The Girl in the Song: The True Stories Behind 50 Rock Classics

A new book unearths the muses behind the music.

By Brian McManus
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 5 | Posted Oct. 26, 2010

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Turn on the radio and dial in any station of your choosing. Listen to three songs. Chances are at least one of them will be about a girl. That fact drove Brit writers Michael Heatley and Frank Hopkinson to write The Girl in the Song: The True Stories Behind 50 Rock Classics, wherein the duo did just what the title suggests, explored the women who inspired the famous songs penned about them. In the addictive page-turner—required reading for those interested in music trivia—we find out who Phil Collins wouldn’t save from drowning in “In the Air Tonight” (answer: his ex-wife, who banged the couple’s interior decorator/house painter while Collins was on tour), who Sting was stalking in the Police hit “Every Breath You Take,” who Mick Jagger had under his thumb, whose eyes were of bluest skies, and who Noel Gallagher’s “Wonderwall” was, on top of a host of other mysteries revealed. We caught up with Hopkinson, who phoned from across the pond, to talk about the book, the surprises unearthed while researching it and Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom,” which The Girl in the Song forces you to hear in a wholly new way.

Which song in the book surprised you the most?

“I think the most surprising was ‘See Emily Play’ by Pink Floyd because that was just a song about a 15-year-old girl Syd Barrett saw across the dance floor. Turns out Emily is Emily Young, who is one of Britain’s leading sculpturesses. She’s got a studio and she retails sculptures at about $100,000. In fact I went to the website and, being a fan, was quite shy of ringing her up. But she was charming about it. (Some people wouldn’t return calls.) She was really pleased to talk and had all of her own theories about why Syd Barrett left Pink Floyd and his dementia.”

Who was less than enthusiastic about participating?

“We emailed Suzanne Verdal of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’ after finding that she was living in a truck in California, but she wouldn’t get back to us. Mick Jagger portrayed Chrissie Shrimpton really badly. They went out together for three years and he wrote ‘Under My Thumb’ about a nervous breakdown she had after she vanished from public eye. Her sister Jean Shrimpton was a top London model. They both modeled, but where Jean went on to fame and fortune, Chrissie went out with Jagger and then attempted suicide. Jagger refused to pay for the doctors’ bills for her treatment, and she didn’t want to revisit that period of her life.”

Any others surprise you?

A story [co-author] Michael [Heatley] wrote is about Sharona Alperin from [the Knack’s] “My Sharona.” It’s this cliche rock star lust story of a guy, [Knack lead singer] Mike Chapman, seeing a girl in the local record shop thinking, ‘Well I can have her cause I’m a rock star. I can use my rock star cache and get with her and then start going out with her.’ They started dating, he put her on the cover of the album, they split up, but kept in touch, even after they were divorced. They remained lifelong friends, and Sharona was friendly with [Chapman’s] other wife, and when he got cancer, she was there with him. It’s just such an odd thing that out of this sort of lustful record you have a whole sort of cycle or life knowing each other.”

Speaking of surprises. “Philadelphia Freedom,” is a song we hear a lot in this town—at sporting events, Fourth of July celebrations etc. I never knew what it was about, and I’m sure most people don’t either. Elton John had an obsession with tennis pro Billy Jean King and her 1970s team, the Philadelphia Freedom. The song was his tribute to them, a fight song written in the style of Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia soul.

“‘Philadelphia Freedom’ was interesting because it was quite a radical departure for Elton John at the time. He was always a big record collector, and he’s always been interested in American sounds. He toured with the Muscle Shoals Horns prior to going to Philadelphia and working with Tom Bell, and there was an aborted album he did called the Tom Bell Sessions which is brilliant stuff, but they didn’t have the courage to release it at the time.”

The Girl in the Song is in stores now.

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1. Anonymous said... on Nov 4, 2010 at 04:39PM

“Mike Chapman wasn't the singer of the Knack, Doug Fieger was. and he was the one who dated sharona. Mike Chapman was the albums producer. the fact that this mistake was made twice in either this article or the book itself doesn't bode well for either the accuracy of info in the book or journalistic skills of the author of this story. in any event someone got paid well to do a lousy job at research.”

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2. LEX said... on Nov 4, 2010 at 04:49PM

“Who's the girl on the cover of the book???”

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3. Robert Darryl Wallace said... on Nov 4, 2010 at 05:41PM

“Anonymous has it 'absolutely correct', the classic Knack song 'My Sharona' was written by the late Doug Fieger in honor of Sharona Alperin. And, that bit of information was disclosed many, many years ago.

In fact, the long running syndicated show 'Entertainment Tonight' did a short piece called 'The Women of Song' almost twenty five years, and in that short piece you can see not only Doug, and Sharona talk directly about the origin, and inspiration of that particular song (which clearly was her).

You can also see 'Peggy Sue' (aka, Peggy Sue Rackham) of the Buddy Holly song fame, and also there's 'Donna' (aka, Donna Fox) of the Richie Valens song fame. You can see both of these women talk about the origin (and inspiration) of those classic Rock and Roll songs.

And, they both speak of their place in musical history through these songs they inspired. The 'My Sharona' song story has been told, and the authors of this book have it wrong (if they're sticking to that incorrect story).”

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4. Anonymous said... on Apr 12, 2011 at 03:13AM

“sunnytcut”

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5. Anonymous said... on Mar 29, 2012 at 04:04PM

“In regards to the ladies that didn't do well after these artists wrote songs about them. The majority are just kicked to the curb... I happen to know because of my personal experience. I was mildly involved in business with a lead singer of a band that is considered B rated...
My story is that I found out that I am chronically ill, he made me promises and never followed thru. Beware ladies... It's not just about the music for these guys, they endanger women and criticize them behind closed doors afterwards, especially girls that do sexual favors for them after the shows.... I've heard it first rate. They will do anything for the fame and money and don't care who they hurt.”

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