18 Amazing Stories Behind Famous Rock Songs

Do you know what inspired your favorite tunes?

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Taking all into consideration, basic catchiness and personal appeal are what attracts any given song to its listeners. Fans often tend to develop their own stories from songs, more or less meaningful, but on other occasions, the tunes carry a specific message from the artists, depicting a certain event or period. So right now we'll dedicate a few paragraphs to song inspiration as we make a rundown of 18 amazing stories behind famous rock and metal tracks.

The Beatles' "Ticket to Ride" Refers to Prostitute Health Cards

When the legendary Beatles sang about "riding" in their 1965 classic "Ticket to Ride," they certainly weren't talking about trains. According to John Lennon, the ticket mentioned in the tune refers to health cards carried by Hamburg prostitutes indicating clean health and absence of sexually transmissive diseases. So if your girl happens to be going away and you miss her dearly, "Ticket to Ride" isn't the song you're looking for.

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Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" Was Inspired by Stalking Waitress Who Kidnapped a Cafe Customer

Although most people are right to assume that Jimi Hendrix's iconic track "Purple Haze" is about LSD, the tune has a rather interesting background. According to Oddballdaily, Jimi was inspired by a strange newspaper article about a waitress obsessed with one of the regular customers in the cafe she worked in. As the story goes, the deranged woman one day decided to slip some LSD into the man's coffee mug and lead him to her apartment, where she held him in captivity for days. Hendrix decided to focus on the unfortunate man, using music to tell the story from his perspective.

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Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" Is Dedicated to Syd Barrett and His Insanity

One of the ultimate rock classics and a true masterpiece, Pink Floyd's 1975 track "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is dedicated to the band's original singer Syd Barrett who went mad years before the song was even written. However, on the very day the track was being laid down at Abbey Road studios, Syd just appeared out of the blue. Initially, he wasn't even recognized by his bandmates; he has deteriorated in every possible sense and the sight of his state made a permanent impact on the rest of the group. As the four-piece described it, one of the strange things Barrett did was trying to brush his teeth by holding his arm still and jumping. Syd's drug abuse stories from the early days are equally well-known, especially the one about taking acid thorough hair gel. The singer would mix the drug with gel, pour it on his head prior to hitting the stage and then just wait for it to melt on his head from spotlight heat, giving the substance direct access to his brain.

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Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" Is a Drunken Slur of "In the Garden of Eden"

Commonly considered as the very first heavy metal riff in history, Iron Butterfly's 1968 hit "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" got its peculiar title thanks to singer Doug Ingle's drunken rehearsal. Being highly intoxicated in the studio, the vocalist wasn't able to pronounce "In the Garden of Eden" properly, resulting with an "In a gadda da vida" slurred line. However, the rest of the guys liked how it sounded, giving the tune a brand new name.

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Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel No. 2" Is About Getting a Blowjob From Janis Joplin

Leonard Cohen's 1974 track "Chelsea Hotel No. 2" pays tribute to the musician's romantic encounter with late great Janis Joplin at New York City's Hotel Chelsea brothel. The lyrics "Giving me head on the unmade bed / While the limousines wait in the street" and "I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel / You were famous, your heart was a legend." suggest ever so blatantly just exactly what went on. Cohen even gets a bit harsh at the end with such lines as "I don't mean to suggest that I love you the best / I can't keep track of each fallen robin / I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel / That's all, I don't even think of you that often."

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Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" Is a Rant Against Birth Control Pills

As Bob Marley's former girlfriend Esther Anderson revealed in recent years, music icon's "I Shot the Sheriff" tune was inspired by birth control pills as a cry-out agains contraception. According to Esther, she was using pills at the time when she was with Marley as a prescription from her doctor. Bob considered such medicaments sacrilege, condemning the doctor for "killing his seed before it grows." The lines "Sheriff John Brown always hated me / For what, I don't know / Every time I plant a seed / He said kill it before it grow" indeed fit the description perfectly.

