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Behind the Lyrics: The Inspirations for 6 Famous Songs

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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"Weird Al" Yankovic Is Getting the Funko Treatment
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Though the New York Toy Fair—the largest trade show for playthings in the western hemisphere—won't officially kick off until Saturday, February 17, kids and kids-at-heart are already finding much to get excited about as the world's biggest toy companies ready to unleash their newest wares on the world. One item that has gotten us—and fans of fine parody songs everywhere—excited is "Weird Al" Yankovic's induction into the Funko Pop! family. The accordion-loving songwriter behind hits like "Eat It," "White & Nerdy," "Amish Paradise," and "Smells Like Nirvana" shared the news via Twitter, and included what we can only hope is a final rendering of his miniaturized, blockheaded vinyl likeness:

In late December, Funko announced that a Weird Al toy would be coming in 2018 as part of the beloved brand's Pop Rocks series. Though we know he'll be joined by Alice Cooper, Kurt Cobain, Elton John, and the members of Mötley Crüe, there's no word yet on exactly when you’ll be able to get your hands on Pop! Al. But knowing that he's coming is enough … for now.

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11 Fun Facts About The Wedding Singer
New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema

On February 13, 1998, Adam Sandler gave Valentine’s Day sweethearts a retro treat with The Wedding Singer, a 1980s-set rom-com about a heartbroken wedding singer named Robbie Hart (Sandler) who falls in love with a waitress/bride-to-be whose married name will leave her as Julia Gulia (Drew Barrymore).

At this point in Sandler’s career, he was known more for his puerile comedies like Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison, not as a romantic leading man. The Wedding Singer changed all that. After earning its $18 million budget back during its opening weekend alone, The Wedding Singer went on to gross $123 million worldwide—making it Sandler’s highest-grossing movie to date at the time.

Besides being a bona fide box office hit, the film’s two ’80s-heavy soundtracks—which included tunes by The Police, David Bowie, The Psychedelic Furs, New Order, and The Smiths—were also popular. For the film’s 20th anniversary, here are 11 fun facts about The Wedding Singer.

1. THE DIRECTOR’S OWN REAL-LIFE HEARTBREAK ALLOWED HIM TO TAP INTO THE FILM’S EMOTION.

Longtime Sandler friend and collaborator Frank Coraci directed The Wedding Singer, and said that his own experience with having his heart broken was part of what allowed him to tap into the movie’s unique balance of humor and heartfelt romance.

“I remember lying in bed and not being able to move, so it was easy to tap into that pretty quickly,” Coraci told The Hollywood News of his own heartbreak, which happened a couple of years before the movie came along. “I think the distance between those two things was good. It let me look at it differently and allowed it to be funny. I think if had happened before, The Wedding Singer would have been one seriously depressing movie.”

2. THE IDEA TO SET THE FILM IN THE 1980S CAME FROM THE RADIO.

The Wedding Singer was written by Tim Herlihy, a longtime collaborator of Sandler’s who, in addition to writing for Saturday Night Live, wrote the scripts for Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and The Waterboy (among other Sandler-starring films). Sandler mentioned to Herlihy that he wanted to do “a film about a wedding singer who gets left at the altar.” For his part, Herlihy let the radio inspire him. “I was listening to the radio show Lost in the ’80s, and I said, ‘I want to do a movie set in the 1980s. So of course, we thought, ‘Why don’t we do a story about a wedding singer in the 1980s?’”

3. SANDLER WANTED TO MAKE A “PRO-LOVE” FILM.

While promoting the movie on Late Night With Conan O’Brien in 1998, Sandler said, “We wanted to make a romantic comedy that was heavy on the laughs. It was nice to do a movie that was pro-marriage and pro-love.” He explained men have a difficult time falling in love. “You got guys who say they don’t want to be in love, but those are usually guys who have been hurt before.”

4. THE MOVIE DOESN’T FEATURE ANY SEX SCENES, AND THERE’S A REASON FOR THAT.

In the same interview, Conan O’Brien asked Sandler why there weren’t any sex scenes in the film, which seemed odd for a rom-com. Sandler was candid with his answer: “The main reason for not having a sex scene is I’m not good at sex,” he said. “I started when I was pretty young and I was always like, you’ll get better. And I got older and it’s still not good.”

5. BARRYMORE APPROACHED SANDLER ABOUT WORKING TOGETHER.

Since the release of The Wedding Singer, Sandler and Drew Barrymore have gone on to star in 50 First Dates (2004) and Blended (2014) together, but their original collaboration was really the actress’s doing. Barrymore told Howard Stern she was interested in working with Sandler because “[I thought] I want to be a modern weird Hepburn, Tracy old Hollywood couple.” Sandler agreed to meet with her. “We looked like the worst blind date you’ve ever seen,” Barrymore recalled, referencing how she had purple hair and wore a leopard coat. Still, as Barrymore told The Huffington Post, she was convinced that she and Sandler were “cinematic soul mates,” and wasn’t afraid to tell him so. Soon after this meeting, the script for The Wedding Singer came along.

