The Quick 10: Songs That Sound Like They're About Women (But Aren't)

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I almost hate to share some of these – it’s always a bit strange (and sometimes disappointing) when you have a scenario in your head for what a song is about, then find out that you were completely off base. In a couple of these cases, though, I think knowing the song isn’t actually about a girl actually makes it a lot cooler.

1. Cracklin’ Rosie. She’s not a girl – she’s a bottle of wine. Neil Diamond told Rolling Stone that he got the idea from an Indian tribe in Canada with a much higher male population than female population. When the guys with girlfriends all went out on dates, the bachelor guys got together and drank homemade hooch. And actually, Cracklin’ Rosie is pretty decent wordplay when you realize the song’s boozy origins: “Crackling” is used in the wine world to describe a wine that’s lightly sparkling. You can actually buy a crackling rosé.

2. Elenore by The Turtles. If you’ve ever listened to that song and thought the line “you’re my pride and joy etcetera” felt like a pretty poor attempt at lyrics, well, you’re right. “Elenore” wasn’t a girl, but an anti-love letter to the Turtles’ record label. The label was demanding a hit just like “Happy Together” which had come out the previous year, so the band slapped together a song they felt was insanely clichéd, happy-go-lucky and crappy. To everyone’s surprise, it was a big hit.

3. Jane, Barenaked Ladies. Jane St. Clair isn’t a real girl, but an intersection in Toronto that piqued then-lead singer Steve Page’s imagination: Jane Street and St. Clair Avenue.

4. Mony, Mony; Tommy James and the Shondells. The band had the song, but needed a two-syllable girl name to stick in the lyrics. That’s when Tommy James happened upon a Mutual of New York Insurance Company sign that had a dollar sign in the middle of the “O” and noticed that its acronym was MONY. He and his songwriting partner had a laugh about what a great name MONY was for such a company, and ended up calling their fictional girl “Mony.”

5. Sexy Sadie, the Beatles. Sexy Sadie was really Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The song was about how they were disillusioned with him after he hit on Mia Farrow and some of the other girls studying with him. Mia Farrow and most of the group later felt bad for making these accusations, feeling they had probably misinterpreted his actions.
6. Ana’s Song (Open Fire), Silverchair. At first glance, the lyrics pleading with Ana to die might seem shocking, but in reality, lead singer Daniel Johns suffered from anorexia nervosa and was writing about his experience with it.
7. Delilah, Queen. Delilah was one of Freddie Mercury’s beloved cats.
8. Martha My Dear, the Beatles. The lyrics to this one may have been inspired by Paul McCartney’s girlfriend, Jane Asher – he says they “probably” were – but the name comes from his Old English Sheepdog.

9. Shannon, Henry Gross. Speaking of dogs, ex-Sha Na Na singer Henry Gross wrote this song about the tragic death of Beach Boy Carl Wilson’s Irish Setter, Shannon.

10. Helen Wheels, Paul McCartney and Wings. Helen Wheels was McCartney’s punny name for the Land Rover he and Linda McCartney owned.

I’m sure there must be more out there – do you know of any?
And have I destroyed visions of lead singers and their unrequited loves for anyone? (Sorry.)

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November 3, 2010 - 1:59pm
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