The Inspiration Behind Popular Songs


It can sometimes seem like much of the music today is the same, people bragging about how much wealth they have and how they choose to spend it. Of course, this isn’t actually true, and provided you have good taste, you’ll find a lot of diversity in the subjects covered by musicians.

In fact, many popular songs have some interesting backstories.

Nirvana — Smells Like Teen Spirit

The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame band, Nirvana, has a long discography that’s packed with great songs, however, perhaps none are as famous as the band’s 1991 hit Smells Like Teen Spirit. The song rocketed to number 1 in charts all around the world, including several of Europe’s biggest markets. Even in the nations where the song didn’t take the top spot, Smells Like Teen Spirit performed exceptionally well for a song in its genre.

This fame and popularity was not something that the band liked though. It attracted many new fans that were not really its target audience, which they felt diluted their rebellious image.

In fact, they resented the song’s popularity so much that they refused to play it for several years.

The inspiration for this song is quite humorous. Kurt Cobain noticed that a friend had sprayed some graffiti that read “Kurt smells like teen spirit” on a wall. Cobain was completely unaware that Teen Spirit was a brand of women’s deodorant at the time, so he used it for the title of the song.

Cobain also took inspiration from himself while writing the song. The line “here we are now, entertain us” was one of his catchphrases and he would regularly say it upon arriving at a party.

Lady Gaga — Poker Face

There have been numerous examples of musicians taking inspiration from poker for their songs, though perhaps there is no more obvious example than Lady Gaga’s 2008 hit Poker Face. The synth-pop track which is played in G-sharp minor has a number of obvious meanings that she has masked with innuendo.

As well as the title, poker face, which is repeated throughout, a number of other poker and general betting terms are dropped into the lyrics.

The track was Lady Gaga’s second single and was released as part of her debut album “The Fame”. It reached number one in the charts in 20 different countries, including the US, UK, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia, and has gone on to sell more than 14 million copies.

The Beatles — Taxman

The Beatles are perhaps the most famous band in the world. They were the first real boy band and helped to define the music of their era with famous tracks like Yellow Submarine, Hey Jude, and Penny Lane.

However, their song “Taxman” was a little different to many of the other Beatles songs. Released in 1966, the track was a dig at the British Government which had introduced a 95% income tax bracket for the wealthiest few people in the country. It wasn’t entirely new, as, throughout the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, some were required to pay as much as 99.25% tax to repay the debts the country had built up earlier in the century.

It’s unclear whether the song actually made any difference though. The top rate of tax was dropped to 75% in 1971 but then an additional surcharge on certain categories of income pushed it back to 90%.

National fiscal policy wasn’t the only inspiration for the song though. The song includes a section where the Beatles sing the word “tax-maaaaan” in harmony. It seems pretty likely that the band took inspiration from the Batman theme tune when coming up with this part.


Queen — We Will Rock You

While The Beatles may have been pioneers for many reasons, Queen were early pioneers of having spectacular live performances.

The song “We Will Rock You” came after the band performed a concert in 1977. They noticed that the audience were becoming an integral part of the show, with them joining in with the songs and creating an electric atmosphere.

This inspired Brian May and Freddie Mercury to write a song that had audience participation in mind. To them, “We Will Rock You” was actually an experiment and they weren’t entirely sure how well it would work.

As we know, the pair had nothing to worry about. The track became a massive hit, performing well in the charts around the world. In fact, it regularly makes appearances in the charts in various countries, reaching 52 in the Polish Airplay Top 100 in 2020 and number 6 in the Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart in 2019.

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