6. THE “RAPPING GRANNY” LIVED TO BE 101.

At the age of 84, Ellen Albertini Dow portrayed Robbie’s neighbor Rosie, a.k.a. “The Rapping Granny.” During a wedding scene in the movie, Rosie gets on stage and raps to The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” However, when the filmmakers asked Dow to perform the rap, she admitted she wasn’t familiar with that style of music.

In a 2008 radio interview, she recounted how Sandler and Coraci approached her with the idea. They told her, “‘We think it might be funny for an older woman to do rap,’” Dow explained. “And I said, ‘What is that?’ I had no idea what rap was. They took me to a soundstage and handed me this rap song. I went in the booth and it was very foreign to me. I said, ‘Can I move a little to it?’ They said, ‘Oh, sure.’ I’m not bragging, but I danced all my life, and I played the piano, so I know music. I started to move to it and I got it right it away. I got it very fast and loved it and had fun with it.” Her rapping success led to her rapping in a Life Savers commercial, and she even considered recording a rap record for children. In 2015, Dow died at the age of 101.

7. IT’S THE FIRST SANDLER FILM TO INCLUDE A FEMALE PERSPECTIVE.

In previous Sandler films, women mainly existed only as love interests. Herlihy, however, changed that with The Wedding Singer. “Drew elevated things for us,” the screenwriter told Esquire. “The scenes with her and Christine [Taylor]—the scenes with her without Adam—[were all great]. You look at the first movies and there’s not a lot without Adam because we did test screening and they said, ‘Get rid of that scene.’ But this time with Drew we were able to do that and have those scenes survive to the movie.”

8. THE CREATORS OF THE WEDDING SINGER BROADWAY MUSICAL KNEW IT WAS “BORN TO SING.”

The success of the film inspired a Broadway musical adaptation that ended up earning five Tony Award nominations and eight Drama Desk Award nods. Matthew Sklar composed the music, and Chad Beguelin wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the book with Herlihy. It premiered in Seattle in January 2006 and then officially opened on Broadway in April 2006.

In the fall of 2007, the musical toured nationally, then eventually landed overseas in London, Abu Dhabi, the Philippines, and Australia. Beguelin said the musical came from him pitching a movie idea to New Line Cinema. “They asked me, ‘What would you do with our catalogue?’ Well, I thought The Wedding Singer was born to sing,” he said. They felt a musical could convey stronger feelings than what was on the screen. “In the movie, you get a close-up of Drew Barrymore looking distraught at her reflection in a wedding dress, but you can’t do that on stage,” Beguelin said. “That’s where you write a song.”

9. BARRYMORE WANTED THE AUDIENCE TO “HOLD THE BOWL OF LOVE.”

In a 1998 interview, Barrymore explained what drew her to the character of Julia: “She has an ease that follows her and that’s the energy that she exudes, and I really, really like that about her. And she’s a happy girl.”

Barrymore further said she wanted people to be happy and for the movie to cause the audience “to hold the bowl of love and have those hearts in their eyes and all of that good mushy stuff we live for."

10. BILLY IDOL STARRED IN THE FILM TO APPEASE HIS SON—AND TEENAGERS.

Billy Idol, whose song “White Wedding” appears on the soundtrack, portrays himself during a climactic scene on a plane. “My son loved Adam Sandler and I thought: ‘I’m going to have to see it anyway, so why not be in it?,’” Idol said. “I gained a number of diehard teenage fans through doing it, who are adults now and are still turning up to my gigs.”

“There’s something about Billy Idol hanging on a plane, knocking back champagne, and getting involved with my love life,” Sandler said of Idol’s cameo. “Everybody thought that’d be fun.”

11. BOY GEORGE WAS A FAN OF BOY GEORGE.

In the film, transgender actress Alexis Arquette played a character named George, who had similarities to the iconic Culture Club frontman Boy George. Wedding Singer George even sings the band’s 1982 hit song “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” at a wedding in the movie. Arquette passed away on September 11, 2016, and around the same time the real Boy George paid homage to the actress at a concert in Maryland. He dedicated “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” to Alexis and her family.

“Alexis played me in The Wedding Singer, very hilariously,” he said. “When I went to [see] The Wedding Singer, I didn’t know what was going to happen. When I saw Alexis doing an impersonation of me, I was rolling around on the floor laughing.”

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