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Behind the Lyrics: The Inspirations for 6 Famous Songs

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You know the songs, but do you know what they're really about? Here are the stories behind some popular tunes.

1. "Hey Man, Nice Shot"

In the late 1980s, Pennsylvania was embroiled in a bit of an accounting crisis. Employees of the Commonwealth had overpaid millions in FICA taxes and the state legislature began to search for an outside accounting agency to calculate the appropriate refunds. Harrisburg native John Torquato, Jr. eventually won the $4.6 million contract for his Californian-based firm, Computer Technology Associates, through a series of well-placed bribes.


A few months and an investigation by the US Attorney later, the trail led back to Budd Dwyer, State Treasurer, who was indicted for receiving $300,000 in kickbacks to help Torquato secure the business. Dwyer vehemently denied the charges, refused to step down from his post, and even passed on a plea bargain that would have carried a relatively light sentence. In December of 1986, he was found guilty of racketeering, bribery, fraud and conspiracy. After the verdict, he continued to proclaim his innocence and even wrote President Reagan asking for a pardon.

The day before his sentence was handed down, Dwyer called a press conference. After reading a prepared statement, he handed a series of sealed envelopes to staffers, pulled out a .357 Magnum, placed it in his mouth and shot himself on live television. While most of the local and national TV stations debated how much of the suicide to air (some played it in its entirety, others with only the audio), Filter used it as the inspiration for "Hey Man, Nice Shot," which garnered a fair amount of radio play in 1995.

2. "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"

Turns out 1986 was an interesting time for musical inspiration. Early that year, newsman Dan Rather was assaulted on the streets of New York by a man who kept yelling "Kenneth, what is the frequency?" as he pummeled the shocked anchorman. At the time, no one could quite explain the attack.


In 1994, R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe wrote "What's The Frequency Kenneth?," a song exploring the effects of the media, deliberately written in slightly unintelligible lyrics. The track became a huge hit off R.E.M.'s album Monster. But what happened to the strange man who inspired it?

The assailant was later identified as William Tager. He was arrested nine years after battering Rather when he murdered a stagehand outside The Today Show studios. Tager was a mentally disturbed individual who believed television networks were beaming secret messages into his brain using a specific frequency. Convinced if he found the correct frequency he could stop the incoming transmissions, he jumped Rather.

Dan Rather later appeared with R.E.M. on Letterman to help belt out the song.

Meanwhile, Tager is currently serving a 25-year sentence for manslaughter in Sing Sing.  He is eligible for parole later this year.

3. "Creep"

Thom Yorke was born with a paralyzed left eye and underwent a series of surgeries before the age of six, the last of which left him with a drooping eyelid. Due to his condition, during the majority of his childhood Yorke wore an eyepatch. This series of events left him awkward and shy around members of the opposite sex.

While at school, Yorke and his classmates eventually formed a band called On A Friday, as Friday was the only day of the week they could rehearse. The band continued to rehearse together as they earned university degrees, with Yorke enrolling at Exeter College.

While at Exeter, Yorke began to follow around an attractive female. Not exactly in a binoculars-from-a-tree way, just sort of admiring from a distance. However, the tables were turned one night when this girl he had been psedo-stalking showed up at one of the bands' shows. Yorke was truly unsettled.

You've probably heard his tale, because the song about it became the band's first major hit. In 1991, On A Friday changed their name to Radiohead and released it under the title "Creep."

4. "How Could She Do This To Me?"

Often considered to be one of the first concept albums, The Beatles spun out Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967.  Appearing as the sixth song on side one is "She's Leaving Home," a track about a young girl who slips away from her comfortable life in the dead of night, leaving her parents stunned and grief-stricken.

Turns out the song had a very real inspiration; 17-year-old Melanie Coe.  Paul McCartney saw the news of her disappearance on the cover of The Daily Mirror, a British tabloid, and wrote the verses (with bandmate John Lennon crafting the chorus).  In the article, Coe's parents confess they simply couldn't understand why Melanie would leave.  "She has everything here," her father said.

Although McCartney took some liberties with the story, Coe later confirmed the majority of the details.  Coe, who was pregnant at the time, was found ten days after her disappearance with her boyfriend (who was not the father of her child) in a nearby town.

Oddly enough, Coe and McCartney had crossed paths before.  Melanie appeared on a show called Ready, Steady Go! in which Paul was a judge.

Coe was crowned the winner of a mime contest.  This was three years before she would inspire McCartney to pen "She's Leaving Home."

5. "Fire and Rain"

James Taylor's beautiful, haunting and personal song "Fire and Rain" is composed in three parts, each with a separate story. Furthermore, the track as a whole is a tumultuous autobiography chronicling Taylor's struggle with depression, substance abuse and fame.


During his later years in high school, Taylor began to experience clinical depression. He didn't go to college (though he did later earn a degree), instead checking himself into McLean Hospital, a renowned psychiatric facility in Belmont, Massachusetts.

The first section of "Fire and Rain" describes Taylor coming to grips with the sudden death of a close friend, Suzanne Schnerr ("Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you"). At the time of her death, Taylor had just signed to The Beatles' new label, Apple Records, and was working on his first album. However, Taylor didn't find out about her death until months after she had passed away. His family and friends kept the information from him, worried he would slip back into depression.

Part two describes Taylor's struggle with alcoholism, drug abuse and depression. After checking himself out of Belmont, Taylor moved to New York to pursue a music career and became addicted to heroin. During this time, he formed a band named The Flying Machine, a short-lived project that was derailed because of his addictions. Broke and depressed, his father eventually flew in to NYC and drove him back to North Carolina, where Taylor entered a drug rehab center.

