Songs about famous people

“Oh, Carol” was written by Neil Sedaka and was dedicated to Carole King, his classmate at Queens University (despite the spelling discrepancy). In return, she wrote a song called “Oh Neil,” which was not quite so popular.

“Rosanna” by Toto was named for Rosanna Arquette, who was dating keyboardist Steve Porcaro.

Nerf Herder has a couple of songs called “Courtney Love” and “Jenna Bush Army.”

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” name-drops Neil Young, of course.

What other songs refer to famous people by name? Since it’s my O.P., I’ll set a couple of rules:

  1. The person can be referred to by either first name, last name, or full name, but must be named.

  2. The person can be living or deceased. To allow for a wider range of answers, the person can be an historical figure or entertainment celebrity from any era, not only the 20th or 21st century.

  3. The person must actually exist. No fictional characters, please.

  4. There can be no ambiguity about whom the person in the song is. “You’re So Vain” is specifically disqualified from this thread. It may or may not be about Warren Beatty, but only Carly Simon and Dick Ebersol know for sure.

With those rules in mind, go at it, and let’s have fun.

I think ‘Candle In The Wind’, by Elton John, uses the name Madonna at one point.

Joe Hill, about the labor activist.
Vincent, Don McLean’s song about Vincent Van Gogh.
“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” from Mrs. Robinson, Simon & Garfunkel.

Abraham, Martin and John by Dick Feller and recorded by Dion, about Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and John Kennedy.
*Angie *by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, about Angie Bowie, David’s wife.
Claudette by Roy Orbison, about his wife.
Donna by Ritchie Valens, about his girlfriend, Donna Ludwig.
Frankie by Neil Sedaka, recorded by Connie Francis who had a crush on Frankie Avalon.
Linda by Jack Lawrence, recorded by Jan and Dean, about Linda Eastman, the late Mrs. Paul McCartney.
Peggy Sue by Buddy Holly, about Peggy Sue Gerow, who married Jerry Allison of the Crickets.

The above brought to you from The Book of Rock Lists, copyright 1981 and autographed in the rain by Dave Marsh.

“Calling Elvis” by Dire Straits and “Black Velvet” are both about that famed King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Michael Jackson.

Loudon Wainwright III’s “Liza” about Liza Minnelli, “Rufus is a Tit Man” about Rufus Wainwright, and “Tonya’s Twirls” about Tonya Harding. He probably has several other examples.

David Essex’s “Rock On” mentions James Dean (and also Jimmy Dean).

“Key Largo” mentions Lauren Bacall and someone named Bogie (obviously not Humphrey Bogart, who hated that name).

“Bette Davis Eyes,” of course.

“The Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton mentions Andrew Jackson.

Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top,” mentions a bunch of real people: Strauss, Vincent Youmans, Mahatma Gandhi, Greta Garbo, Calvin Coolidge, Fred Astaire, Eugene O’Neill, Dante, Jimmy Durante, Botticelli, Keats, Shelley, Mae West, Irving Berlin, and probably a bunch of others in the various different versions he wrote. His “Anything Goes,” mentions Mae West.

Alex Chilton-- The Replacements
Hey, We’re the Replacements-- They Might Be Giants

Can we assume that mentions of Jesus are out, too? That would be a LOT of songs.

Here’s my contribution:

Rage Against the Machine mentions Jackie Onassis by name in one of their songs, can’t remember which at the moment…

The Misfits also mention Jackie O in one of their songs…I’ll try to track down that one, too.

Bree Sharp sings “David Duchovny, Why Won’t You Love Me?”

Mojo Nixon sings “Elvis is Dead”

“Walking in Memphis” mentions the ghost of Elvis.

REM’s “Man on the Moon” mentions Andy Kauffman.

REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” mentions several historical figures, as does Billy Joel’s “We DIdn’t Start the Fire”.

Eminem and many other rappers often mention other rappers or celebrities in their songs.

Kid Rock also mentions many other artists. (Sorry I’m too lazy to look up the lyrics)

Sheryl Crow’s “Steve McQueen.”

Tom Petty’s “Jammin’ Me” mentions Venessa Redgrave and Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy.

