Songs You Had No Idea Are Actually About Historical Events

While a pop hit full of uhs, yeahs, and ooh babys gets everybody groovin’, there’s something particularly satisfying about a song that tells a story. Whether artists adopt the perspective of an outlandish character or run through the details of events verse by verse, following along adds an extra layer of enjoyment.

More often than not, those ballads are about real people and cataclysmic moments in history. Yes, textbooks provide the raw context, but music offers the feeling and connection to vital moments in time where words alone sometimes fail. That was the intention behind these popular songs, which many people never realized were about actual world events.

1. “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones: Penned by Mick Jagger with an assist from Keith Richards, their darkly upbeat manifesto recounts history from Satan’s perspective, mentioning Jesus’ crucifixion, the murder of the Romanovs, and the Kennedy assassinations.

MoMA / Sympathy for the Devil / Cupid Productions

2. “American Pie” by Don McLean: Coining the phrase “the day the music died,” Don McLean’s pop-culture-reference-packed hit was written to commemorate the deaths of musicians Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens in a 1959 plane crash.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / Surf Ballroom and Museum

3. “Smoke On The Water” by Deep Purple: The first song everyone learns on guitar was born from witnessing a harrowing scene in Switzerland. From their hotel across the lake, the band watched flames engulf the Montreux Casino Complex, sparked by a fan shooting a flare gun at a concert.

Twitter / Classic Rock In Pics

4. “Calypso” by John Denver: It makes sense that two gentle souls like John Denver and Jacques-Yves Cousteau were close buds. Their friendship left a real impact on Denver, so much so, that he detailed the ocean conservationist’s voyages in song. 

Lagardere Studios / The Cousteau Society

5. “Mississippi Goddam” by Nina Simone: It took less than an hour to write one of the most powerful political songs of all time. Simone’s creative inspiration was fueled by the injustice of Medgar Evers’ murder and the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church.

ABC News

6.“Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young: The nation was hot with anger in the wake of the Kent State Shootings of 1970. Some 4 million students rose up in protest; Neil Young channeled his deep hurt into song.

History.com

7. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot: Rising to the number two spot on the Canadian charts, this song at its core was motivated by storytelling. As more details emerged about the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald into Lake Superior, Lightfoot updated the verses.

MPR News / Robert Campbell

8.“Let Him Dangle” by Elvis Costello: Lyric by lyric, this song unfolds the circumstances of the controversial murder trial and subsequent hanging of 19-year-old Derek Bentley in 1954. Today it stands as the foremost anthem against capital punishment.

Birmingham Mail

9.“Blackbird” by The Beatles: Paul McCartney summed up the meaning of the massive hit, “this whole idea of ‘you were only waiting for this moment to arise’ was about, you know, the black people’s struggle in the southern states, and I was using the symbolism of a blackbird.”

10. “The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby & the Range: Tupac sampled it in his hit “Changes,” but this song was released 12 years earlier. In essence, similar to the hip hop version, it’s a commentary on the Civil Rights Movement and race and class divisions.

Sun Chronicle / Carol Spagnuoia

11. “99 Luftballons” by Nena: The German band’s guitarist spotted some balloons while at a concert in West Berlin, and he envisioned how easily their appearance could send Cold War tensions into an overactive military death zone.

Bild / Kristian Schuller

12. “Zombie” by The Cranberries: The late lead singer Dolores O’Riordan explained, “When it says in the song, ‘It’s not me, it’s not my family,’ that’s what I’m saying. It’s not Ireland.” She was moved to make a musical statement after the 1993 IRA bombing of Warrington.

Rare Historical Photos

13. “Abraham, Martin, and John” by Marvin Gaye: While Marvin’s version is widely known, he was one of a few to cover the song chronicling the assassinations of iconic figures Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy.

14. “Black Friday” by Steely Dan: Long before the chaos of the retail holiday, Black Friday stood for the day the gold prices skyrocketed then plummeted, sinking the country into mass poverty. The narrator of this tune runs scenarios of his survival plan.

Berlin Spectator / Steely Dan

15. “The Rising” by Bruce Springsteen: Few voices resonate with Americans as strongly as The Boss’, which is why he felt a duty to write a moving remembrance of the September 11th attacks, later earning several Grammys and a Song of the Year nomination.

