Hit Songs And The Real Women Who Inspired Them

One of the coolest things about music is how it can be inspired by anything, from meaningful relationships with special souls to life-altering events that change people forever. While some people choose to create tunes that star fictitious characters, others draw inspiration from real life when putting pen to paper. That's how some of music's most iconic songs came to be, after all — and women, in particular, have inspired some truly great hits across genres.

We're talking love songs, pop anthems, and soul-touching tributes here. And knowing who the real women behind the songs are makes the music even better. Thinking about who they are and how they influenced the tunes makes you connect with the works on another level — even if you've heard these songs a thousand times. From a rocking ballad by Guns N' Roses to a touching rework from Elton John, read up on (and take a listen to) these hit songs that were inspired by real women.

Sweet Caroline

Ah, "Sweet Caroline" — one of Neil Diamond's most iconic songs, and the eighth-inning anthem for Boston Red Sox fans. The song hit No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in 1969, filling listeners' ears with sweeter-than-candy pop melodies. But who exactly was that Caroline that Diamond was singing of so fondly? 

Turns out, "Sweet Caroline" was inspired by two people. As TODAY reports, Diamond's then-wife, Marcia Murphey, was the main muse for the upbeat number. He hit a songwriting speed bump, though — he needed a three-syllable name to fit the song's beat, but "Marcia" is only two syllables. So, he went with "Caroline" instead, and the rest is history. 

And who was the other inspiration? Well, according to the Associated Press (via the Los Angeles Times), it was late President John F. Kennedy's sole daughter, Caroline Kennedy. Apparently, Diamond was inspired after he saw a snapshot of JFK's eldest child in a magazine. Diamond told the Associated Press, "It was such an innocent, wonderful picture, I immediately felt there was a song in there." Now you can rest easy knowing that a real Caroline helped bring good ol' "Sweet Caroline" to life. 


A rocking song thick with some of Eric Clapton's best guitar riffs, "Layla" became a hit for Derek and the Dominos (one of Clapton's post-Cream projects) in 1970. It was beloved on a critical and commercial level and even earned a Grammy for best rock song in 1992 when it was performed acoustically on Clapton's mega-successful "Unplugged" album. And after listening to the lyrics ("Layla, you've got me on my knees / Layla, I'm begging, darling please / Layla, darling won't you ease my worried mind?"), one can't help but wonder: Who exactly is this mysterious "Layla" that inspired such an iconic piece of rock n' roll? 

Turns out, it was the spouse of a Beatle. According to Louder, model Pattie Boyd, George Harrison's wife, was Clapton's muse. He was head-over-heels for her, even though she was with Harrison, who was a pal of Clapton's. As American Songwriter reports, Clapton got the idea for the tune after reading a poem called "Layla and Manjun." That, combined with his feelings for the then-Mrs. Harrison, was enough to produce one of his most iconic numbers.

So ... did Clapton and Boyd ever become a couple? You bet. According to People, they got together in 1974 after Boyd broke it off with Harrison. They were wed in 1979 but would end up divorcing a decade later. "Layla" wasn't the only ode to their love, though — Clapton also wrote the ballad "Wonderful Tonight" about Boyd (via Guitar World). 


Toto's 1982 album "Toto IV" is full of soft rock anthems, including the band's smash hit "Africa" (via Discogs). It's also the album that's home to their ultra-catchy song "Rosanna." Filled with big horns and lyrics of a long-gone love, the hit song had us cranking the volume — and wondering if there was a real-life Rosanna. 

The answer, like anything good in rock, is a bit messy. In an interview with Songfacts, Toto member David Paich, who wrote "Rosanna," said it was about a teenage sweetheart of his — but her name wasn't Rosanna. Okay ... so if her name wasn't Rosanna, where did the name come from? According to Louder, it came from actress Rosanna Arquette, who was dating Steve Porcaro, the band's keyboardist, at the time they were recording the tune. As Paich put it to Songfacts, "He had just met her and was looking to title a song with her name, and it just fit perfectly for that song right there. So it's got her name on it, but it's really about another high school sweetheart, which is how songs happen sometimes." 

So, technically, "Rosanna" isn't really about Rosanna Arquette ... unless you ask her. As Louder reports, Arquette did spread word back in 1982 that she inspired the Toto tune. However, Paich and other members of Toto have said they simply used her name for the song. Did she inspire the song itself? According to Toto members, no. But it's fair to say she inspired the tune's title.

Uptown Girl

Billy Joel, in exquisite pop rock fashion, delivered the tale of a lower-class guy romancing an upper-class gal with 1983's "Uptown Girl." It's one of Joel's classic songs, filled with infectious melodies you find yourself humming long after it ends. You can't help but put yourself in the guy's shoes, pining after the girl he loves ... but who is the real-life uptown girl that inspired Joel to pen this number? 