Sting’s “Russians” mentions Kruschev and Reagan.

The Gathering’s “Strange Machines” mentions Cleopatra, Beethoven, Gershwin, and Chaka Kahn.

There are tons more…I know I’ve kind of frowned on the whole “point someone to the already-existing database” thing, but I just found a link to a database of over 1000 songs with name-dropping, and I know from perusing it that they’ve left several out…

Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven mentions Beethoven and Tchaikovsky do I get a bonus for having a song with two names?

The original “Candle in the Wind” (Elton John/Bernie Taupin) is about Marilyn Monroe, of course, and includes the names “Marilyn Monroe” and “Norma Jean.”

David Bowie’s done this a few times:

Songs more or less about famous people:

Song for Bob Dylan: Robert Zimmerman/Dylan
Andy Warhol: Andy Warhol
Slip Away: “Uncle” Floyd [Vivino]


Quicksand: [Aleister] Crowley, [Heinrich] Himmler, [Winston] Churchill, [Greta] Garbo.
Life on Mars: [John] Lennon
Panic in Detroit: Che Guevara
Time: “Billy Dolls” [Billy Murcia of the New York Dolls?]
Drive-In Saturday: [Mick] Jagger, Twig[gy], [Carl] Jung
Teenage Wildlife: David [Bowie]
Young Americans: President [Richard] Nixon
China Girl (co-written with Iggy Pop): Marlon Brando
Pretty Thing: Madonna
Pretty Pink Rose: Thom[as] Paine
Thru These Architect’s Eyes: Philip Johnson

The Penfifteen Club - Hey Miss Hilton

That’s fine by me. I can accept that he was an actual person, if not a divine one. But I don’t want to get into Great Debates territory.

So, “Jesus Just Left Chicago” by ZZ Top or “Jesus Is Just Alright” by the Doobie Brothers are acceptable to me.

I thought of a couple more.

“Harry Truman,” by Chicago.

“Jackie O” by John Mellencamp.

“We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel mentions a ton, from Harry Truman to Liberace to Sally Ride to Bernhard Goetz to Richard Nixon (twice).

Jonathan Coulton’s Tom Cruise Crazy is quite unambiguous. Also quite hilarious.

His [Under the Pines is about a touching relationship between Leonard Nimoy and, um, Bigfoot. Admittedly, Nimoy’s name is never mentioned, so I guess this might not count. Still, Coulton namechecks In Search Of… and refers to Nimoy’s hosting the show, so it’s clear Nimoy’s the intended narrator.

It does?

Jonathan Coulton - A Talk With George (George Plimpton)

“Manana” by Jimmy Buffett references Steve Martin and Anita Bryant.

“Incommunicado” by Jimmy Buffett mentions John Wayne.

“Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)” by Elton John is about John Lennon.

Is this a whoosh?

The film Key Largo.

As is Paul Simon’s “The Late Great Johnny Ace” (which is also about JFK and Johnny Ace).

The Commodore’s “Night Shift” is about Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson. Jackie Wilson also figures prominently in Van Morrison’s “Jackie Wilson Said.”

Another Van Morrison song, “Domino”, mentions Fats Domino.

Songs actually about famous people:

“Hurricane” (Bob Dylan) is about Rubin “the Hurricane” Carter, who is mentioned by name in the lyrics.

“The Ballad of Ira Hayes” (written by Peter LaFarge, famously recorded by Johnny Cash) is about, well, Ira Hayes.

Songs that merely mention famous people:

“Garden Party” (Ricky Nelson) mentions several famous people: Yoko (Ono); “her walrus” (John Lennon); (Bob) Dylan; and Mr. Hughes (a pseudonym of George Harrison).

“American Pie” (Don McLean) is obviously about Buddy Holly, in part, but Holly isn’t mentioned by name. Real people mentioned by name are James Dean, Marx, and Lenin (or Lennon).

“Sympathy for the Devil” (Rolling Stones) mentions Jesus, Pilate, Anastasia Romanov, and the Kennedys

Must be a whoosh. Sir Elton and Madonna have had several public feuds.