Billboard

16. “When The Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin: Metalheads would do well to remember this song was a cover from a tune written 42 years earlier by blues legends Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie about the devastating Great Mississippi Flood of 1929.

Black Past / Public Domain

17.“Cortez the Killer” by Neil Young: As a high school student studying Spanish history, Neil scribbled out an early draft of this song about conquistador Hernán Cortés and his conquest of Mexico from the Aztecs.

18.“Biko” by Peter Gabriel: Hearing about the death of South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko on the news, the former Genesis frontman eulogized the hero through song. The sampled recordings at the beginning and end were also played at Biko’s funeral.

South African History Online / BAHA

19. “April 29, 1992 (Miami)” by Sublime: The title refers to the 1992 Los Angeles riots in response to the beating of Rodney King by the police. If you’re singing it, you’ll note the lyrics are “April 26,” an error they kept because it was their best take.

Orange County Register / Los Angeles Daily News

20. “Suffer Little Children” by The Smiths: Lead singer Morrissey grew up in England during the 1960’s when the infamous Moors murders took place. The aptly named song is about the gruesome child murders committed by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.

Wikimedia Commons

He got a lot of backlash for lyrics such as “Edward, see those alluring lights? / Tonight will be your very last night” but he claimed that he meant no harm. The musician actually befriended the mother of one of the victims.

WikiCommons

21. “Annie Christian” by Prince: The synthetic cacophony that is this track off of Prince’s Controversy mentions a whole string of crimes, including the Atlanta child murders, the assassination of John Lennon, and attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.

Wikimedia Commons

The song presents the life story of so-called Annie Christian, making her the executor of the above atrocities. If you’ll notice, Annie Christian is a play on the phrase antichrist. Prince paints this thankfully fictional figure as the truest evil incarnate.

22. “1913 Massacre” by Woody Guthrie: This folksy ballad is about the “Italian Hall Disaster of 1913.” Miners on strike accompanied by their families were enjoying a Christmas party when someone yelled “Fire!” Panic ensued and a stampede of people soon followed.

The stampede killed 73 people, the majority of them being children. No one knows who falsely yelled fire, but many believe it was an anti-union representative sent to cause mayhem on purpose. One listen to this tune, and you’ll know where Guthrie stands.

Wystan / Flickr

23. “Hurricane” by Bob Dylan: In this 1975 track, Dylan sings of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. He was a black boxer accused of murdering three people in 1966. Despite his claims of innocence, he was ultimately convicted and put in jail.

Wikimedia Commons

Dylan places blame on the racist practices of the justice system for Carter’s wrongful conviction. In 1985, Carter was finally released from prison after a judge ruled that his case was based on “racism rather than reason and concealment rather than disclosure.”

nps.org

24. “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” by Sufjan Stevens: The eccentric musician sings of the infamous monster. Layered with delicate guitar work, the track and lyrics seem to drip with empathy for a man who committed 33 murders.

WikiCommons

When asked about his strange take on the serial killer, Stevens said, “I felt insurmountable empathy not with his behavior but with his nature, and there was nothing I could do to get around confessing that, however horrifying that sounds.”

25. “Deep Red Bells” by Neko Case: The indie songstress tackles Gary Ridgway, the “Green River Killer.” Active throughout the ’80s and ’90s, he is convicted of murdering almost 50 women. “Past empty lots and early graves / Of those like you who lost their way,” Case narrates the victim experience.

WikiCommons

Case grew up in the area where Ridgway was active before he was finally arrested, and she used to carry a knife to school for self-defense. It was a scary time for everyone.

Mike Siegel / Seattle Times

26. “Nebraska” by Bruce Springsteen: In this song, Springsteen sings from the perspective of the serial murderer Charles Starkweather, who went on a rampage in 1957 that resulted in the deaths of 11 people. He was only 19 at the time and was accompanied by his girlfriend.

DoD News / Flickr

Toward the end of the track, Starkweather sits in the electric chair and his executioner asks him why he did what he did. Springsteen delivers his response with a low croon set to a wailing harmonica, “Well, sir, I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.”

