Famous Musicians Who Wrote Love Songs to Their Actual Lovers
It's rare to hear a tune that isn't about love of some kind — be it passionate or unrequited — but often without getting into specifics about who the song is really about. Far less common is when you get a love song written by a famous musician specifically for their lover or significant other. From classics like John Lennon and Yoko Ono to modern stars like Vince Gill and Amy Grant, we've rounded up some of the best examples of love songs famous musicians clearly wrote for their own lovers.
John Lennon wrote more than one love song for Yoko Ono, but “Oh Yoko!” off Imagine (1971) stands out the most, largely because it was also Lennon’s first album without The Beatles. “Oh Yoko!” has its roots in “She’s So Heavy” — also about Ono, during a period when Lennon missed her desperately — in both its similar structure and the simple idea behind each of them being that Lennon needs Ono by his side. Despite the immediacy in the longing, “Oh Yoko!” took quite some time to come together. Lennon first conceived the melody in 1968 while The Beatles were in India, basing it on a tune by Lonnie Donegan — a Scottish singer who heavily influenced both the band and Lennon himself.
The song sounds sweet, and Lennon’s label EMI apparently thought others would think the same when they wanted to release it as a single, but Lennon said it was too far removed from his image as a rock star. Rolling Stone disagreed with the label and gave it a slightly scathing review when they broke down Imagine after the album released.
It was charming, the review said, But it was difficult to take seriously after Lennon’s heavy criticisms of Paul McCartney’s lacking style. Why? Because “Oh Yoko!” was almost identical to McCartney’s own work.
David Bowie didn’t just write one song for his lover-then-spouse Iman Abdulmajid, he practically wrote a whole EP. The two had the rare celebrity relationship that was not only mostly happy but also actually lasted, although it had a rocky start. Bowie said he found Iman “intolerably sexy” when their shared hairdresser introduced them and ended up stumbling over his words when they first met. He asked her to tea (which he actively hated) and Iman wasn’t convinced this was a relationship that would last — so much so that she even turned down his first proposal.
She wasn’t convinced his love was genuine until Bowie showed up in Los Angeles outside Iman’s plane from Paris, waiting to give her flowers in front of countless paparazzi and without security. It helped that they started blending families beforehand, and Iman accepted his second proposal before they technically married twice.
The first wedding in Switzerland was extremely private, but the Florence ceremony was a small, but star-studded affair where Bowie debuted three brand-new songs written just for the day: “The Wedding,” “The Wedding Song,” and “Pallas Athena.” He told the Boston Globe writing these songs helped him focus on what he really wanted from life and marriage. Iman said she never fell in love with David Bowie, but the real man behind the name, David Jones.
“Ring of Fire” is likely Johnny Cash’s best-known and most-loved song, except it wasn’t technically his. June Carter co-wrote it and provided a good deal of the creative input for the song’s content and direction, because it was about her love for the dangerous man she feared Johnny Cash really was. We outlined their tumultuous relationship in some detail before and how they both met at the Grand Ole Opry thanks to their respective connections with Elvis Presley.
But when they fell in love, both Carter and Cash were married with kids, and the latter was struggling with a serious drug addiction problem. Yet they continued seeing each other and started touring together in the early ‘60s even though Carter said she didn’t want to believe she was actually falling in love with Cash and one night was just driving to get away from her own thoughts.
“One morning, about four o’clock, I was driving my car just about as fast as I could," she said. "I was miserable, and it all came to me: ‘I’m falling in love with somebody I have no right to fall in love with’… I thought, ‘I can’t fall in love with this man, but it’s just like a ring of fire.’”
And so the song's name was born. Of course, Carter had her own problems with drug addiction as well, and despite the apparent danger she sensed in Cash, the two remained together for many years.
Much like Lennon, Paul McCartney had his own love song, “Maybe I’m Amazed,” on his first solo album (McCartney, 1970) for the love of his life, Linda Eastman (at least to some extent). “Maybe I’m Amazed” was actually about a number of things rolled into one, many of which stemmed from McCartney's depression and alcoholism following The Beatles’ breakup at the end of the ‘60s, he told Rolling Stone.
“I was depressed at the time," McCartney said. "You would be too if it happened to you. You were breaking from your lifelong friends. We used to liken it to the army where you’d been army buddies for a few years, and now you weren’t going to see them again. And I took to the [drinks], I took to a wee dram (whiskey shot), and it was great at first and then after a while getting up in the morning, I was a bit far gone and suddenly I wasn’t having a good time.”
It was Eastman who finally encouraged McCartney to clean himself up and try recording again for a new project they could work on together, with Eastman learning keyboards as they went along. He later said “Maybe I’m Amazed” expressed amazement in his relationship with Eastman, her ability to help him, and their new project despite his heartbreak over The Beatles. “Maybe I’m Amazed” was almost custom-made as a single, but it was something McCartney and Eastman never got around to doing. Instead, it took until 1977 and a live version on the Wings Over America album for the song to reach the Top 10.
It’s tough to pick out just one of Pat Benatar’s songs or even albums and say “this was for her husband,” because they’ve worked closely together on almost every project since they first met in 1979. But if we had to choose just one, it’d be “True Love,” off the 1991 blues album of the same name that the pair collaborated on together. There’s no specific story behind it (at least not one that Benatar has publicly mentioned), but there’s a slight hint of their relationship in the opening lines where she sings about how she can be difficult to get along with sometimes.
