5 Smash Songs With Incredibly Bizarre Origins
Most songs these days are refreshingly straightforward: "Damn, girl, let me holler," "Damn, girl, I feel bad that you are no longer letting me holler," etc. Sometimes, though, the inspiration for a song is not only unexpected but downright banana pants. For example ...
That Song From Drive is About Sully
As in the pilot. Yes, the one played by Tom Hanks. It's not immediately noticeable because it's hard to concentrate on any of the lyrics of College feat. Electric Youth's "A Real Hero" other than those ones while Ryan Gosling is sexily father-figuring that adorable child.
But once you sit down and listen to it in a Gosling- and therefore distraction-free environment, that scene becomes hilarious. It's painfully obvious:
A pilot on a cold, cold morn'
One-hundred fifty-five people on board
All safe and all rescued
From the slowly sinking ship
Water warmer than, his head so cool
In that tight bind knew what to do
And you have proved to be
A real human being and a real hero
There's not many people that could be about, but just in case, Electric Youth's Austin Garrick confirmed that it stemmed from a conversation he had with his grandfather about Captain Sullenberger in which he described him as "a real human being and a real hero." Saving the lives of dozens of people tends to get you those kinds of accolades. By comparison, what did Gosling do? Skip some stones? Get back to us when you get a presidential service dog named after you, Driver.
It gets weirder: The other half of the collaboration, French electronica artist David Grellier who performs as College and provided the instrumental track, was inspired by Mad Max, explaining, "I wanted to give a homage to that lonely hero ... people who make their own choice and try to save lives," which is mostly the opposite of what Gosling's character does. Watch the movie again with the knowledge that this song is more chastising than celebrating him, and it becomes a lot less aww-inspiring.
"Jingle Bells" is a Thanksgiving Song
A surprising number of supposed Christmas songs, upon further review, aren't Christmas songs at all. "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" could take place in February for all we know, and Frosty the Snowman's magic has nothing to do with Jesus's or Santa's. With "Jingle Bells," though, we didn't even get the season right.
It's not clear exactly when, where, or why church music director James Lord Pierpont wrote the ode to one-horse open sleighs, but most people agree that he first trotted it out for a Thanksgiving gathering. It might have been in his hometown of Medford, Massachusetts, famous for its sleigh races, or it could have been Savannah, Georgia, where Pierpont experienced his first snowless year, but that could very well be the reason for its association with Christmas. It gets snowy way before winter in Massachusetts, people. When the song was first publicly performed, it was in Boston in September.
It could also be that the song was such a hit at Thanksgiving that it was repurposed for a Christmas service, but some people question that story because the song's complete original lyrics -- which included several more verses than the one we all sing now -- were pretty raunchy. It's possible some lyrics were changed or omitted for the Christmas performance, though, which is why we're not all spending the most wonderful time of the year singing about picking up chicks and impressing them with drunken drag racing. Jesus never lets us have any fun.
Heart's "Barracuda" is About a Sensational Incestuous Lesbian Rumor
"Barracuda" is one of the all-time greatest angry woman songs -- your mom definitely turned it up while she broke some shit back in the day. It's all about some dude, presumably of a romantic relationship to the singer because she has "to turn heart away," who is basically a lying scumbag. "I went through things like 'lizard,' 'snake' -- but 'barracuda' just had a wickedness that I thought sounded good," singer Ann Wilson explained in 2018.
But it's actually not about any particular man. It's about a record label that pulled such sneaky shit as, among other things, implying that Wilson and her guitarist sister were lovers to get the "sketchy section of PornHub" dollar.
If you can believe it, it was even harder to be a woman in the '70s than it is now, and it was definitely way too hard to be one of the most impressive rock singers and guitarists in the history of the genre -- which the Wilson sisters objectively are. Somehow, the record company that released their debut album just wasn't convinced those qualities were enough to move units, so they resorted to a variety of underhanded tactics, including placing an ad in Rolling Stone featuring the implicitly nude sisters (in reality, they were only bare-shouldered) sitting back to back and smiling coyly for the camera with the caption "Heart's Wilson Sisters Confess: 'It Was Only Our First Time!'"