WikiCommons

27. “Wildside” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch: This 1991 track samples Lou Reed’s 1972 “Walk on the Wild Side” and reads like an indictment of violent crime in the United States. The track is a pointed departure from their hit “Good Vibrations.”

Marky Mark himself presents raps about three different crimes, including the murder of pregnant woman Carol Stuart, who was murdered by her husband. The guilty party then blamed it on an innocent black man.

Charles Stuart

28. “Brenda’s Got A Baby” by 2Pac: Released in 1991, the rapper wanted to highlight the horrifying news story of the same year in which a 12-year-old girl in Brooklyn threw her newborn baby away. But the song is about more than this tragic isolated incident.

Tupac / Youtube

His powerful lyrics cover poverty, inequality, child abuse, and drug addiction in poor communities, emphasizing the innocent that get hurt as he explained to The New Yorker in 1997. Incredibly, the real life baby that was thrown in the trash actually survived!

2Pac / Youtube

29. Darkness by Eminem: Historically Eminem is not afraid to address the darkest of topics. In this 2020 track, he takes on one of the most horrific mass shootings of our time. He raps from the perspective of the 2017 Las Vegas shooter on the night the crime was committed.

Wikimedia Commons

“And I’m already sweatin’ but I’m locked and loaded,” the song goes, “For rapid fire spittin’ for all the concert-goers.” Thankfully, not every song is based on some gruesome crime or violence.

Bridget Bennett

30. “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel: Although he originally wrote the song for his then-girlfriend Elle MacPherson, Joel later dedicated “Uptown Girl” to his second wife, Christie Brinkley. The song was originally called “Uptown Girls” in reference to the many famous women he hung around with.

Express UK

31. “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney: Just before the Beatles broke up in 1969, McCartney wrote this song as a thank you to his wife Linda for supporting him through the difficult time. “Maybe I’m Amazed” is often considered one of McCartney’s finest love songs.

32. “Photograph” by Def Leppard: After seeing a photo of the late Marilyn Monroe, lead singer Joe Elliott found himself torn up over the fact he’d never get the chance to win her love. He wrote “Photograph” to express this longing and even featured Monroe lookalikes in the music video.

33. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Stills & Nash: In the lead up to his breakup with singer/songwriter Judy Collins, Stephen Stills penned this song to give his perspective on the relationship. Intended as a solo work, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” actually led to the formation of the band.

34. “It Ain’t Me, Babe” by Bob Dylan: Though made famous by his best-known muse Joan Baez, Dylan wrote “It Ain’t Me, Babe” while traveling through Italy in 1963 in search of his former girlfriend Suze Rotolo.

35. “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses: While the song’s music was created completely by accident, Axl Rose’s lyrics were inspired by his then-girlfriend Erin Everly. He wrote the song in a single night and “Sweet Child o’ Mine” became the band’s only number-one hit.

36. “Ipanema” by Astrud Gilberto: Composer Vinicius de Moraes penned the song for Helô Pinheiro, a local Brazilian girl who passed him each day on the beaches of Ipanema. The song became an international hit and propelled Pinheiro to stardom.

37. “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond: Though Diamond has more recently maintained that the universal drinking anthem was inspired by his ex-wife Marsha, he originally claimed that he wrote the song after seeing this photo of Caroline Kennedy on the cover of Life magazine.

JFK Library

38. “Woman” by John Lennon: Dedicated to Yoko Ono and women everywhere, Lennon called “Woman” a “grown up” version of the Beatles love song “Girl.” It was the first single issued following Lennon’s murder in 1980.

39. “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones: Though singer Claudia Lennear maintains that the song was written about her, “Brown Sugar” was actually inspired by actress Marsha Hunt. She and Mick Jagger had a 10-month affair that led to the birth of the singer’s first child, Karis.

40. “Candle in the Wind” by Elton John: Originally penned as a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, lyricist Bernie Taupin rewrote the song for John to perform at Princess Diana’s funeral. This version became an instant hit and topped the charts in the UK.

Bustle

41. “Athena” by The Who: After his feelings for American actress Theresa Russell weren’t reciprocated, Who guitarist Pete Townshend wrote “Theresa” in another attempt to win her over. It didn’t work, and so the band renamed the song “Athena” to make it less personal.

