Musical Dice -- Sweet Inspiration

     Welcome to the music section of my Musical Dice website! For you music trivia enthusiasts, and those who love to learn about the stories behind the music, you've come to the right place! I love sharing my knowledge of music trivia, so that's why I created this section.

     When I used to listen to American Top 40, I loved hearing those great stories about how certain songs were inspired. Sometimes, those stories are as interesting as the songs themselves. This article is about such songs, that, in my opinion, have interesting stories about how they were inspired.

"Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" -- Brian Hyland, 1960

     Many people assumed this song was about a saucy teenage girl actiny coy, but I suspect that the only reason this song got airplay was because the dee-jays knew the real story behind the song--it was actually inspired by songwriter Paul Vance's two-year-old daughter. The song spent a week at #1 in 1960.

     For those who know that Paul Vance also wrote "Run Joey Run," which was a #4 hit for David Geddes in 1975, it makes you wonder if Vance's daughter (17 by then) was dating a guy that he didn't like, and that was what inspired "Run Joey Run."

"Eve Of Destruction" -- Barry McGuire, 1965

     Clearly, the Bloody Sunday incident in Selma Alabama (on Sunday March 7th) was a source of inspiration for Barry McGuire to write the song.

"19th Nervous Breakdown" -- The Rolling Stones, 1966

     After months and months of relentless touring, Mick Jagger made the remark "I don't know about you blokes, but I'm just about ready for my 19th nervous breakdown." Both he and Keith Richards realized that this would be a great song title, and immediately set to work composing the song, which would eventually reach #2 for 3 weeks in 1966.

"Mony Mony" -- Tommy James & the Shondells, 1968, Billy Idol, 1987

     Tommy James wanted a song as catchy as "Hanky Panky" was for him and his group two years ago. For inspiration, he looked at a neon sign for an insurance company, Mutual Of New York. The title of the song was just the first letter from each of those words, doubled up. The song went to #3 for Tommy James & the Shondells in 1968, and #1 for a week for Billy Idol in 1987.

"MacArthur Park" -- Richard Harris, 1968, Donna Summer, 1978

     MacArthur Park was the name of a park in Los Angeles, CA, where songwriter Jimmy Webb often had lunch with his girlfriend. When he and his girlfriend broke up, his broken heart inspired this song, which originally went to #2 for a week for British actor and singer Richard Harris in 1968, and spent 3 weeks at #1 for Donna Summer in 1978. Harris's version, in fact, clocked in at a record-setting seven minutes and twenty seconds.

"Hey Jude" -- The Beatles, 1968

     Paul McCartney, lead singer on this song, was inspired to write this to comfort fellow Beatle John Lennon's son Julian, while the four-year-old's parents were going through a bitter divorce. Paul's nickname for Julian was Jude. The song spent 9 weeks at #1, enough to become the top song of 1968.

"Crimson And Clover" -- Tommy James & the Shondells, 1969, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, 1982

     Inspired by Tommy James' favorite color and his favorite flower. Spent 2 weeks at #1 for Tommy James & the Shondells, and reached #7 for Joan Jett & the Blackhearts in 1982.

"Green River" -- Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1969

     A river that lead singer John Fogerty used to go to a lot when he was a kid, was actually the inspiration for "Green River," with green representing youth. The song went to #2 for a week in 1969.

"Thank You (Faletinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" -- Sly & the Family Stone, 1970

     This song was inspired by a conversation Sylvested Stewart had with his mother, who told him how important it was to remember who he is. This song was Sly's way of thanking her. It spent 2 weeks at #1 in 1970.

"Bridge Over Troubled Water" -- Simon & Garfunkel, 1970, Aretha Franklin, 1971

     Songwriter Paul Simon said that Aretha Franklin's singing style inspired him to write this song. It had to have been a huge compliment to have Aretha Franklin herself cover this song just a year later. The original version Paul Simon recorded with Art Garfunkel, spent 6 weeks at #1 in 1970, becoming the top song of the year. Aretha's version climbed to #6 in 1971.

