MentalFloss and I are back after a week off to teach more of that oh-so-valuable knowledge your brains crave. This week, why don't we learn about
Real Life Stories Behind Famous Songs
The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter”
The Dirty Secret: Despite what Charles Manson would have you believe, the song had nothing to do with Satan or an impending race war. The truth is Paul McCartney just wanted to come up with the “loudest, nastiest, sweatiest rock number we could,” so he got his inspiration from the most twisted thing he could think of – a playground slide. Seriously. Tall, twisting slides on British playgrounds are called “helter skelters.” Also, "fanny" means vagina and "fag" means cigarette. It's an odd little island.
Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
The Dirty Secret: It’s all about deodorant. Well, deodorant and heartbreak. According to Charles Cross’ biography, before he was into Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain dated Toby Vail of Bikini Kill. When she dumped him, the grunge king spiraled into depression. One night, while hanging out at Cobain’s pad, Vail’s band mate got sick of the site of his moping, so she took a can of spray paint and scrawled “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit,” across the wall. Apparently, Teen Spirit was the deodorant Vail used, and Cobain stunk of the scent. Courtney Love, then as now, just stank like sh*t.
The Kinks’ “Lola”
The Dirty Secret: The radio-ready charmer is all about a transvestite. But the real question is, which one? According to Rolling Stone, “Lola” was inspired by Candy Darling, a member of Andy Warhol’s entourage, who Ray Davies briefly (and clueless-ly) dated. The way Davies tells it, though, he’s more than happy to shift the blame. He claims “Lola” was written after the band’s manager had drunk himself blind, and was dancing up against a woman with a 5 o’clock shadow. Either way, someone involved with that band hooked up with a shim.
Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe”
The Dirty Secret: Most people think Dylan wrote the song because he was rejecting the role as the people’s poet. The truth is, the song was more of a break up tune written for Joan Baez. Dylan first met Baez in ’61 when she was a folk star, and he was a nobody trying to catch a break. The fresh-faced kid basically worked overtime to win her heart, and eventually managed to go on tour with her. In ’65 though, they had a huge fight and parted ways. Then, Dylan ended up ill in a hotel, and Baez decided to bring him flowers. That’s how she found out her ex was hot and heavy in his next relationship. Joan got some additional heartbreak, and Dylan spun his apology into chart-topping gold. Play on, playa!
Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
The Dirty Secret: Keith Richards didn’t think much of it, and almost threw it out before Sir Mick saved it. Apparently, the song came to Richards in his sleep after an awful concert. In the middle of the night, he woke up abruptly, switched on his tape recorder, played the riff, and fell back asleep. (Legend has it that he forgot to turn off the recorder, and recorded hours of his snoring after it.) The next morning, he played the tape but thought it sounded too much like “Dancing in the Street” by Martha and Vandellas, so he almost abandoned it. Mick Jagger disagreed, and convinced him it was worth fleshing out into a song. Today, 7,000 years after the song's original recording, they're still playing it and you're dad is still singing it in the car, putting terrible thoughts about your mother in your head.
For the Record(s):
- Aerosmith’s “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” was in fact inspired by Vince Neil, Motley Crue’s lead singer. Steven Tyler spotted Neil in a bar – all dolled up with teased hair and caked in makeup, and remarked “that dude looks like a lady.” Steven Tyler however, remains a paragon of masculinity to this day!
- The Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” is about Boy George and his tumultuous love affair with the band’s drummer, Jon Moss. Jon's response to the song, "Yes, yes I do."
- The Counting Crows’ “Mr. Jones” comes from lead singer Adam Duritz and his friend sitting in a bar called the New Amsterdam in San Francisco after seeing a show and wishing they were rock stars instead of “loser, low-budget musicians” so that they had the courage to approach girls. Inexplicably, Duritz ended up dating Jennifer Aniston for a while. A period of time Aniston refers to as her "I don't want to talk about it" years.