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10 Famous People Who Inspired Hit Songs

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If there’s one thing famous people like to write about, it’s other famous people. Makes sense—you write what you know! But when the medium is music, the subject isn't always obvious. Here are some lesser-known examples of songs about celebrities, proving that while Taylor Swift may be one of the more prolific artists in the category, she doesn’t have the market totally cornered.

1. DANAE STRATOU // “COMMON PEOPLE”

Jarvis Cocker, frontman of English rock band Pulp, has always been vague about who he’s been singing to in 1995’s “Common People.” After decades of speculation, it’s recently been conjectured that the subject of his hit is Greek artist Danae Stratou, married to Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister and current controversial radical-left politician (both pictured above). Stratou certainly fits the description of someone who “came from Greece and had a thirst for knowledge” and “studied sculpture at St. Martins College.” Cocker hasn’t yet confirmed or denied it, nor has Stratou. Varoufakis, however, when asked to weigh in, only coquettishly replied that his wife was “the only Greek student of sculpture at St. Martins College at that time.”

2. EDIE SEDGWICK // “FEMME FATALE”

Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol // Getty Images

One of the sweeter, softer cuts off the Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut album, “Femme Fatale” is what happened when Andy Warhol suggested that Lou Reed should write a tune about model/actress/heiress/It Girl Edie Sedgwick, one of Warhol’s favorite leading ladies in his films. (Warhol managed the Velvet Underground for a while.) The lyrics aren’t especially descriptive of Sedgwick in particular, although you’d think the line “You're put down in her book / You're number thirty-seven, have a look” would have applied.

3. SALMA HAYEK’S DAUGHTER // “VALENTINA”

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“Valentina” by Prince, which appears on his 2009 album, MPLSoUND, is a plea addressed to Salma Hayek’s daughter, instructing the toddler to tell her mama that “she should give me a call / When she get tired of runnin' after you down the hall.” Hayek and Prince were good friends, and Hayek directed the video for his song “Te Amo Corazon” in 2005; four years later, neither the movie star (nor her kiddo) had apparently left his mind.

4. NAS // “ME AND MR. JONES”

KokuziuEast718 via Wikipedia // CC BY 2.0

While it can be safely assumed that Amy Winehouse’s 2006 hit “Me and Mr. Jones” was inspired by the Billy Paul classic “Me and Mrs. Jones,” the stories differ slightly: Rather than a loving ode sung by a man who’s having an affair with a married woman, Amy’s song is the first-person account of a woman who’s not too pleased with her lover. That part’s made clear in the lyrics, but what might not be is that the lover’s identity is American rapper Nas (whose real name is Nasir Jones). The lyric “Mr. Destiny, 9 and 14” refers to the name of Nas’s daughter and his and Amy’s shared birthdate, September 14.

5. FRANZ FERDINAND // "TAKE ME OUT"

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Scottish band Franz Ferdinand’s best-known hit, 2004’s “Take Me Out,” is believed to be about Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the band’s namesake. (Or more specifically about his assassination, when he was, ahem, “taken out” by Gavrilo Princip.) The lyric “I'm just a cross hair / I'm just a shot away from you” is a bit of a giveaway. In addition, “All for You, Sophia (Bang Bang),” the B-side of the "Take Me Out single," is dedicated to Ferdinand’s wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, who was also killed in the 1914 shooting.

6. VINCE NEIL // “DUDE (LOOKS LIKE A LADY)”

Brad Petersen via Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

Aerosmith’s “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” was, according to Mötley Crüe drummer Nikki Sixx, specifically inspired by his band’s vocalist, Vince Neil. The co-writer of the song, Desmond Child, has said Steven Tyler admitted to him that it was inspired by Vince Neil. Tyler himself has only said that "One day we met Mötley Crüe, and they're all going, 'Dude!' ‘Dude’ this and ‘dude’ that, everything was ‘dude.’ 'Dude (Looks Like a Lady)' came out of that session.” But all three seem to agree that when the song was conceived of by Tyler, Vince Neil was definitely there.

7. JEFF BUCKLEY // “TEARDROP”

Gie Knaeps via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Many, many artists have written songs about gone-too-soon singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley—a list that includes PJ Harvey, Lana Del Rey, Coldplay, and Rufus Wainwright—but the one that got the most play was possibly Massive Attack’s 1998 single, “Teardrop.” The lyrics were written and sung by Buckley’s close friend Elizabeth Fraser, who fronted ethereal rock band Cocteau Twins and who was working on the piece on the day she heard Buckley had drowned in the Mississippi River. "That was so weird,” said Fraser. “I'd got letters out and I was thinking about him. That song's kind of about [Buckley]—that's how it feels to me anyway.”

8. JERRY CANTRELL SR. // “ROOSTER”

Over the years, plenty have opined on the backstory behind Alice in Chains’ 1992 grunge hit “Rooster”—a song written in the first person as an American soldier fighting in the Vietnam War—and especially about the identity of the Rooster himself. Some say it’s a reference to the muzzle flash of the M60 machine gun, which supposedly makes an outline similar to a rooster's tail. The song is also often connected to the 101st Airborne Division, whose troops wore a bald eagle insignia on their shoulder sleeves, resulting in the pejorative "chicken men” epithet being slung at them by the Vietnamese. The truth, though, turned out to be a little less convoluted: Alice in Chains singer Jerry Cantrell wrote the song about his veteran dad, Jerry Sr., whose childhood nickname was Rooster—a reference to his cowlicky hairdo as a kid.

9. COURTNEY LOVE // “LET IT DIE”

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Speaking of Seattle bands: Dave Grohl’s never really bothered hiding his distaste for his former Nirvana bandmate’s widow Courtney Love, calling her some pretty candid names during live shows  (although Love has said they’ve recently made up). As such, it’s long been rumored that the Foo Fighters’ 1995 hit, "I’ll Stick Around," off their self-titled debut album, concerned her. (Released only a year after Kurt Cobain’s death, the song’s unforgettable refrain “I don’t owe you anything” takes on a new meaning in that context, eh?) 

And in 2007, another song emerged that was interpreted as a diss track about Mrs. Cobain. Containing the lyrics "A simple man and his blushing bride / Intravenous, intertwined,” the song “Let It Die” on the FF’s 2007 album, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, seemed to obviously be about Love. According to an interview Grohl did with The Guardian in the same year, he admitted that “there are a lot of people that I've been angry with in my life, but the one that's most noted is Courtney. So it's pretty obvious to me that those correlations are gonna pop up every now and again." But in regards to whether this particular song is in reference to Love, Grohl said coyly, “I still remain a little secretive about it all."

10. BILLY CORGAN // “VIOLET”

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And lastly, perhaps as revenge for so many people writing songs about her, Courtney Love herself wrote “Violet,” a major radio hit for her band Hole, about her pre-Kurt paramour Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins. Unlike Grohl, Love has made no bones about the subject of the song, stating several times that the lyrics discuss her anger following their 1990 breakup. In 1995, on Later... with Jools Holland, she explained the track as "a song about a jerk. I hexed him, and now he's losing his hair."

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
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Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

Buy on Live Infused.

18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

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