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Van Halen's "Jump" Is David Lee Roth Cheering a Man to Jump Off a Building

Well he didn't exactly do it, but David still thought about it, enough to inspire him to pen the lyrics of one of rock's most well-known tunes. So as Van Halen vocalist himself described it, the inspiration for "Jump" dropped as he was watching news on TV showing a group of people trying to convince a man not to jump off a building. But in Roth's opinion, the guy should have done the opposite. "There was a fellow standing on top of the Arco Towers in Los Angeles and he was about to check out early, he was going to do the 33 stories drop - and there was a whole crowd of people in the parking lot downstairs yelling, 'Don't jump, don't jump' and I thought to myself, 'Jump,'" he explained.

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Guns N' Roses' "Rocket Queen" Features Footage of Axl Rose Having Sex With Steven Adler's Girlfriend in the Recording Booth

Yup, you read that one right. Apparently, GN'R drummer Steven Adler was fooling around a bit at the time, making his enraged girlfriend Adriana Smith resort to a classic cheating revenge - bang the bandmate. Picking the singer as an obvious choice, Adriana got more than she asked for as Axl Rose got her to have sex with him in the recording booth, with a wide-awake sound engineer recording everything. As "Watch You Bleed: The Saga of Guns N' Roses" book notes, the sex footage ended up on the "Rocket Queen" track off the group's "Appetite for Destruction" record. Simply check out the 2:35 mark in the clip below, Mrs. Smith is heard loud and clear.

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Radiohead's "Creep" Is About Thom Yorke Stalking a Girl Around Campus

Studying at Exeter University, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke had his eye on a certain good-looking girl, but never exactly approached her. Being socially awkward from his childhood days, Yorke simply followed the girl around, admiring her from distance in somewhat of a creepy manner. As Thom performed with his band On A Friday (later renamed to Radiohead) later on, the girl had suddenly showed up at a gig, leaving the young musician speechless. The tune ultimately became the band's No. 1 hit, but was however successfully sued for plagiarism due to striking similarities with The Hollies' song "The Air That I Breathe."

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Megadeth's "A Tout Le Monde" Is Based on Dave Mustaine's Conversation With Mother in a Dream

Often misinterpreted as a suicide song, Megadeth's classic ballad "A Tout Le Monde" was inspired by frontman Dave Mustaine's dream in which he had a conversation with his late mother. Dave gave a direct explanation of the song, saying, "'A Tout Le Monde' is based on a dream I had, where my mother came back from heaven to say 'I love you.' It's about me talking to her again."

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Metallica's James Hetfield Wrote "Nothing Else Matters" While Talking With Girlfriend On the Phone

Arguably the Metallica's single most well-known song, power ballad "Noting Else Matters" was spontaneously written by frontman James Hetfield while talking to his girlfriend on the phone. As James himself revealed, he was simply plucking the open strings while chatting, just to realize he might have stumbled upon something. The tune found its way to the group's ground-breaking "Black Album" record, with lyrics also being dedicated to Het's girlfriend, expressing the bond they shared while James was out on the road.

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Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" Was Inspired by Cobain's Ex-Girlfriend Friend's Outrage Involving Graffiti and Perfume

The description above might seem a bit weird, but it is how it is. Before he got involved with Courtney Love, late Nirvana mainman Kurt Cobain was in a relationship with Bikini Kill drummer Tobi Vail, who had subsequently broke up with him. Anyhow, Tobi used to wear a deodorant called Teen Spirit; the band's singer Kathleen Hanna used to talk about Kurt having Tobi's scent on her, which resulted in a peculiar graffiti in Cobain's room one day. As Hanna herself explained, she ended up in Cobain's apartment one night and "smashed a bunch of sh-t. I took out a Sharpie marker and I wrote all over his bedroom wall - it was a rental so it was really kind of lame that I did that," she said. "I passed out with the marker in my hand, and woke up hung over." Six months later, Kurt phoned Kathleen to ask her if he could use some of her wall scribbles as song lyrics. "I thought, how is he going to use 'Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit' as a lyric?" she added.

