however, must go to Candy Darling — born James Slattery — who is credited with inspiring the Kinks hit “Lola.” James-cum-Candy likewise inspirited the Velvet Underground to write “Candy Says” and Morrissey to compose “You Know I Couldn’t Last.” She even merited a mention in Lou Reed’s far-better-known “Walk on the Wild Side.”
As you may have gathered, the book abounds with muses unmoved by their enshrinement in song. Stephen Stills composed “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” hoping to recapture the heart of songstress Judy Collins, only to have her remark, “It was beautiful, so beautiful… too bad it’s not going to work.” By the same token, “Our House” — a celebration of his infatuation with Joni Mitchell by a hopelessly smitten Graham Nash — failed to persuade Mitchell to buy into the song’s vaunted connubial bliss; Mitchell broke it off with Nash in 1969. (Commerce reconstituted the ashes of love, however: A U.K. bank ultimately used the song in a mortgage commercial.)
It’s nice to be celebrated in a song, sure, but some muses rightfully wound up feeling exploited. Take Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto: The real-life “girl from Ipanema” was just 15 years old when her extreme pulchritude spurred Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes to compose the bossa-nova anthem that brought her worldwide fame — and not a single centavo in royalties. When Heloísa later opened a boutique called “Garota de Ipanema” (“The Girl from Ipanema”), the heirs of the song composers sued, claiming a trademark violation. But Heloísa stood her ground. “They want to prohibit me from being the girl from Ipanema,” she commonsensically pointed out, “which is really going too far.”
The judge agreed, calling to mind another pop classic: “You Don’t Own Me.”
Dave Shiflett is an author, journalist and songwriter. The girls in his own songs can be found at daveshiflett.com.