"Cracklin' Rosie" -- Neil Diamond, 1970

     Neil was inspired to write this song, from a story he'd heard about monks who take a vow of celebacy, but on Saturday nights, they'd get lonely, and buy a bottle of rose, and that bottle would be that monk's woman. The song ended up spending a week at #1 in 1970.

"Mr. Bojangles" -- The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, 1971

     Of course, Bojangles was the name of Shirley Temple's dance partner, but that wasn't the source of inspiration for this song. The real inspiration came, oddly enough, from a night, the songwriter spent in jail, after being arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct. One of his cell mates was a man who called himself Bojangles. The storyline of the song mainly came from what the cell mate told the songwriter, including the cell mate's dog dying, and how he still missed him after 20 years. The song reached #9 in 1971.

"Indian Reservation (The Lament Of The Cherokee Reservation Indian)" -- Paul Revere & the Raiders, 1971

     The man who wrote this song had accidentally driven into an Indian reservation, and he was confronted by a Cherokee Indian, who told him his story of being on the reservation. The songwriter was moved by the story to the point that he wrote the song. It went to #1 for a week in 1971.

"American Pie" -- Don McLean, 1972

     This song was inspired by the death of Buddy Holly in the plane crash that also killed Richie Valens and the Big Bopper (2/3/1959), which was referred to as the day the music died. The line "This'll be the day that I die" was a reference to Buddy Holly's biggest hit "That'll Be The Day." "american Pie" spent 4 weeks at #1 in 1972.

"Garden Party" -- Rick Nelson, 1972

     This song was inspired by an actual experience Rick had, when he was booed off stage, while performing some of his newest songs. This became a #6 hit in 1972.

"Killing Me Softly With His Song" -- Roberta Flack, 1973

     This song was written by Lori Lieberman, and was inspired by her watching a performance of Don McLean's, and the effect it had on her. Interesting title, too, for Don McLean's first two hits were inspired by the deaths of people ("American Pie" was inspired by the death of Buddy Holly, and "Vincent" was inspired by the death of painter Vincent Van Gogh). "Killing Me Softly With His Song" spent 5 weeks at #1 in 1973.

"The Streak" -- Ray Stevens, 1974

     Inspired by a fad that was going around at the time--streaking, or running around naked in public. The song spent 3 weeks at #1 in 1974.

"Band On The Run" -- Paul McCartney & Wings, 1974

     Back then, the four ex-Beatles were board members of Apple Records. At one particular board meeting, fellow board member and ex-Beatle, George Harrison, completely bored, remarked "If I ever get out of here." Paul McCartney heard that remark, and was inspired by that to write the song, revolving the beginning the song around that phrase. The song ended up reaching #1 for a week in 1974.

"(You're) Having My Baby" -- Paul Anka feat. Odia Coates, 1974

     Inspired by Paul's wife being pregnant with his child. Spent 3 weeks at #1 in 1974.

"You Haven't Done Nothin'" -- Stevie Wonder, 1974

     Stevie Wonder's disgust with politicians in general was the inspiration behind this song--he said that it wasn't just Nixon who inspired this song. Coincicentally, the song entered the chart just days before Nixon's resignation from the presidency. And Ford pardoning Nixon had to popularize the song even more. The song spent a week at #1 in 1974.

"The Bitch Is Back" -- Elton John, 1974

     Elton John's songwriting partner and lyricist, Bernie Taupin, was inspired to write this, because of Elton's foul moods, poking fun at them. The song reached #4 in 1974.

"Kung Fu Fighting" -- Carl Douglas, 1974

     The martial arts craze of that time inspired this song, which spent 2 weeks at #1 in 1974.

