So Kate, Carly and Paul, who were you really singing about?
Ed Power names that tune and uncovers the secrets behind our favourite songs
Published 13/10/2010 | 05:00
It was one of pop's enduring mysteries: who was Kate Bush singing about in her early smash 'The Man With The Child In His Eyes'?
Three decades after the song helped turn Bush into a star, we've finally been put out of our misery.
For reasons best known to himself, the boyfriend who inspired the 1978 hit has decided now is the perfect moment to 'out' himself.
Steve Blacknell, a former TV host who still lives in Bush's home town of East Wickham, Kent, says the lyrics were written when he and the 'Wuthering Heights' star were in the first flush of youthful romance.
"She was my first true love," said Blacknell. "All I really knew about her was that she wrote songs, played the piano and lived in a lovely house with an equally lovely family."
This is more of a bombshell than you might think. Bush devotees have long assumed 'The Man With The Child In His Eyes' was addressed to Pink Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour, who produced the track and the accompanying album The Kick Inside.
However, Blacknell says someone 'very close' to Bush has told him he's the 'man' in question.
As a token of her affection, he says, the young Bush even sent him the original handwritten lyrics, penned in pink and with circles instead of dots over the 'i's (which he's 'er put up for auction for £10,000).
"She had her heart set on becoming a global star and I was going to be a flash DJ," he recalled. "When I first heard her music I thought, 'Oh my God'. It made my soul stand on end. I realised I was in love with a genius."
Bush isn't the only musician whose songs are clouded with mystery.
Alongside their well-publicised penchant for driving Mercedes into swimming pools and feuding with one another on Twitter, rock stars enjoying nothing like a bit of ambiguity.
Here, we reveal the secrets behind some of your favourite tunes.
You're So Vain - Carly Simon
The hoariest of hoary chestnuts: who was Simon singing about when she observed: "You walked into the party/ Like you were walking onto a yacht/ Your hat strategically dipped below one eye/ Your scarf it was apricot"?
For years 'You're So Vain' was assumed to be addressed to famously self-regarding movie star Warren Beatty -- even Beatty thinks it's about him.
Suspicion also fell on Simon's then husband, James Taylor, though she has always denied it had anything to do with the singer.
Speaking recently, Simon revealed that she whispers the name of the song's subject backwards in a re-worked version.
When it was discovered that she had said 'David' in the re-recording, the spotlight fell on her old record label boss David Geffen (a bit of a swish in his prime).
The truth, alas, may be more boring: in the '70s Simon stated 'You're So Vain' wasn't about any one person in particular and was inspired by several men of her acquaintance.
Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana
Kurt Cobain came up with the title after a friend, Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna, scrawled 'Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit' on the wall of his apartment. At the time he thought she was making a profound metaphysical statement, not realising 'Teen Spirit' was a brand of deodorant, which his then girlfriend Tobi Vail wore.
It was only after the single was a hit that it dawned on him he'd named it after a popular grooming product.
Country House - Blur
"He lives in a house a very big house in the country," sang Damon Albarn on Blur's Oasis-defeating 1995 number one. The song was a sly tribute to David Balfe, boss of Blur's first label, Food, who'd offloaded the business and bought himself a pile in the sticks.
"I'd flogged the label and packed it all in as a 'professional cynic whose heart's not in it'. I was burned out," Balfe recalled a few years ago. "The funny thing is Damon [Albarn] hadn't, and still hasn't, seen the house. I think he just had this idea. 'Oh, Balfey lives in this great house in the country now'."
Hey Jude - The Beatles
Paul McCartney wrote one of his greatest songs for John Lennon's son Jules. At the time, Lennon was divorcing his wife Cynthia and McCartney felt for their five-year-old son.
"Paul and I used to hang out quite a bit -- more than dad and I did," Julian remembered. "There seem to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing at that age than me and dad... It surprises me whenever I hear the song. It's strange to think someone has written a song about you. It still touches me."
What's The Frequency Kenneth? - REM
The lyrics to REM's 1995 single were inspired by a real-life incident in which American news-reader Dan Rather was attacked in New York by a man who yelled "Kenneth, what is the frequency?" as he punched him. Years later, the assailant was identified as William Tager.
Nine years after the attack Tager murdered a stage hand outside a TV studio in Manhattan.
Upon his arrest, he was discovered to be severely emotionally disturbed, believing, among other things, that television networks were beaming secret messages directly into his brain.
If he knew the frequency, he was convinced he could switch off the signal.
Creep - Radiohead
As a child, Radiohead's Thom Yorke suffered from a 'lazy' eye, over which he had to wear an eye-patch. At school, this made him socially awkward and left him feeling a bit of a, well... a creep and a weirdo.
The song is also about the confused emotions he experienced as a young man trying to approach women.
"I have a real problem being a man in the '90s," he said, a few years after 'Creep' became a hit.
"Any man with any sensitivity or conscience toward the opposite sex would have a problem.
"To actually assert yourself in a masculine way without looking like you're in a hard-rock band is a very difficult thing to do...
"It comes back to the music we write, which is not effeminate, but it's not brutal in its arrogance.
"It is one of the things I'm always trying: to assert a sexual persona and on the other hand trying desperately to negate it."
Born Slippy - Underworld
With its 'lager, lager, lager' refrain and gut-punch beats, 'Born Slippy' was one of the most famous dance hits ever.
Singer Karl Hyde wrote the words whilst on a pub crawl in the Soho district of London.
A high-functioning alcoholic at the time, he woke up with a crippling hangover and a sheet full of lyrics.
The famous chorus, however, came about accidentally.
"The vocals were done in one take. When I lost my place, I'd repeat the same line; that's why it goes, 'lager, lager, lager, lager'.
"The first time we played it live, people raised their lager cans and I was horrified because I was still deep into alcoholism. It was never meant to be a drinking anthem; it was a cry for help."
In The Air Tonight - Phil Collins
The enduring urban myth is that this brooding ballad was written after Collins watched a man drown.
However, Collins insists he has no notion what the lyrics are referring too. In the middle of a divorce, he was simply channelling a lot of anger.
"When I was writing this I was going through a divorce. And the only thing I can say about it is that it's obviously in anger.
"It's the angry side, or the bitter side of a separation.
"So what makes it even more comical is when I hear these stories which started many years ago, particularly in America.
"Someone came up to me and said, 'Did you really see someone drowning?' I said, 'No, wrong'.
"And then every time I go back to America the story gets Chinese whispers, it gets more and more elaborate.
"It's so frustrating, 'cos this is one song out of all the songs probably that I've ever written that I really don't know what it's about, you know."