The final stanza is a retrospective on how far Taylor had traveled. Many people falsely believe the line "Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground" somehow refers to a plane wreck. However, it actually references Taylor's previous band The Flying Machine and his regret at their demise.

6. "I Don't Like Mondays"

The Boomtown Rats song "I Don't Like Mondays" is more than an anthem about struggling through the start of the week. It is a song laced in tragedy.

On January 29th, 1979, 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer was staring out of a window inside her San Diego home while holding a semiautomatic .22 caliber rifle her father had given her as a Christmas present. Immediately across the street was Cleveland Elementary School, where children were arriving for the day, waiting for the principal to open the front gates. Inexplicably, Spencer opened fire.

In the aftermath of the attack, eight children and a police officer were injured. Additionally, two people died: Principal Burton Wragg, who had been trying to protect the children, and a custodian, Mike Suchar, who attempted to pull the principal to safety.

Spencer then barricaded herself inside the house for seven hours. During the standoff, she was asked by police why she chose to open fire. She replied: "I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day. I have to go now. I shot a pig, I think, and I want to shoot more. I'm having too much fun [to surrender]." Eventually, Spencer gave herself up to police and was convicted and sentenced to a California correctional facility, where she currently resides.

Bob Geldof, lead singer of The Boomtown Rats, was working at Georgia State University's on-campus radio station when the news came in. He used the event as the inspiration for "I Don't Like Mondays," which hit #1 in the UK during the summer of 1979.
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Tell us your favorite behind-the-lyrics story in the comments, or let us know if there's a particular song you've always wondered about.

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Food
7 Places To Grab a Bite of Elvis
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Photo by Keystone/Getty Images

August 16, 2017 marks the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, reportedly from hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with atherosclerotic heart disease. Just 42 years old at the time of his passing, the King of Rock 'n' Roll had a reputation for loving rich, decadent food as much as he loved music, with the infamous fried peanut butter and banana sandwich being one of his favorite delicacies.

While we can’t recommend them as part of your daily diet, there are Elvis-inspired indulgences to be found at eateries across the country. If you’re ever in the mood for a taste of Elvis, here’s where to go.

1. THE ELVIS MARTINI // FORT WORTH, TEXAS

With roots stretching back well over half a century, Forth Worth's T&P Tavern used to be a rail station stopover for notables including Elvis Presley himself. To honor their history, the bar offers the Elvis—a martini flavored with peanut butter, banana, and bacon.

2. MR. LUCKY'S // LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

Brian Brown

There’s decadent, and then there’s Las Vegas. To match the city’s reputation for excess, Mr. Lucky’s—the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino's 24-hour diner—can reinvigorate patrons pulling all-nighters with the King. It’s an enormous plate of 14 banana pancakes served with Nutella, whipped cream, powdered sugar, and 14 slices of bacon. Before ordering, don't forget to tell your family you love them.

3. JOHNNY J'S // CASPER, WYOMING

In 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama paid a visit to Johnny J's while on the campaign trail.
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Johnny J’s specializes in burgers named after influential rock stars, including Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, and, of course, Elvis Presley. With the Elvis, patrons can expect a slab of beef topped with red chili and melted cheddar jack cheese, served open faced—without a single banana in sight.

4. BROOKLYN FARMACY & SODA FOUNTAIN // BROOKLYN, NEW YORK

This reworked early 20th-century pharmacy underwent renovations for reopening in 2010. Like any proper soda fountain, they're all about sundaes and milkshakes—including The Elvis, a vanilla ice cream topped with peanut butter, banana, and candied bacon.

5. MEMPHIS MOJO CAFE // BARTLETT, TENNESSEE

Mojo's

The Memphis Mojo Cafe and food truck are go-to spots for burgers, but it’s their dessert that will send Elvis fanatics into a sugar frenzy. Their Elvis Dippers are Nutter Butter cookies dipped in maple waffle batter, deep-fried, and dunked in butterscotch banana cream.

6. OATMEALS // NEW YORK, NEW YORK

The menu at OatMeals offers something for everyone, even if that someone is into Sriracha-covered oatmeal. But the standout might be The Elvis, a bowl of oats topped with peanut butter, banana, bacon, and sea salt.

7. MARLOWE'S RIBS & RESTAURANT // MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE

Marlowe's Ribs & Restaurant

Just a few minutes from Graceland, it’s almost a prerequisite that Marlowe’s Ribs & Restaurant would have a surplus of Elvis-inspired items on their menu—and they don’t disappoint. Among their specialties: the Elvis Burger, which comes topped with bacon, smoked ham, and American cheese. For dessert, the Crispy Creme Banana Foster Sundae—a donut with vanilla ice cream, peanut butter sauce, sauteed bananas, and whipped cream—is a modern take on some of the King's favorite treats.

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Pop Culture
Prince Is Getting His Own Pantone Color: Love Symbol #2
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Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

Prince was music royalty, so it only makes sense that purple—the hue traditionally favored by monarchs—was his signature color. To memorialize the late singer/songwriter, who died in April 2016, the Pantone Color Institute and the Prince Estate have collaborated on a custom shade of dark purple to represent the High Priest of Pop.

Pantone

Called Love Symbol #2, "the color was inspired by Prince’s custom-made Yamaha piano, which was originally scheduled to go on tour with the performer before his untimely passing at the age of 57," Pantone stated in a press release. "The color pays tribute to Prince’s indelible mark on music, art, fashion, and culture."

Thanks to the 1984 film Purple Rain and its Oscar-winning music, Prince has long been associated with royal hue. Now, “while the spectrum of the color purple will still be used in respect to the 'Purple One,' Love Symbol #2 will be the official color across the brand he left behind,” according to Pantone.

We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the Funky One’s flamboyant legacy.

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