From the timeless portrait of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel The Color Purple, women have been the muse of transcendent art throughout the ages. Popular music has also been filled with songs that defined generations. Here are eight great songs and the women who inspired them.
Hey There Delilah
The Plain White T’s “Hey There Delilah” hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in July 2007. Singer Tom Higgenson wrote the song after meeting American distance runner Delilah DiCrescenzo. She was his guest at the 2008 Grammy Awards.
Cry Me A River
After a telephone argument with then-girlfriend Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake went into the recording studio and poured his emotions into his R&B song,”Cry Me A River.” The recording won the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
Ritchie Valens wrote “Donna” for his high school sweetheart, Donna Ludwig, and it rose to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. “Donna” was only one of three singles released during Valens’ lifetime, which was cut short when he died in a plane crash with Buddy Holly and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.
Supermodel Christie Brinkley was the inspiration for Billy Joel’s biggest hits of the 1980s. Joel and Brinkley were married for nine years. Their daughter, Alexa Ray Joel, followed in her parents’ footsteps, becoming a singer, songwriter, and pianist and being involved in the fashion industry.
Maybe I’m Amazed
Dedicated to his wife Linda, “Maybe I’m Amazed” was written by Paul McCartney as the Beatles were on the verge of breaking up. He sang and played all of the instruments on the original recording, which was never released as a single. A live recording with his group Wings, however, was released as a single and became a top 10 hit for the band.
Sweet Child O’ Mine
Mercurial frontman Axl Rose penned the lyrics Guns N’ Roses’ biggest hit while listening to his bandmates jam downstairs in their Sunset Strip home. He wrote the song for his then-girlfriend Erin Everly and it became the group’s only No. 1 hit.
Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott was inspired by the late actress Marilyn Monroe when he wrote the lyrics for “Photograph.” The song is about admiring and desiring someone from afar and the video depicted a Monroe lookalike. It made it to no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.
John Lennon wrote “Woman” for his longtime wife and creative partner, Yoko Ono. The song was released on Lennon and Ono’s Double Fantasy in 1980, three weeks before Lennon was murdered by a crazed fan. The album went on to win the 1981 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.