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RHCP's "I Could Have Lied" Is About Singer Anthony Kiedis Having Sex With Sinead O'Connor

Over the years, Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis was involved with a legion of women to say the least, some of which have a celebrity status. Such celebs include the likes of Heidi Klum, Demi Moore and even Madonna, as they were all reportedly linked to Kiedis at a certain point. The list also extends to Sinead O'Connor, who served as an inspiration behind the band's 1991 tune "I Could Have Lied." However, O'Connor denied the story, saying, "I never had a relationship with him, ever. I hung out with him a few times and the row we had was because he suggested we might become involved. I don't give a sh-t about the song he wrote." We'll probably never know the exact truth, but the idea of Sinead and Anthony having sex does come as a peculiar one.

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QOTSA's "Vampyre of Time and Memory" Was Inspired by Josh Homme's Nearly-Fatal Knee Surgery

Back in 2010, Queens of the Stone Age mastermind Josh Homme nearly died at an operating table due to unexpected complications during knee surgery. In the next three months, Homme was bedridden and deeply depressed. Following the struggle, Josh finally picked up a guitar again and wrote "Vampyre of Time and Memory," a track ultimately released as a part of "...Like Clockwork" album. "The wife [Brody Dalle] and I have a little shack out the back of our house, so I put a little studio in there," Josh told the Irish Independent. "She encouraged me to go in there as much as possible and told me not to worry about what I wrote. So, I went in and the first song I wrote was 'The Vampyre of Time and Memory.'"

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Avenged Sevenfold's "Hail to the King" Is Inspired by M. Shadows' Newborn Son

As another fresh 2013 tune, Avenged Sevenfold's "Hail to the King" title track was inspired by singer M. Shadows' son, as the little guy was seen by his dad as nothing but the king. "I just had a child last summer," the singer told Team Rock radio in June. "One day I held him up and he had that little look, so I said 'Hail to the King!' It came from a little boy being held up in the air to this full-on album and concept."

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Dream Theater's "Take the Time" Is About the Band Going Through a Hectic Period

Coming off their classic 1990 effort "Images and Words," Dream Theater's "Take the Time" is a message from the band to themselves. Going through a rough early patch, prog legends just needed to take a deep breath and reevaluate a few things. "We decided to write a song about everything we'd been going through for the past three years - looking for a new singer, a new label and new management - just all the changes we made and all the frustrations we went through, but have it coming from each of our four different perspectives," said drummer Mike Portnoy. "So, we broke it up, and said, 'Okay, you take the first verse, you take the second verse,' went away, wrote lyrics about our feelings about all the stuff we were going through, and then put it together. Then we wrote the chorus together. That was the first time we had ever done that, and it's the only song on the album where the lyrics were actually written by everybody."

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Tool's "10,000 Days" Is About Maynard Mother's Impending Death and 27-Year Paralysis

The title track of Tool's 2006 effort "10.000 Days" is reportedly dedicated to singer Maynard James Keenan's mother Judith Marie, who had suffered a stroke in 1976, leaving her paralyzed for 27 years before she died. 27 years is approximately 10.000 days, while the song's first part, "Wings for Marie," comes as another indicator of lyrics' inspiration.

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Tool's "46 & 2" Is About the Evolution of Humans to Our Next Version with 46 + 2 Chromosome Composition