"Someone Saved My Life Tonight" -- Elton John, 1975

     The song refers to a time where a much-younger Elton John had attempted suicide, attempting to get out of a bad situation with a girl, similar to what was described in the song. Lyricist Bernie Taupin was inspired to write the lyrics, upon learning of what had happened. The song climbed to #4 in 1975.

"Sister Golden Hair" -- America, 1975

     The songwriter of this song stated that the acoustic guitar intro was inspired by the intro to "My Sweet Lord" by George Harrison.

"Lyin' Eyes" -- The Eagles, 1975

     Inspired by an observation Glenn Frey made, while in a bar, noticing this young woman with this much-older man, and the two were a couple. Glenn made the remark, referring to the woman, "Look at those lyin' eyes." He realized that he was on to something as regards to a song. It would reach #2 for 2 weeks in 1975.

"December 1963 (Oh What A Night)" -- The Four Seasons, 1976

     Inspired by the end of Prohibition, with the original song title being "December 1933," but someone told the songwriter that the title would never sell, so the title was changed to "December 1963." Ironic, since the song was a celebration, but in December of 1963, the country was not in a celebrating mood, mourning the then-recent death of President John F. Kennedy. The song spent 3 weeks at #1 in 1976.

"Shannon" -- Henry Gross, 1976

     The touching story of a dog being swept out to sea in a river too powerful to swim, actually happened to Henry Gross's friend, Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys, which probably explains why the Beach Boys are on backup vocals on this song, which peaked at #6 in 1976.

"The Rubberband Man" -- The Spinners, 1976

     Songwriter Thom Bell wrote this song to comfort his 8-year-old son, who was being teased a lot because he was a big boy. So Bell thought of a character who is a big guy, and has a talent for making great sounds with a rubber band. The song went to #2 for 3 weeks in 1976.

"I Wish" -- Stevie Wonder, 1977

     The great feelings after an annual Motown picnic, and how people wished those feelings could continue on, inspired Stevie to write this tune that spent a week at #1 in 1977.

"Go Your Own Way" -- Fleetwood Mac, 1977

     At one point, Fleetwood Mac consisted of two loving couples (John and Christine McVie, and Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham), and Mick Fleetwood. But by the time the "Rumours" album came out, all that had changed. Both couples had broken up, and in fact, the first two singles that came from "Rumours" were actually about Stevie and Lindsey's breakup. The first single, "Go Your Own Way" was about the breakup, from Lindsey's point of view. This song peaked at #10 in 1977.

"Dreams" -- Fleetwood Mac, 1977

     And this song, the second single from "Rumours" was about Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham's breakup, from Stevie's point of view. This became Fleetwood Mac's biggest hit, going to #1 for a week in 1977.

"Take A Chance On Me" -- ABBA, 1978

     Songwriter Benny Andersson was inspired by a jog to write this song, thinking of the "Take a chance, take a chance..." rhythm in time to the jog. The resulting song reached #3 for ABBA in 1978.

"Boogie Oogie Oogie" -- A Taste Of Honey, 1978

     This song was written out of frustration by the fact that the duo couldn't get people to dance when they'd come to their shows. That changed with this song which went to #1 for 3 weeks in 1978.

"Le Freak" -- Chic, 1978

     Written by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, inspired by their not being permitted to enter Studio 54, and meet their friend Grace Jones, who was already there. Furious by this, they wrote this song, which goes "...Just come on out to 54. Find a spot on the floor." As much as they wanted to then say "Ah, f**k you!" they changed it to "Ah, freak out!" It spent 6 weeks at #1 in late 1978/early 1979.

"When You're In Love With A Beautiful Woman" -- Dr. Hook, 1979

     This song was inspired and written within a half an hour. The inspiration was a beautiful woman the songwriter wanted to meet and talk to at a social get-together. Problem was, lots of other people were talking with this woman already. This became one of Dr. Hook's best-known songs, peaking at #6 in 1979.

"Funkytown" -- Lipps Inc., 1980

     Written and produced by Steven Greenberg, a Minneapolis dee-jay, inspired by his aspiration to move to New York City, which he affectionately called Funkytown. It spent 4 weeks at #1 in 1980.

