It takes real emotion to inspire a truly moving love song. Which is why some of the very finest have been written about real people and real relationships. Knowing the story behind them just adds to their poignancy. Here are a few classics!
Bob Dylan – Sara
Dylan himself wrote plenty of Nobel Prize-worthy love songs. Chief among them was Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowlands, the entire last side of the double LP Blonde-On Blonde and a beautiful paean to a mystery woman with “eyes like smoke.” This lady was Sara Lownds, as Dylan later confirmed in the song Sara, another album-closing classic about the love of his life: “so easy to look at, so hard to define.”
The Beatles – Something
Pattie Boyd claims in her autobiography that her husband George Harrison sang this gentle hymn of love to her in their kitchen and that “he told me, in a matter-of-fact way, that he had written it for me.” But Harrison himself used to say it was about the god Krishna. Either way, it’s one hell of a love song. John Lennon said it was the best thing on Abbey Road. Paul McCartney said it was the best thing George Harrison had ever written.
Eric Clapton – Layla and Wonderful Tonight
Eric Clapton fell for Pattie Boyd while she was still married to George Harrison. The result was Layla, a song taking its title from a book about forbidden love, featuring one of the all-time great wailing guitar solos and Clapton’s desperate scream, “you’ve got me on my knees.” (In calmer times, when they were safely together, he also wrote Wonderful Tonight about how good she looked while trying to select a dress to wear for a night out.)
Leonard Cohen – Marianne
Leonard Cohen met Marianne Ihlen on the Greek island of Hydra in 1960. He said she was the most beautiful woman he had ever met and they became lovers. She is pictured on the back of his second album “Songs from a Room” and is also the subject of “Bird on the Wire”, but is most famous because of this tender farewell from his first LP. It took on extra poignancy when Cohen wrote a famous letter to say goodbye to her again, just before she died, more than half a century later in 2016.
Joan Baez – Diamonds and Rust
In late 1974 Bob Dylan called his old girlfriend Joan Baez from a booth somewhere in the American Midwest and recited the lyrics to his new 9-minute-long epic, Lily Rosemary and The Jack of Hearts. Hearing from this ghost from her past inspired Baez to write her own masterpiece in turn, a nostalgia-drenched recollection of Bob Dylan’s mercurial talent, his poor opinion of her poetry, and her feelings of love and loss. Quite the phone call.