The '70s were a haze, so even if you were there, chances are you don’t even know all of the following facts. And if you weren’t in the 70s, man did you miss out on some of the weirdest (and grossest) stuff going on in music.
1. "Stairway To Heaven" Was Stolen
The opening notes and riff from “Stairway to Heaven" were taken from Spirit's Taurus, a band that Led Zeppelin had opened for during their first US tour. "Dazed and Confused" was ripped off as well, presumably because the Zeppers (that's what we call them, right?) were too busy doing rituals and drugs to actually compose anything.
2. “Wonderful Tonight” Was Written About Eric Clapton’s Wife (As Were A Bunch Of Other Songs)
Pattie Boyd, wife of Clapton and before that George Harrison, had album's worth of music penned about her, including "Wonderful Tonight," "Something" (it's a Harrison song, don't worry about not knowing the backstory), "Layla," "Mystifies Me," "Breathe on Me," and probably a bunch of others.
3. "Smoke On The Water" Is As Original As Every Douchebro Who Plays It
It makes sense that one of the single most memorized-by-people-who-shouldn’t-play-guitar song was ripped off. It might make less sense that it was ripped off from a jazz tune. There are other Deep Purple songs that were ripped off too.
4. "Macho Man" Is Forever A Trump Song
Trump, pretty predictably, loved hypermasculine songs. He's most known for playing "Macho Man" by The Village People to amp up crowds at his rallies, until The Village People pulled permission in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
5. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors Had The Most Awful Recording Process
Rumours was made amid the band—real-life husband and wife Christine and John McVie, Lindsay Buckingham, and Stevie Nicks—breaking up. One song was about Christine sleeping with someone else. Another was about Nicks’ affair. Both "Dreams" and "Go Your Own Way" are about "Hey why don't you go screw yourself?" except the person who was being told to go screw themselves were working on the song as well, even singing the lyrics. It was a drug-fueled, revenge-filled romp designed almost entirely to hurt each other and became one of the best albums of all time. Art, man.
6. "Bored With The USA" Was A Pop Song
"Bored with the USA" is an anti-American song (who coulda guessed) by The Clash, but it originally started off as "Bored with You," a pop song that was handed off to The Clash, because music’s music, and if it sells, it sells. Spoiler alert: A lot of songs in the '70s were about how terrible making songs in the '70s was.
7. "Rich Girl" Transitioned
"Rich Girl," the hit song by Hall & Oates (you can admit you started singing it), was originally about a fast food heir, who was a dude. But mocking girls is more fun, so it became about a dumb rich bimbo instead of a dumb rich himbo.
8. "Christine Sixteen"
Hey, kids, if you don’t wanna feel grossed out for hours, skip ahead to fact number 13! But first here's this song, about a man lusting for an underage girl. You might know it as a KISS song, but it was partially made by the Van Halens.
9. Gary Glitter’s "Happy Birthday" Is One Of The Creepiest Songs
Gary Glitter is one of the worst of the Famous Person who is a Creep given how young the people he hurt were. Which makes listening to any of his songs a lot worse. That included "Happy Birthday," a song about counting down to the exact minute he can legally have sex with his girlfriend.
10. "Sick Again" Is About A Child Sex Slave
Jimmy Page kidnapped a 14-year-old, hid her from everyone, and then wrote “Sick Again” about her once he was done with her. Oh! That’s what he was doing instead of writing "Stairway to Heaven." Lori Mattix would later claim to have been a groupie for David Bowie and Iggy Pop, who also slept with a bunch of other underage girls including one who he wrote “Look Away” about. Don’t look up the lyrics.
11. The Younger Kind In "My Sharona" Means Exactly What You Think
Sharona was a teenager when she met the lead singer of The Knack, who fell head over heels for her, and decided to write a song about how much he was into her.
12. We’re An American Band Belongs Here Too
This time the groupie is Connie Hamzy, who was called “Sweet Sweet Connie” because of, well. She has claimed to have slept with Keith Moon, Don Henley, Peter Frampton, Neil Diamond, both Van Halens (who helped write “Christine Sixteen”!) and potentially Bill Clinton starting when she was fifteen.
