The Real-Life Stories Behind 10 Famous Love Songs


This week sees the release of the new solo album from Christopher Owens, formerly of Girls and now of lovelorn solo balladeering endeavors. The album’s called Lysandre and is particularly notable for being based around a narrative thread about Owens’ love affair with the girl of the same name. The story behind the record is an interesting one, and it got us thinking about the real-life stories behind some of our other favorite love songs, and we’ve related a selection of the best of them after the jump. Let us know if you have any to share.

Christopher Owens — Lysandre

The eponymous Lysandre was apparently a girl Owens met on tour in France, and he was clearly taken with her, given that he wrote an entire record about her (even if it’s a fairly short one, clocking in at only 29 minutes). Owens goes all out with the naturalism idea, referencing locations, people, and generally playing out like an extended and intimate paean to girl in question — the result is like sneakily reading someone else’s love letters.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — “Into My Arms”

Cave’s excursion into morose piano balladry with The Boatman’s Call was catalyzed at least partly by his well-publicized affair with Polly Jean Harvey, although his love life was complicated enough at the time that there was plenty of material for lovelorn angst. Still, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that songs like “West Country Girl,” “Black Hair,” and “Into My Arms” are directly inspired by his relationship with Harvey, with whom he famously duetted on Murder Ballads‘ “Henry Lee.” (Years later, he traced the start of the affair to the song’s video, telling the Guardian‘s Simon Hattenstone, “We didn’t know each other well, and this thing happens while we’re making the video. There’s a certain awkwardness, and afterwards it’s like, oh…”)

Joy Division — “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

If you’ve seen the excellent Control and/or read anything about Ian Curtis’ life, you’ll know that this song was written about the singer’s fraught relationship with his wife Deborah. It’s one of the bitterest and most poignant love songs ever written, and is literally Curtis’s epitaph: Deborah had the song’s title inscribed on his tombstone.

Red Hot Chili Peppers ��� “I Could Have Lied”

One of the more interesting tidbits of information from Anthony Kiedis’ memoir Scar Tissue is that this song was written about Sinéad O’Connor, who joined the legion of women who have slept with Anthony Kiedis at some point during the early 1990s… Or perhaps not, if you believe O’Connor herself — she spoke out about the song in the wake of the book’s release, 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 shit about the song he wrote.”

The Velvet Underground — “Pale Blue Eyes”

It’s one of the enduring mysteries of the music world how Lou Reed can manage to come across as such an asshole in interviews and yet write such beautiful songs. This song is apparently about Shelly Albin, who was Reed’s girlfriend while he was at college and is also referenced in an early version of “I Can’t Stand It” — and who he once described as “the only woman I’ve ever loved” (according to Doug Yule, anyway).

Spiritualized — “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space”

An all-time Flavorpill favorite and one of the greatest breakup albums in history, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space narrates the end of Jason Pierce’s affair with the band’s keyboardist, Kate Radley. You can understand why Pierce was heartbroken — Radley secretly married Richard Ashcroft of The Verve while still ostensibly going out with Pierce. She played on the album, too — that’s her voice you can hear right at the start of the title track.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs — “Maps”

This was written about Karen O’s then boyfriend, Angus Andrew of Flavorpill favorites Liars. The story goes that the title is an acronym for “My Angus Please Stay,” and as per this interview Karen O did with Contact Music in 2007, the despair she shows in the song’s video is entirely for real, largely because Andrew was supposed to be at the video shoot and wasn’t: “[He] was supposed to come to the shoot… he was three hours late and I was just about to leave for tour. I didn’t think he was even going to come and this was the song that was written for him. He eventually showed up and I got myself in a real emotional state.”

Antonio Carlos Jobim — “The Girl from Ipanema”

Great adventures in music journalism: last year, the Guardian actually tracked down the girl from Ipanema who inspired the song. Her name’s Helô Pinheiro, and these days she’s a 69-year-old TV presenter, married to a civil engineer. Apparently she loves the song: “It’s eternal. Whenever I listen, I remember my past, my younger days.”

Leonard Cohen — “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”

Yes, it was about getting a blowjob from Janis Joplin. Yes, it was pretty brutal, too: “I don’t mean to pretend that I loved 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.”

The Knack — “My Sharona”

Ah, the ’80s. Raise your hand and take a gold star if you already knew that the Sharona of “My Sharona” was a) real, b) really called Sharona, c) blatantly underage, and d) on the cover of the single in a see-through tank top.