Many believe the song is about model Christie Brinkley, who starred in the "Uptown Girls" video as, well, the uptown girl. While it's an easy connection to make, it's not entirely accurate. In an interview on "The Howard Stern Show," Joel revealed that he started writing "Uptown Girl" when he was dating model Elle Macpherson, a woman he dated shortly before Brinkley. In fact, Joel revealed in the same interview that the song was originally called "Uptown Girls" inspired by the fact that he, Macpherson, Brinkley, and a young Whitney Houston were all in the same space together — and according to American Songwriter, that space was in the Caribbean. 

However, according to Joel, he focused the song to be about Brinkley once they started dating — and, of course, shortened the song title to "Uptown Girl."

Maybe I'm Amazed

Let's be real: It's tough to come off a career with the biggest band on the planet. But if anyone can do it, it's Paul McCartney. He embarked on his own career after the Beatles split in 1970, releasing his first solo album "McCartney" that same year (via Discogs). Listen to the record and you'll hear the heartfelt "Maybe I'm Amazed," a tender-yet-rocking song inspired by a very special someone. 

According to Far Out Magazine, McCartney wrote this declaration of love for his beloved wife, Linda McCartney (née Eastman) as an ode to the support she provided him during the post-Beatles period. Linda wasn't just McCartney's inspiration, though — she was also his collaborator. As American Songwriter reports, the couple created sweet music together for both McCartney's solo work and as members of the band Wings, where Linda played the keyboard and sang. Linda and Paul were married in 1969 and remained together until Linda passed away from breast cancer in 1998 (via Biography). Luckily, we have songs like "Maybe I'm Amazed" that remind us of their deep love and respect for one another. 

Hollaback Girl

When No Doubt took a break from making music in the early 2000s (via Billboard), singer Gwen Stefani decided it was time to explore her interest in pop. Enter her debut solo album, 2004's "Love. Angel. Music. Baby," which featured the ever-catchy "Hollaback Girl." The song that helps us spell "bananas" in a pinch was a huge win for Stefani — it was her first solo song to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2005 and solidified her place as a pop artist. Once you listen to the lyrics, though, you realize it's a retaliation song. So who exactly inspired Stefani to pen a track like this? 

Well, you have to connect some dots to find the answer. In an interview with Billboard, Stefani said she was inspired to write the song because, at the time, she was "being bullied by someone and was being called a cheerleader." And while she didn't point the finger at anyone, some speculate it's about Courtney Love. Many reference an interview Love did with Seventeen where she said, "I'm not interested in being the cheerleader. I'm not interested in being Gwen Stefani." Interesting, indeed. 

Turns out, Love wasn't the only lady to (reportedly) inspire "Hollaback Girl." The song's producer, Pharrell Williams, revealed that Naomi Campbell inspired the song's chorus in an interview on Campbell's YouTube show "No Filter with Naomi." The model apparently told someone she "ain't no hollaback girl," and the phrase stuck with Williams.

Candle in the Wind 1997

Music legend Elton John has given us some of pop rock's catchiest songs, including "Bennie and the Jets" and "Tiny Dancer." Make no mistake, though — he and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin have also crafted touching tunes that tug at the toughest heartstrings. Case in point: "Candle in the Wind", written in 1973 to honor the one and only Marilyn Monroe (via American Songwriter). Twenty-four years after the song's release, it would be reworked in tribute to another woman who took the world by storm. 

Princess Diana, nicknamed the People's Princess and the one-time future queen of England, died in a car crash on August 31, 1997 at age 36 (via the Associated Press). As Ultimate Classic Rock reports, Elton John, her friend of many years, had the somber task of singing at her funeral. Taupin redid the lyrics to reflect Princess Diana's life and legacy, writing words such as (via Genius), "You called out to our country / And you whispered to those in pain / Now you belong to heaven / And the stars spell out your name" As such, "Candle in the Wind 1997" was introduced to the world as John sang goodbye to the Princess of Wales. 

While John said he wouldn't perform "Candle in the Wind 1997" again unless under very specific circumstances, the song gained some serious steam on the charts that year. According to Billboard, it reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 and stayed there for weeks.

All of Me

If you were around in 2014 and turned on a radio, you heard John Legend's dreamy ballad "All of Me." The song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 that year and stayed at the top for three weeks; it also topped Billboard's Pop Airplay and Adult Contemporary charts. Legend's soulful voice — combined with that gorgeous piano composition — make it stand out as a love song for the ages. And anyone who's been in love can relate to the lyrics (via Genius), "Give your all to me / I'll give my all to you / You're my end and my beginning / Even when I lose, I'm winning." Given its romantic content, it shouldn't come as any surprise who Legend's tune is about. 