13. Neil Young Wrote "Lotta Love"
Neil Young, "godfather of grunge," wrote “Lotta Love,” a song that just screams '70s flower power. Not the type of thing you'd expect from him, but listen, we all need to make money sometimes.
14. Ooga Chocka-Ful "Hooked On A Feeling" Isn’t The Original
Guardians of the Galaxy and Reservoir Dogs made kids think they were rediscovering a classic with Blue Suede's "Hooked on a Feeling." This overshadows the B.J. Thomas original, which has an actual guitar melody in place of the inexplicable "Ooga-chocka" hook.
15. "Stayin Alive" Is About, Well
Sorry for blowing your mind here, but "Staying Alive" is about staying alive. See at a certain point, NYC wasn't the safe, fun theme park it is now, featuring overpriced souvenirs and Sbarros. It was as grungy and terrifying as most news media would lead you to believe, and the song was simply about making it through the day.
16. “Barracuda” Is About Incestous Lesbians (But Not Really)
"And if the real thing don't do the trick, you better make up something quick." That something? Incestuous lesbians. Shortly after their label floated rumors of the lead singers—two actual for real sisters—being involved in an incestuous coupling (in order to get more eyes on their music and more money in the label's pockets), Heart recorded this song about the label.
17. "London Calling" Is About Environmental Change
Yes, this punk anthem is going out to the ecopunks—the song is about ecological change, including a recent flood that had happened in the Thames.
18. "Under Pressure" Was Mostly Improv
"Under Pressure" wasn't a grand plan, the two just happened to be in the same place and went off. Hell, the two didn't even record their vocals together.
19. "Jolene" Was Partially Autobiographical
Not to take anything away from Dolly Parton, but Jolene herself was based on a young fan of Parton's and a redheaded young bank teller who always flirted with her husband. Knowing that, it almost sounds like a sarcastic diss track.
20. The Inspiration Behind "Mr. Blue Sky" Is Pretty Uncomplicated
Sometimes songs are written in complicated ways, sometimes they come to you in dreams. In the case of "Mr. Blue Sky," songwriter Jeff Lyne was holed up in a cabin, endlessly struggling … until he looked out his window and saw some nice blue skies. Which does sound like what a little kid does when trying to make up a lie, but hey, if it works, it works.
21. "American Woman" Was Performed In Front Of A Live Studio Audience
In the '70s, singers and songwriters had a tendency to do extended solos during live shows—just jam—but most of the time, that would result in either a Phish-esque nine minutes of nonsense or a cooler version of a solo. It didn't often lead to full songs, but that was the case with "American Woman," which was fully improvised in front of an audience … and then promptly forgotten. Luckily, bootlegging saved the day, as a fan was recording it in the audience, and they managed to rerecord it in studio.
22. Weird Way To Be Heroes
"Heroes" is one of David Bowie's most famous hits, up there with Ziggy Stardust and the weird song where he plays with balls in Labyrinth. The song, though, despite the title—and the chorus—is about infidelity (the most heroic thing of all).
23. The Devil Went Down To Georgia 2
A sequel—featuring Johnny Cash on vocals—to "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" was released in the '90s and featured the devil coming back from hell, stealing the fiddle, accusing Johnny of pride (complimenting him maybe?) and just … doing the whole thing over again. A real Back to the Future 2 of sequels.
24. "Cum On Feel The Noize" Is Supposed To Be That Bad
Perhaps you can guess based on the title alone, but "Cum On Feel the Noize" was purposely designed to be a terrible song. The original version released in the '70s was … already bad, but when it was rerecorded in the '80s (the version you probably know), the band hated it and tried to make it as awful as possible—and they succeeded.
25. "Stuck In The Middle With You" Is A Parody
Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, here I am just a parody of Bob Dylan and his constant usage of derisively calling everyone jokers and clowns.
26. Let’s Get It On (The Us Is Pandas)
"Let’s Get It On" has created more babies than Genghis Khan. Perhaps assuming what works for humans works for pandas, zookeepers began playing it to try and get the little freaky deakys to freak their deaks. No luck with pandas. Flamingos on the other hand? Oh, they got down.