Benatar playfully told The Boston Globe the secret to their success is putting up with each other’s foibles in exchange for giving the other what they want. The album itself was a labor of love and a sign of the duo’s strength when working together. Benatar’s popularity declined in the mid-1980s when she was struggling to move away from the punk image that defined her earlier career, so she and Giraldo took a leap of faith and chose blues as the genre for their next album. Aside from the struggle finding bonafide blues singers to work with, Benatar and Giraldo faced doubts from both the blues and rock music communities, which were both rather skeptical of the depature. While True Love wasn’t a huge success, critics did say it proved Benatar’s versatility and talent as a singer.
In the early 1960s, Sonny and Cher were just wannabe rock stars were having a bit of trouble actually getting started — but not for lack of trying. Singles like “The Letter” and “Baby Don’t Go” managed to land on the charts without achieving anything impressive, but that was largely the extent of their success. Cher told Billboard the problem wasn’t their sound, but their looks — hence the song’s focus on their unsuitable appearances.
“We looked different than anyone else," Cher said. "We got thrown out of every place. We couldn't get in. … Like, our friend Jack Good was the producer of [the TV variety show] Shindig! and he loved us. But we had a hard time getting on that show because we looked so strange to everyone. And then he said, 'You're wasting your time here. Go to England. That's where it will happen for you.'"
Good was right, and Cher later remarked that the only reason people gave them a chance was because audiences thought they were English since they’d just arrived back. However, Cher didn’t expect “I Got You Babe” to really be anything special, even though Sonny thought it was prime material. On an episode of The Late Late Show in 2016, Cher told James Corden that two had recently purchased a cheap piano with some broken keys, and Sonny would stay up late into the night plinking out different songs. “I Got You Babe” was one of them, but Cher didn’t think it was worthwhile, so she sang it as requested and went straight back to bed.
Maybe it’s not the most romantic song on the list. But whether it was Sonny intentionally building on Bob Dylan’s style or something else, it obviously had enough hit potential to interest their musical director Harold Battiste, who arranged the hit.
Despite claims that David Furnish commandeered Elton John’s career and life, the singer says the two are happily married and even playfully calls Furnish his “Yoko.”
"For me ["A Good Heart" is] about David."Elton said to The Daily Telegraph. However, he doesn't limit the song's love to just Furnish, saying in the same interview "But it could be about me and Bernie [Taupin] because we've been together nearly 50 years.”
For his part, Taupin told Rolling Stone he wrote the piece for his young children and believed Elton probably had them in mind as well.
“We can both understand the perils, pitfalls and joys of raising kids," Taupin said. "He’s got two boys and I have two girls that are seven and 10. But you draw so much energy from them, and I drew from that in a couple of songs.”
“At this time in all our lives, when the world is changing so rapidly and we're all trying to make sense of everything, I think it's important to remember that it's not politicians, it's not money and it's not fame which make the world go round — it's love.”
Amy Grant and Vince Gill are far from strangers to love songs for or about each other. The first (Grant’s “House of Love”) wasn’t written for Gill necessarily, but they met and instantly fell in love while recording the song. Since then, Gill’s written multiple noteworthy songs for Grant, with “Whenever You Come Around” being written during the period when they were both still (unhappily) married to other people. In it, Gill pines for his lover, likening her to an angel and wishing she could be his. Though Grant isn't directly named in the song, it’s pretty easy to see her as the inspiration since both were described as “obsessed” with each other despite claiming they remained faithful until their divorces were finalized.
His most recent love song to Grant, “When My Amy Prays” off Okie (2019) pays tribute to the duo’s religious foundations. While Grant was demonized by the religious community for divorcing her first husband Gary Chapman, Gill sees in her a wellspring of hope and inspiration. It’s nothing new either, as Gill previously said he found Grant one of the most spiritual and charitable people he’s ever known.
For her part, Grant wrote at least one song with Gill in mind: “Happy,” off her 2003 album Simple Things. While she never directly said “Happy” is about Gill, the song revolves around the singer describing her intense love for her “man.” Seeing as the two married just a few years prior to the release, it’s not hard to connect the dots.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “Crazy In Love” is both a love song story and a strange hodge-podge story. “Crazy In Love” was part of Beyoncé’s debut solo album, though her label originally postponed the album and gave Beyoncé a chance to work on more songs for it. All this was happening while she was seeing Jay-Z, sometimes publicly and sometimes not while always keeping fans guessing about their actual relationship.
Songwriter and producer Rich Harrison called Beyoncé and previewed a song he’d been working with based on The Chi-Lites “Are You My Woman” from the 1970s. She liked the concept, but not the retro-sounding instrument sections and told Harrison she wanted the song written by the time she got back in two hours. That didn't happen, but Beyoncé added to what Harrison originally wrote whilst hungover by pulling from her relationship with Jay-Z — and her disheveled outfit at the time allegedly created the “crazy” part.
Jay-Z put his own skills on it, creating a rap for the song after hearing the first sample. The final product surprised Harrison since he wasn’t exactly in his clearest mind during the writing process. Now, it’s a warm and fuzzy testament to one of music’s longest-lasting relationships.
Katy Perry and John Mayer captivated fans with their on-again, off-again relationship during the mid-2010s, partly thanks to the love ballad “Who You Love” they penned together for Mayer’s Paradise Valley (2013).
After revealing the song, Mayer said it was really just an “artistic transaction” between the two based on their separate ideas each presented and wanted to work with. But that was completely at odds with how the pair appeared when unveiling the song’s cover. The accompanying image showed a bit more going on, and Mayer said it was a personal song describing his feelings of giving in to love and not running anymore.
Perry wrote her segments herself as well, and Mayer said it was a special experience being able to write a song where the two are speaking with and answering each other like that. Perry said it was just nice that fans could hear another side of her. Ouch.