Unusual Inspirations for Songs

Looking over the recent “Sgt. Pepper’s…” thread, was reminded of how Lennon wrote “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite!” after buying a 19th century circus poster, and incorporating some of the lines from it into the song, including the title.

Any other popular songs (rock, pop, country, any genre, really) with such unusual or offbeat inspirations?

Sir Rhosis

Soundgarden - Like Suicide

From wiki:

Chris Cornell was "inspired to write the song when a bird flew into the window at his house. He heard the sound, and expecting a burglar, instead found the small creature suffering. He subsequently put the bird out of its misery. Cornell has been quoted saying the bird inspired him to “write a song about the harshness of love.”

Some of the lyrics:

"Heard it from another room
Eyes were waking up just to fall asleep
Love’s like suicide
Dazed out in a garden bed
With a broken neck lays my broken gift
Just like suicide

And my last ditch
Was my last brick
Lent to finish her
Finish her"

She lived like a murder
How shed fly so sweetly
She lived like a murder
But she died
Just like suicide

Gordon Lightfoot’s #2 hit about a freighter that went down with a load of Taconite.

John Lennon originally wrote “Maharishi, what have you done? You made a fool of everyone…” but the others persuaded him to tone it down, and it became “Sexy Sadie.” But if you listen to the words, it’s still about how disillusioned he was by the reality of the Maharishi being just a guy, and not really all that mystical or special, despite the pretense. John was crushed by how he wanted to use The Beatles as a vehicle for free publicity and an influx of money, and other concerns.

Most of the songs by They Might Be Giants, I seem to recall from an interview, are written on-the-fly about whatever the performers could see at the time.

Curses. I was going to mention TMBG. They’re all about unusual inspiration.

Barenaked Ladies is another band with lots of oddness, like Another Postcard (chimpanzee postcards) and Who Needs Sleep (insomnia).

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald? How is this an unusual inspiration?

The California band Dieselhed are the true masters of the unusual inspiration. Taking just a quick glance at their CDs, they have songs about taking a forklift test, setting a pizza box on fire by leaning on a gas stove, hash browns, tying fishing flies, looking at porn mags in a convenience store, and being in a desert Port-a-Potty and hearing shots fire even though there was nobody around when you got in.

Paul Simon said that the title of “Mother and Child Reunion” was inspired by the name of a chicken and egg dish on a Chinese restaurant menu.

Can you name another pop song from the 70’s-on about a sunken ore vessel :wink:

The B-52s usually made up their songs by free association. The bass and drumming would lay down a beat, and Fred Schneider would free associate until he came up with lyrics that seemed to work.

1976 brought a one-hit wonder by the name of Henry Gross to the top 10 with a song written about the death of Beach Boys founder Carl Wilson’s Irish Setter. Yes, the death of a dog. The song?


I just heard ‘Shannon’ this morning and was thinking about it. Funny world, eh?

Loudon Wainwright III might well be the king of this genre. By my quick thought he’s written songs about

The dead skunk, obviously
A five year olds birthday party
A picture of himself and his sister when they were small
Getting a doctors exam
Bob Dylan’s birthday
Reading the New York Times
Eating at a Chinese restaurant
The word ‘like’
Tonya Harding
Jesse Helms
The O.J Trial
Not believing in Santa Claus
Bill Clinton’s Saxaphone
Having to smoke outside
A red guitar that he burned
Being a pen pal

Lady Chance can’t stand him. She’s says he has songwriting flatulence. Give him two minutes and three random nouns and he’ll produce a song about them. Drives her nuts.

Sticking with Beatles (group & solo) songs:

Eleanor Rigby was a headstone in a Liverpool cemetery and Paul just liked the name. He’d also seen unattended funeral services in that cemetery (not Eleanor’s- she died before he was born) and he associated them with sad looking lonely old women he’d seen staring from their windows. The priest was originally named “Father McCartney” but Paul changed it during recording because he decided he didn’t like the self reference.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was a picture that Julian Lennon drew at school. Lucy was the Peanuts cartoon character.

Hey Jude was based on things Paul said trying to cheer up Julian (Jude was Paul’s nickname for him) when his divorced parents were arguing. (Julian has said that he loved Paul way more than John in those years- he has major bitterness towards his dad).