Coming once again to the masters of mystery, Tool's "46 & 2" song is based around the teachings of Drunvalo Melchizadek about human evolution and the humans' evolving to their next version with 46 + 2 chromosome composition. It's best to simply check out a part of Melchizadek's interview below for an insight on his fascinating ideas. Before proceeding, we'll note that a great deal of Tool songs is raveled in mystery, hence some of the interpretations should be taken with a grain of salt. "There are three totally different kinds of humans on the Earth, meaning that they perceive the One reality in three different ways, interpreted differently. The first kind of human has a chromosome composition of 42+2. They comprise a unity consciousness that does not see anything outside themselves as being separate from themselves. To them, there is only one energy - one life, one beingness that moves everywhere. Anything happening anywhere is within them, as well. They are like cells in the body. They are all connected to a single consciousness that moves through all of them. These are the aboriginals in Australia. There might be a few African tribes left like this," Melchizadek explained. "Then, there is our level, comprising 44+2 chromosomes. We are a disharmonic level of consciousness that is used as a steppingstone from the 42+2 level to the next level, 46+2 ... These two additional chromosomes change everything." As Melchezedek further notes, the Earth is covered with geometrically constructed "morpho genetic grids" arranged in specific geometric patterns (check out "Sacred Geometry" for more info). Each species on the planet has its own grid, supporting life and connecting the consciousness of the given species' specimens. For a specie to come into existence or evolve, a new grid must be completed. Similar goes for extinction, as a grid is dissolved along with its species' disappearance. The grids extend from 60 feet below our planet's surface to about 60 miles above. "A new grid was completed in 1989 - the 'christ-consciousness' grid," one explanation reads (via Songfacts). "This grid will allow humans to evolve into our next version. We'll develop two additional chromosomes (which are really 'geometrical images' designed to resonate with our specific grid) for a total or 46 + 2. The main change will be a shift to the 'unity consciousness.' Every cell in your body has its own consciousness and memory. "You, the higher being that occupies your body, make the millions of different consciousnesses in your body work together as one being. How does this relate to this grid? Think of yourself as a cell and the grid as the higher being. We will still have individual consciousness, but will be united in the form of a higher being in order to work as one entity."

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As for the big question - to which extent do these tidbits make the song more interesting to you? Of course, if you have more great song stories to share, don't hesitate to do so in the comments.

21 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I honestly thought that avenged sevenfold title was gonna be Avenged Sevenfold's "Hail to the King" Is Inspired by Metallica.
    I thought it was going to be a reference to Evil Dead II, but then I realized that Avenged Sevenfold could not be that cool.
    Nero Galon
    I thought the Van Halen Jump story was hilarious. Seeing Dave's cheeky face there added to it too
    ramones 53rd & 3rd: The song, written by bassist Dee Dee Ramone, refers to what was then a well-known spot for male prostitution in New York City, known as "the Loop." The area was a center of gay nightlife decades before the West Village became prominent, and was home to well-known hustler bars, most notably Cowboys, Rounds, and Red, from the 1970s through the 1990s
    I knew the stories about Shine On Your Crazy Diamond and In a gadda da vida, but the rest I didn't know about. Thanks man.
    "I Could Have Lied" is not about Anthony having sex with her. It's about him confessing he was in love with her. Anyone who read "Scar Tissue" knows that.
    The real question is what is Tool's "H." about
    H. is about Maynard's addiction to heroin and his son, Eich's (I think that's how it's spelled, pronounced H), birth helping him get out of it.
    Sting about writing "Walking On The Moon": "I was drunk in a hotel room in Munich, slumped on the bed with the whirling pit when this riff came into my head. I got up and starting walking round the room singing : 'Walking round the room, walking round the room'. That was all. In the cool light of morning I remembered what had happened and I wrote the riff down. But 'Walking round the room' was a stupid title so I thought of something even more stupid which was 'Walking on the moon."
    As unkind as I may be to Avenged, that's actually a really cool story. The song is not that bad either.
    Not their best, but better than a lot of music out there. The arrangement of the tracks on the album is also impeccable. Even the title track is better in context to the track-listing!
    As wrote in Slash's autbiography, the chick Axl banged was his own girlfriend at the time. Although to be fair, knowing G 'n R at the time, it was probably Adler's ex
    I heard elsewhere that "Purple Haze" was about a dream that Jimi had where he was under water?
    Yeah... taking most of these with a grain of salt. I find it hard to believe Marley was referring to sperm when it's always seemed to me like he's taking about the police making him destroy his Cannabis.