Tons of musicians draw from real-life experiences. From Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” to “Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White Ts, these prominent songs have survived the test of time leaving multiple generations wondering about the stories behind them. Scroll to find the inspiration for these iconic hits!
“Sweet Caroline” – Neil Diamond
For years, the lore has been that the song was an ode to Caroline Kennedy. In 2007, it was said that the inspiration was a childhood photo of the daughter of John F. Kennedy and Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis. She was only 12 when the song came out in 1969. However, during an interview in 2014, Diamond revealed that it was only part. The song was about his wife Marsha at the time, but he couldn’t get ‘Marsha’ to fit the melody. Diamond needed a three-syllable name and found Carolina Kennedy’s name written down in one of his books.
“Layla” – Eric Clapton/Derek & The Dominos
Eric Clapton wrote “Layla” with Derek & The Dominos drummer Jim Gordon. The song is about Clapton’s forbidden love for Pattie Boyd, the wife of his close friend George Harrison. By the time that song was composed in 1968, the marriage between Boyd and the lead Beatles guitarist was already falling apart. When Clapton played the song for Boyd he told her, ‘This is for you, I’ve written it for you.'” Clapton was inspired by the classic epic poem unrequited love Layla and Manjun. Although the song was initially about his one-sided love, the pair ended up having an affair and eventually got married. An edited version was released as a single in 1971, but the song totally flopped. A year later the full version was released becoming one of the most famous rock songs in history. Clapton also performed an acoustic version for MTV Unplugged in 1992 which was later released and won a grammy for Best Rock Song.
“Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” – Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen’s autobiographical song “Rosalita” came out in 1973. The song was inspired by the musician’s relationship with Diane Lozito who was his girlfriend between the summer of 1971 and early 1975. Lozito, a fresh high school graduate at the time, met Springsteen at a show on the Jersey Shore. The two moved in together a year later despite her parent’s objections. Lizito’s parents had a nasty divorce and the lyric, “I know your mama, she don’t like me ’cause I play in a rock and roll band” stems from the fact that her father was also a musician. While inspired by his relationship with Lozita, Springsteen got the name for the song from her grandmother Rose Lozito. In that part of Jersey, Lozito is pronounced “Lazita”.
“Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” – Steely Dan
The rock band found their way into the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1974 with their single “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” The “Rikki” in the title is thought to be Rikki Ducornet who lead singer Donald Fagen met at a party while attending Bard College. Ducornet, New York writer and artist, graduated from the university a year before Fagen enrolled. Unbeknownst to Fagen, she was the wife of his professor Guy Ducornet. Despite Fagen’s knowledge of her marriage and her pregnancy at the time, he gave Ducornet his number. As can be culled from the lyrics, she never called Fagen.
“My Sharona” – The Knacks
The Knacks rose to stardom after releasing “My Sharona” in 1979. Leader singer Doug Fieger wrote the song for the then-teenager Sharona Alperin who later become his girlfriend. Alperin first heard the song before she and Fieger were an item. She went to The Knack’s band rehearsal during her lunch break where they played it for her. The cover art of the single even features Alperin posing in a revealing tank top and tight jeans. For some time, she was famous in her own right. Fieger passed away in 2010 after battling lung cancer but Alperin, who stayed friends with him, was one of the people at his side during his last days.
“867-5309” / Jenny – Tommy Tutone
The phone number in Tommy Tutone’s 1981 hit release “867-5309” did once belong to an actual “Jenny”. Lead singer Tommy Heath said the song was based on a young woman he met at a club in California. Despite skepticism from his bandmates, Heath claims Jenny did give him that number which he wrote on the bathroom wall. The phone number actually belonged to her parents, who weren’t the only ones to change their number as a result of the song. In fact, the song became so popular that 867-5309 numbers across the country were bombarded with prank calls asking for “Jenny”. The band even received numerous complaints after the song’s debut. According to the singer, he’s never actually called the number but the two managed to keep in touch.
“Come on Eileen” – Dexys Midnight Runners
“Come on Eileen” came out in 1982 reaching No.1 on the charts in 1983. The band’s most famous song was based a true story believe it or not. Lead singer Kevin Rowland fell in love with a girl he grew up with named Eileen was he was 13 years old. The pair began a romantic relationship that eventually became intimate about two years later. Although her name is in the title, Eileen was not the only inspiration for the song. Rowland had a strict Catholic upbringing where sex was a taboo subject. He explained that the song’s lyrics were about all the girls he dated growing up, including Jeanette, his girlfriend at 16, for he felt “guilty” about the thoughts he had about her. When he wrote the song, Rowland expressed feelings of adolescence and freedom from buttoned-down society.
“Hey There Delilah” – Plain White T’s
What’s it like in New York City? Competitive cross-country runner and Columbia University graduate Delilah DiCrenscenzo can tell you. A friend introduced lead guitarist Tom Higgenson, who wrote the famous lyrics, to Delilah in 2002. Although he’s admitted the long-distance relationship between the two was fiction, Higgenson reportedly told her, “I have a song about you already” when they met. His attempts to impress DiCrescenzo may have failed, for she was dating somebody at the time, but it did inspire the song that was a runaway success. It took Higgenson a year to write “Hey There Delilah” which was released in 2005.