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There are some songs we all know the stories behind. Ben Folds wrote “Brick” about his girlfriend’s abortion. Phil Collins maybe killed a guy or watched him drown or something. (Or maybe nothing like that.) But here are a few songs that you may have thought you knew the stories of. But you were dead wrong.
1. The Beatles want to see your “Ticket to Ride” (wink wink, nudge nudge). While Paul McCartney has said the song is about “a British Railways ticket to the town of Ryde on the Isle of Wight,” John Lennon had come out as saying it was about the cards Hamburg prostitutes carried, declaring them disease-free– their “tickets to ride,” if you will.
2. Fastball’s “The Way” was accidentally written about an elderly couple’s tragic death. Tony Scalzo wrote the song about an elderly married couple he read about. Lela Howard suffered from Alzheimer’s and her husband Raymond had recently undergone brain surgery, when they left their home in Salado, Texas for the Pioneer Day festival in a nearby city. Scalzo wrote the song as “a romanticized take on what happened,” saying he “pictured them taking off to have fun, like they did when they first met.” Tragically, the couple was found dead two weeks later. hundreds of miles off their intended course.
3. The sheriff Bob Marley shot is the doctor who prescribed his girlfriend’s birth control. Marley’s former girlfriend, Esther Anderson, said in her documentary Bob Marley: The Making of a Legend, that “I Shot the Sheriff” was written about her. She claims Marley wanted her to have his child (despite already being married), and didn’t approve of her being on birth control. He saw her doctor as killing his “seed.”
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.
4. “The Summer of ’69” could have taken place in any year. Bryan Adams has confirmed that the song is not about a date, but about a… position.
5. Jimi Hendrix wants to stand next to your literal fire. After a gig on a cold, rainy night in 1966, Jimi went to the house of his bass player’s mother. He asked to stand next to her fire to get warm, but the woman’s pet German shepherd was lying at the hearth. Move over Rover, and let Jimi take over.
6. “Closing Time” is not about having to leave a bar. It’s about having to leave the womb. Semisonic’s Dan Wilson has spoken about the true inspiration behind the song, and once you hear it, it makes total crazy sense.
7. “This Land Is Your Land” was Woody Guthrie’s response to the annoyingly patriotic “God Bless America.” The Irving Berlin hit was constantly playing on the radio in the late 1930s, so Guthrie wrote his own alternative national anthem, with some radical verses that are almost always cut from the song now:
One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple,
by the relief office I saw my people.
As they stood hungry,
I stood there wondering if God blessed America for me.
8. “I Am the Walrus” has no meaning whatsoever. John Lennon once received a letter from a student at his alma mater, Quarry Bank High School, telling him that one of the school’s English instructors was having the students analyze Beatles lyrics in class. Lennon was so amused, he wrote a song of pure gibberish, just to see what the teacher would come up with. Go ahead, take your best shot at goo goo g’joob.
9. Sixpence None the Richer was not watching a woman go. “There She Goes” is generally accepted as a love song not to a girl, but to heroin. However, when asked if this is true, the group’s bassist said “I don’t know. Truth is, I don’t wanna know. Drugs and madness go hand in hand. People who you’ve known all your life… they’re steady, then they’re not. But you can’t ponder, ’cause it kills you, la.”
10. Kiss’ “Detroit Rock City” is a tragic tribute to a dead fan. The band was told the true story of a young man who was in a hurry to get to their concert, but forgot that he was drunk and stoned. He crashed his car on the way to the show.
11. The story behind “Save the Last Dance For Me” is even more romantic than the song itself. This song was reportedly written by Doc Pomus of the Drifters on his wedding day. Pomus, who had polio and used a wheelchair or sometimes crutches to get around, married Willi Burke, a Broadway dancer and actress, and spent his wedding reception watching her dance with every other man there. According to the song, that’s fine with him, as long as she doesn’t “forget who’s takin’ you home, and in whose arms you’re gonna be.” Save the last dance for Doc.