Strawberry Fields is a children’s hospital/orphanage in Liverpool.

She Came in through the Bathroom Window was based on a fan who did just that while stalking Paul.

Paul McCartney had dinner with Dustin Hoffmann who bet him he couldn’t write a song based on whatever the headlines were from that day’s newspaper (which neither had looked at). Paul looked at the headline and it was about the death of Pablo Picasso, mentioning that his last words were (in Spanish of course) “Drink to me” and he wrote a hit song called Picasso’s Last Words.

My favorite George Harrison song, The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp, or Let it Roll , was about the architect/first owner of his house. Beautiful song melodically.

Hank Williams’ songs:

I Saw the Light[s]- often sung in churches, its inspiration was mundane. Highway 82 in Alabama was and still is very very dark late at night and the scene of many accidents (one of them mine . While driving home to Montgomery one night Hank was falling asleep (and possibly stoned on painkillers and or drunk) and was terrified he was going to have an accident and was majorly relieved when he could see the ambient lights of Montgomery ahead.

Move it on Over was written about a night when Hank’s wife, Audrey, during one of their many epic fights, locked him out of the house without his keys or wallet and he ended up evicting their dog and literally sleeping in the dog house. (I don’t know if this is where the saying “in the doghouse” comes from.)

Kaw-Liga was written about a cigar store Indian in a general store that Hank just happened to really like and remember from his childhood in Georgiana, AL (then as now a tiny town).

Madonna’s Candy Perfume Girl was written using the original Magnetic Poetry package - the song doesn’t have any words in it that aren’t included in the pack, and only two of the words from the pack don’t appear in the song. One of those words is “sausage”.

And the archeologists who unearthed the Australopithecus in the 1970s named her Lucy because that was the song that was being played repeatedly at the digsite.

“Countdown” by Rush was inspired by the first space shuttle launch in 1981.

“What’d I Say” was reportedly (and as featured in the movie Ray) composed on the fly by Ray Charles when he was informed by a club manager that he had not reached the end of his allotted stage time.

Sampiro, glad you brought up the Beatles. When I did my first post, I thought of adding that the entire “Sgt. Pepper’s” album was inspired by odd things, but decided to let someone else have a go at it. Just one or two corrections (I think). McCartney only says that the Eleanor Rigby tombstone may have been a subconscious influence as he doesn’t really remember actually seeing it before, but that he may have. IIRC, he first wrote the song with a character called “Miss Sadie Hawkins.”

And, again, iirc, the actually place is called “Strawberry Field” without the final “s.” And I seem to remember reading that it was a Salvation Army-type building, but I could be mistaken on that.

“Penny Lane” is a street very close to Strawberry Field, also.

Lennon wrote most of “A Day In The Life” after two newspaper headlines: one about a friend’s death in an auto accident, the other about filling potholes in the road. The middle part (“Woke up, fell out of bed…”) was an unfinished song by McCartney about the mundanity of life and his remembrances of sneaking a smoke outside his school (or so he says–George Martin always figured it was about Lennon and McCartney sneaking off to smoke a joint).

Sir Rhosis

Heywood Banks is pretty good about this too.

My favorite song/subject?


All around the country and coast to coast
People always say what do you like most?
I don’t wanna brag I don’t wanna boast
so I just tell em I like toast


I get up in the morning about 6 AM
had a little jelly had a little jam
take a piece of bread put it in the slot
push down the lever and the wires get hot


Now there’s no secret to toasting perfection
there’s a dial on the side and you make your selection
push to the dark or the light and then
if it pops too soon press down again make toast


When the first caveman drove in from the drags
didn’t know what would go with the bacon and the eggs
musta bin a genius got it in his head
plug the toaster in the wall buy a bag of bread make toast


OuI monsuier bonjour coquette
on hon croisoiant on vous a vere
morishe vour Eifel Towere
ouI marie baguette bon soir

Wow, I didn’t know there were two songs about toast! Paul Young (from the '80s - Everytime You Go Away et. al.) was in a group called Streetband before he was famous, and they also have a song called “Toast” that’s different from the one you describe. It took me ages to find it, too!