I came across The Girl In The Song: The True Stories Behind 50 Rock Classics in the local library in between a couple of heavier reads and figured “Why not?” Great idea…appealing cover…lightweight read, right? The good news is that it DID only take an hour or so to read. The bad news is I can't get that time back.
Many of the entries leave you with the feeling “that could have been about her” rather than knowing the woman in question WAS definitely the song’s muse. And, of course, with all things based on “classic,” there’s going to be a difference of opinion as to what "classic" constitutes. This book also falls short of delivering, in my opinion. I’ll save you the trouble and divide the contents of the book into the basic categories as I saw them.
1. The well-documented back stories that most music fans know. Those would include The Beatles “Dear Prudence” and “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” CSN’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,“ and McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,” amongst other Captain Obvious selections. I’m halfway surprised “Lovely Linda” didn’t make an appearance. I’ve read these — better — elsewhere.
2. Songs I hate and don’t care who or what they are about and will never consider "classic." Say hello to “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins, Lenny “Thy Name is Mediocrity” Kravitz’s “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over” and The Knack’s “My Sharona.” The less said about these, the better.
3. Songs I hate and don’t care about but still somehow know the back story. But also not "classics." They include Toto’s “Rosanna,” Guns ‘N Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine’” and Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” Thanks for putting those awful songs in my head again.
4. The most frustrating stories, however, involve telling you who the song is about, only to back off and suggest “We think…” Everyone knows the Kinks “Lola” is about a transvestite. Heck…it’s right there in the song. The authors give you the “more authentic but less glamorous answer” right up front, then spend the rest of the chapter surmising that it’s about Warhol tranny Candy Darling. Maybe. At least according to Rolling Stone. But maybe not.
Ditto for Fleetwood Mac’s “Sara,” “Lovely Rita,” by the Beatles (Paul directly contradicts the premise that it was specific), and “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart. “Irene Wilde,” a particular favorite from Ian Hunter, does little more than confirm it was a “face in the crowd” (as the lyrics state), named, in fact. Irene Wilde that the song was written for and nothing more. At this point, had it not been a library book, I would have it ripped to shreds. Frustrating.
Of course, there were a couple of entries that surprised me (assuming they are, in fact, true). The Rolling Stones “Hey Negrita;” I did not know that was about, and a nickname for, Bianca Jagger. Ditto for Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” and its’ subject matter being tennis player Billie Jean King. Alas, it wasn’t enough for me, although it might satisfy the more casual fan. There’s an interesting book based on this premise, but, in my opinion, this isn’t it. More research and some direct corroboration from the artist or subject would go a long way towards making this a compelling — and authoritative — read. As it is, the jury is out on who, exactly “that girl” is…