The accompanying blurb completely failed to follow up on that supposed confession. Still, it was convincing enough that random dudes started taunting the women about their relationship, so they channeled their feelings of anger and betrayal into "Barracuda." There was some other shady stuff going on, too, including contract negotiations that went so absurdly south that the band scrapped a whole album before jumping ship to a new label, but it was mostly the lesbian incest thing.
Related: 40 Facts About 70s Songs
Taylor Swift's Entire Folklore Album Was Inspired By a Neo-Noir Movie Marathon
They say stars are just like us, and that's absolutely not true. You and Taylor Swift will never have anything in common, not even the whole "putting your pants on one leg at a time," because a team of fanciful woodland creatures probably put her pants on for her. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, supposedly the great equalizer, she wrote, recorded, and released a best-selling album while you struggled to bathe regularly.
It was a very different kind of album for her, too, in that it was a cohesive narrative of fictional characters rather than a collection of unrelated songs about whichever famous dude she made out with that week. "In isolation, my imagination has run wild and this album is the result, a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness," she explained, probably while swirling a glass of wine that costs more than your life.
However, what kickstarted her imagination was something considerably less lofty and definitely much more familiar to you. She might have spent her quarantine deep in an artistic trance, but she also spent a lot of it, like you, watching random movies. "We would watch a different movie every night," she told Entertainment Weekly. "I'm ashamed to say I hadn't seen Pan's Labyrinth before. One night I'd watch that, then I'd watch L.A. Confidential, then we'd watch Rear Window, then we'd watch Jane Eyre."
What do all these movies have in common? Not a lot besides the fact that they are movies. You know, self-contained stories with a beginning, middle, and end. They "opened this portal in imagination," forcing her to ask herself, "Why have I never created characters and intersecting storylines?" because this was apparently her first encounter with narrative fiction. The end result was pretty good, though, so maybe we should be making an effort to expose Taylor Swift to more avenues of storytelling. Quick, someone send her a virtual Jackson Pollock gallery -- the world needs the Taylor Swift abstract expressionist album.
"I Will Always Love You" is About a Business Relationship
You could be forgiven for thinking the Dolly Parton country hit/Whitney Houston record-setting single "I Will Always Love You" is a love song. For one thing, it's called that. Its lyrics also contain all the trappings of a love song, wistfully explaining the narrator's decision to leave someone for their own good and hoping they find love again, which isn't typically the kind of thing you say to a friend or business partner, but a business partner is exactly who it was written for.
When Dolly Parton was a relative unknown in the late '60s, Grand Ole Opry veteran Porter Wagoner hired her to replace a singer who had recently left his self-titled TV show, and at first, the audience hated her so much that they chanted her predecessor's name whenever she appeared. Within a short time, though, Parton and Wagoner became a songwriting team so successful that the Country Music Association named them Vocal Group of the Year in 1968. That was cool and all, but Parton correctly felt she should have been a bigger deal on her own, and Wagoner agreed ... for a minute.
A Star is Born-style, her solo songs started inching their way up the charts, eventually culminating with the legendary "Jolene," and Parton decided she wanted out from under Wagoner's wing. She said she'd give him five years at the beginning, and their time was up, but suddenly, Wagoner wasn't down. When you have Dolly Parton on your payroll, you keep her there by any means necessary. "How am I gonna make him understand how much I appreciate everything, but that I have to go?" she remembered thinking, so she decided to "do what best," wrote the song, marched into his office, and ordered him to sit down and listen. It reduced him to tears because, well, it was "I Will Always Love You." You try listening to Dolly sing it the year she wrote it without choking up, and it doesn't even have anything to do with you:
It was kind of an underhanded move on her part. He was totally the one who was standing in her way, and she was exactly what he needed, but that's the magic of Dolly: Put a guitar in her hands, and she'll convince you to walk into traffic. After Wagoner dried his eyes, he let her go ("providing I get to produce that record because that's the best song you ever wrote," she reported he said), and 20 years later, Houston used the most heart-wrenching song about business in history to express her forbidden horniness for Kevin Costner.
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