27. "Immigrant Song" Led To Jack Black Begging
"Immigrant Song" is one of the best Led Zeppelin hits out there, and when School of Rock was being made, it just needed to be included. But Zeppelin is oftentimes stingy with licensing rights, and it took Jack Black begging in an auditorium with most of the cast and crew begging along with him to get permission to use the song in the film.
28. "Lola" And "Walk On The Wild" Side Are Both About The Same Hot Trans Chick
While people like pretend that trans people sprang up in 2015, they’ve actually existed for a lot longer, and have been lusted after for about as long. Both "Lola" and "Walk on the Wild Side" are about Andy Warhol’s muse (i.e. someone he stole the work of) Candy Darling, and how hot she is, which hey, reasonable.
29. "Daniel" Is About A Blind Vietnam Vet
Elton John’s songs are often about light and fluffy things like crocodiles that play guitar, or that time he almost married a woman. But "Daniel," a light-sounding song, is actually about a blind Vietnam vet. Of course this is only made clear in a verse the songwriter cut because it was too long.
30. "Who Are You?" And Wish You Were Here Are About How Much The Music Industry Sucks
Both The Who’s "Who Are You?" and Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album seem to be about identity, about being yourself, but in actuality they kinda are that—if the person you are is someone who hates the music industry.
31. A 14-Year Old Wrote "Suicide Is Painless"
Granted, the name alone is a giveaway but despite the fact that M*A*S*H was a multi-million-dollar film and then an award-winning television show, the theme song for both was knocked out by the director’s fourteen-year old kid.
32. "Margaritaville" Was Supposed To Go To Elvis
It’s no surprise that often songs are written for different people than they end up being performed by, but the idea of Elvis at any point singing “searching for my lost shaker of salt” is so beyond parody. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Buffett crooning out those lyrics.
33. The Queen (Yes, That One) Has A Favorite Song, And It’s Abba’s "Dancing Queen"
Despite being most famous for both being old and a symbol of the world that was, the Queen is an actual person, not just an animatronic brought out for special events or to make cameos in films. And her favorite song is Abba’s "Dancing Queen."
34. "I Don’t Like Mondays" Is About America’s Favorite Pastime
“I don’t like Mondays” is what 16-year old elementary school shooter Brenda Ann Spencer said when asked why she injured eight children and killed two adults, which, while, hey, relatable, seems a bit less of an answer than people might've been expecting.
35. The Doors' "Alabama Song" Is From An Opera
So this isn’t technically a '70s song, as it’s actually from the 1930s, from a Commuist opera called Rise and Fall of the City of Mahoggany—and it’s a song about sex workers looking for clients.
36. "Levon" Isn’t Really About Anything
"Levon" is Elton John’s incredibly emotional song about … uhm. What’s it about? Good question. The writer just kinda threw some words on a page (“just lines that came out that were interesting”) and called it a day.
37. "Hotel California" Is (Also) About Screw The Music Industry
"Hotel California" sounds like it’s about some Twilight Zone-esque nonsense, or maybe a Satre-esque take on hell. But it’s actually an Eagles-esque take on how the music industry blows.
38. "I Shot The Sheriff" Is About Birth Control?
"I Shot the Sheriff" sounds like it’s a cool song about the non-controversial act of killing cops. However, it’s actually about how birth control sucks and you should just let Bob Marley knock you up already. "Every time I plant a seed, he said kill it before it grow," he sings—the he being his girlfriend’s doctor.
39. "Lean On Me" Has The Most Inspirational Origins
Bill Withers taught himself guitar at 27 and banged out an album because he was tired of working at his job. That done, he decided, hey, why not try piano and made a simple basic song … called "Lean On Me." His first guitar song? "Ain't No Sunshine."
40. "Bohemian Rhapsody"
While now considered a massive hit, "Bohemian Rhapsody" had a somewhat tepid response … until it was featured in Wayne’s World. That scene made the song—Mercury loved it too. But it almost was replaced with a Guns N' Roses song—it took Mike Myers threatening to walk to keep it in.