"Upside Down" -- Diana Ross, 1980

     Written and produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, the two frontmen of the group Chic. Normally, the artist inspires the imitators, of which Diana Ross has had many. This song was in fact inspired by Diana's imitators, quite a reversal, inspiring the title of the song, which spent 4 weeks at #1 in 1980.

"Celebration" -- Kool & the Gang, 1981

     Inspired by the success of their earlier hit "Ladies Night," which had put them in the top ten for the first time in over five years. Cause enough for celebration, huh? "Celebration" spent 2 weeks at #1 in 1981.

"Same Old Lang Syne" -- Dan Fogelberg, 1981

     This was inspired by a real-life meet-up Dan had with an ex-girlfriend several years earlier. The resulting song reached #9 in 1981.

"Watching The Wheels" -- John Lennon, 1981

     This song was inspired by people who couldn't understand why John Lennon took a five-year hiatus from the music business. Posthumously, the song went to #10 on the chart in 1981.

"Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" -- Christopher Cross, 1981

     Songwriter Peter Allen was inspired to write the catchy hook, including getting caught between the moon and New York City, because he was on a plane that was due to land at Kennedy Airport at night, but the plane kept circling the airport, without getting permission to land. Allen observed the moon, during all this, and said to himself "Here I am, caught between the moon and New York City." The resulting hook was part of why the song spent 3 weeks at #1 in 1981.

"I Love Rock And Roll" -- Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, 1982

     The mid-seventies Rolling Stones classic "It's Only Rock And Roll (But I Like It)" was the inspiration for "I Love Rock And Roll." For the songwriter, the Rolling Stones song sounded like they were apologizing for liking rock and roll. So he wrote a song in direct response to that, unabashedly declaring "I love rock and roll!" As re-made by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts in 1982, it spent 7 weeks at #1.

"The Other Woman" -- Ray Parker Jr., 1982

     Ray Parker Jr. admitted to having been inspired to write this song after listening to "Jessie's Girl" by Rick Springfield on the radio. This went to #4 in 1982.

"Don't You Want Me" -- The Human League, 1982

     This song was inspired by the 30's version of the movie "A Star Is Born," particularly the scene where a woman was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar--part of the opening lyrics to the song. It spent 3 weeks at #1 in 1982.

"Heartlight" -- Neil Diamond, 1982

     Clearly inspired by the movie E.T. Reached #5 in 1982.

"Every Breath You Take" -- The Police, 1983

     Many people misunderstood this song, thinking it is a tender love song. But songwriter Sting was inspired to write this song, actually about possession and obsession, while going through a bitter divorce! It spent 8 weeks at #1 in 1983, enough to be the top song of the year.

"She Works Hard For The Money" -- Donna Summer, 1983

     Inspired by a cleaning woman who had fallen asleep on the job cleaning the ladies room at the hotel where Donna was staying that night. The cleaning woman's photo made the back of Donna's album of the same title. The song went to #3 in 1983.

"99 Luftballoons" -- Nena, 1984

     Inspired by a Rolling Stones concert held at the Berlin Wall, where at one point, 100 balloons were released, and one strayed into East Germany. The songwriter of this song, and one of the attendees at the concert, thought about what might happen if the East Germans thought that one stray balloon was a spy balloon that would then spark nuclear war. For the title, the songwriter focused on the 99 balloons that did not stray into East Germany. The song reached #2 for a week in 1984.

"Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)" -- Phil Collins, 1984

     Phil Collins was inspired to write this because he had just come home off a tour with his group Genesis, only to find that his wife had left him. The song spent 3 weeks at #1 in 1984.