According to HuffPost, "All of Me" is about Legend's wife, Chrissy Teigen, who was also featured in the song's music video. According to Teigen, she could tell from the opening lyric (which mentions a smart mouth) that the record was about her. Perhaps writing an iconic swoon-worthy song is the secret ingredient to a long-lasting love — the couple has been together since 2006 and share four children together.

Sweet Child O' Mine

Typically, love and warmness aren't two words associated with hard rock songs. An exception to that rule? Guns N' Roses' 1987 song "Sweet Child O' Mine." Kicking off with a legendary Slash guitar line, the song builds into a real rockin' ode to someone special, complete with sentimental lyrics that highlight a safe, innocent, and powerful love. It's one of Guns N' Roses' signature songs, and one audiences genuinely enjoyed; the song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 back in 1988. So who exactly was the person who inspired one of the band's biggest hits? 

As Far Out Magazine reports, Erin Everly, the then-girlfriend of lead singer Axl Rose, was the muse behind the lyrics. She also appeared in the music video for the beloved ballad. According to People, the star-studded pair, who first met one another in 1986, were wed four years later in 1990. The relationship was tumultuous, to say the least, and the duo would end up splitting in 1991. Things don't end there, though — Everly accused Rose of abuse and sued him in 1994 (via the Associated Press), but the lawsuit reached an out-of-court settlement (via Rolling Stone). 

Fix You

British rockers Coldplay have a slew of hits under their belts, including "Viva La Vida", "Clocks", and "The Scientist." Their versatility in both style and content is impressive; they can produce radio-friendly pop hits and sentimental ballads within the same record. One of their most emotional and heartfelt songs is 2005's "Fix You," a tender ode to grief and support. You may be surprised to learn that it was a famous actress who inspired this tearjerker. 

In an interview on "The Howard Stern Show," Gwyneth Paltrow said Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, who she married in 2003 (via People), wrote "Fix You" for her. According to Paltrow, he wrote it as a way to express his wishes to help Paltrow as she grieved the death of her father, who she was very close to. Paltrow also revealed in an interview with "My Favorite Song with John Benjamin Hickey" that before she even met Martin, she listened to Coldplay's second album "A Rush of Blood to the Head" to help her cope with her father's passing (via SiriusXM). 

"Fix You" wasn't the only song Martin wrote about Paltrow. As People reports, he also wrote the song "Moses," a touching tune found on their 2003 live album, for her. 

I Walk the Line

Johnny Cash is one of the most legendary singers out there. His unmistakeable sound captivated audiences across genres, including country and rock. The Man in Black wrote some pretty gritty music during his time, and he even recorded a live album at Folsom State Prison in 1968 that went multiplatinum (via johnnycash.com). So, yeah, you could say Johnny Cash was a tougher guy — but he also had a sweet side. In fact, one of his signature songs was written for someone he loved.

According to NPR, Cash wrote "I Walk the Line" with his first wife, Vivian Liberto, in mind. He was aware of the temptations that arose on the road when he was first starting out, and the song served as a reminder for him to stay on the right path for her and their family (via Far Out Magazine). Alas, Cash eventually gave in to temptations on the road, where he experienced addiction issues — and Liberto wondered if he and singer June Carter were more than just collaborators while on tour together. And, well, you know the rest; Cash and Liberto divorced, and then he married June Carter just a few years later in 1968 (via Biography). And while people often look back on his relationship with Carter, it was his love for Liberto that inspired this hit. 

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Go Your Own Way

Armed with killer tunes and enough in-band drama to put daytime soap operas to shame, Fleetwood Mac took rock by storm in the late 1970s with the release of their iconic album "Rumours" (via AllMusic). One of the album's most popular songs is "Go Your Own Way," which reached No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1977. If you listen to the lyrics, you hear the story of a love gone wrong (via Genius): "Loving you isn't the right thing to do / How can I ever change things that I feel? / If I could, maybe I'd give you my world / How can I when you won't take it from me?"  And, as it turns out, the end of an in-band romance inspired the hit song. 

According to American Songwriter, Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham penned the song following his split from bandmate Stevie Nicks, who he had dated for several years. Nicks inspired that breakup tune, but she had plenty to say about the breakup, too. She famously wrote the band's biggest hit, "Dreams," about their split (via the Los Angeles Times). They got to say their peace, and we got two epic breakup songs for the ages.