     As a side note, a lot of Phil Collins' songs during that time were inspired by that experience. Many became the basis of his first solo album "Face Value," which included such #19 hits from 1981 as "I Missed Again" and "In The Air Tonight." Also, the Genesis hit "Misunderstanding" (#14 in 1980) was inspired by the divorce, as well as the song "I Don't Care Anymore," from the album "Hello, I Must Be Going!" (#39 in 1983). This is my personal favorite by Phil Collins.

"Missing You" -- John Waite, 1984

     John's former bandmates, the Babys, provided the inspiration for this #1 hit (1 week), as whom he was missing (or not missing, according to the lyrics).

"Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" -- Wham!, 1984

     Wham partner Andrew Ridgeley had left a note for his mother, saying "Wake me up-up before you go-go." Ridgeley's partner George Michael saw the note, and was inspired from that to write the song. It went to #1 for 3 weeks in 1984.

"Valotte" -- Julian Lennon, 1985

     The song's title actually refers to the chateau where Julian's album of the same title was recorded, but the actual inspiration for this song came from Julian's relationship with his dad, John Lennon, at the time that John was murdered in 1980. This went to #9 in 1985.

"Missing You" -- Diana Ross, 1985

     Inspired by the death of Marvin Gaye in 1984. Lionel Richie wrote and produced the song, which went to #10 in 1985.

"Nightshift" -- The Commodores, 1985

     Inspired by the deaths of Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson in 1984. The song's title is a reference to Jackie Wilson's highest charting hit song, "Night" (#4 in 1960).

"Money For Nothing" -- Dire Straits feat. Sting, 1985

     This song was inspired by an actual conversation in an appliance store, overheard by Dire Straits lead singer Mark Knopfler, who heard two employees talking in the TV section, and the TVs were tuned in to MTV. The derogatory language in the song was part of the actual conversation. The song spent 3 weeks at #1 in 1985.

"Look Away" -- Chicago, 1988

     Songwriter Diane Warren was inspired to write this song because of two of her friends who used to be married to each other. They had gotten an amicable divorce, but the husband had always hoped that they'd get back together. But when he found out that his ex-wife was seeing someone new, he got upset and told Diane about it, and Diane wrote the song from his point of view. It spent two weeks at #1 in December of 1988, and became the top song of 1989.

"We Didn't Start The Fire" -- Billy Joel, 1989

     What inspired Billy Joel to write this song was not only the fact that he turned 40 that year, but also, it was inspired by a conversation he had with a young man, who had made the comment that at least Billy didn't grow up with some of the problems we have today, but Billy's response was, "hey, we had our share of problems back in my time too." Billy then listed some of the news events that he remembered over his 40 years, and that became the basis for the song, which spent 2 weeks at #1 in December of 1989.

"When I'm Back On My Feet Again" -- Michael Bolton, 1990

     Diane Warren wrote this, inspired by the then-recent death of her father. She played a demo of the song for Michael Bolton, who afterwards was in tears, thinking about HIS father who had recently passed away at the time. The song reached #7 in 1990.

"I'll Be There" -- The Escape Club, 1991

     Most likely, inspired by the movie "Ghost," which came out a year earlier. Went to #8 in 1991.

"With Arms Wide Open" -- Creed, 2000

     Written by the lead singer, inspired by the birth of his first child. The song spent a week at #1 in 2000.

     It goes without saying that some great non-top-ten hit songs have great stories about how they were inspired. Some of those songs include "Piano Man" by Billy Joel (#25 1974), "(Pride) In The Name Of Love" by U2 (#33 in 1984), and "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'" by Journey (#16 in 1979). "Piano Man," for example, was inspired by Billy Joel's experiences working in a piano bar in Los Angeles California. "(Pride) In The Name Of Love" was inspired by the life and death of Martin Luther King. And the storyline of "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'" actually happened to lead singer and songwriter Steve Perry.

     There are probably many more stories of inspirations for tunes I could have put in here, but I didn't want to totally overload this article. That said, if you feel like I totally missed a great story of how a great song was inspired, by all means, email me at I'll at least consider adding the song from there.