42. “Our House” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: During his two-year stint living with Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash wrote “Our House” as a reflection on their domestic life together. The song specifically discusses a day where he and Mitchell bought a vase together.

43. “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel: While many believe Toto’s “Rosanna” was based on Rosanna Arquette, the actress actually inspired Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” The couple dated for several years before splitting in 1992.

44. “And I Love Her” by The Beatles: An early hit from the Fab Four, “And I Love Her” was the first song McCartney genuinely impressed himself with. The Beatles frontman wrote the song for his then-fiancé Jane Asher.

45. “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith: Inspired by an interview in which actor James Brolin gushed over his wife Barbra Streisand, songwriter Diane Warren penned “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” which Aerosmith then recorded for the film Armageddon.

46. “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder: This classic Stevie Wonder hit was inspired by none other than his daughter, Aisha Morris. The extended version of the song actually features a recording of Aisha crying in the intro.

47. “My Sharona” by The Knack: Unsurprisingly, “My Sharona” was written about a woman named Sharona. Knack frontman Doug Fieger fell head over heels for Sharona Alperin the moment he spotted her and composed the catchy tune in just 15 minutes.

48. “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton: After finding success under the guidance of country singer Porter Wagoner, Parton decided to pursue a solo career in 1974. She wrote “I Will Always Love You” as a thank-you to Wagoner.

49. “Something” by The Beatles: One of George Harrison’s most memorable compositions, “Something” was his ode to his first wife, Pattie Boyd. Yet a single song can’t do justice to the complex and torrid affair that was Harrison and Boyd’s relationship…

Sioux City Journal

The year was 1964, and “Beatlemania” was in full effect. “I Want To Hold Your Hand” topped the charts, and the band’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show set the record for the most-watched television program in American history.

IMDb

Naturally, the “Fab Four” wanted to capitalize on their newfound fame, so when United Artists Records approached them with a three-movie deal they jumped at the offer. Just like their records, A Hard Day’s Night went on to become a major commercial success.

United Artists

But the Beatles’ first feature film didn’t just bring them fame and fortune — it also brought them love. While shooting scenes for the movie, one of the extras took a particular shine to George Harrison.

That extra was Pattie Boyd, a 20-year-old British model that regularly graced the covers of Vogue, Elle, and Vanity Fair. With her long hair, wide eyes, and signature mini-skirts, Boyd was the embodiment of the British “look” of the 1960s.

Pinterest

Harrison was equally taken by his newfound admirer, though at the time, Boyd was in a relationship with photographer Eric Swayne. Undeterred, Harrison asked “Will you marry me?” and at her refusal, he responded: “Well, if you won’t marry me, will you have dinner with me tonight?”

Less than a week later, Boyd broke things off with Swayne and took Harrison up on his offer. The couple stepped out for an evening at the Garrick Club in central London, marking the start of what would become a passionate, whirlwind romance.

Following a brief engagement, Harrison and Boyd wed on January 21, 1966. They held a small ceremony at a register office in Epsom, and bandmate Paul McCartney served as Harrison’s best man.

Harrison credited Boyd for significantly broadening his world view, which included his adoption of Indian lifestyle practices and Eastern mysticism. His relationship with Boyd also inspired his music, leading to Beatles hits like “I Need You,” “Love You To,” and “For You Blue.”

But perhaps the most iconic song spawned from Harrison and Boyd’s love was “Something” off 1969’s Abbey Road. Hailed as Harrison’s finest work, “Something” is widely considered to be one of the greatest Beatles songs of all time.

Yet the spark between Harrison and Boyd began to fizzle out in the early ’70s amidst spiritual differences and Harrison’s increasing dependency on alcohol and drugs. During this time, another musician stepped into Boyd’s life: Eric Clapton.

Boyd thought of Clapton as nothing more than a friend and collaborator of Harrison’s, though that all changed when she received an anonymous love letter signed “E.” Clapton later approached Boyd at a party to ask if she’d gotten his message.

Torn between the two men, Boyd was approached by Harrison who, sensing the situation, asked who she was going home with that night. Boyd agreed to stay with Harrison, driving Clapton into depression, heroin addiction, and a three-year hiatus from music.

In an effort to satisfy his unrequited feelings, Clapton wrote “Layla,” a play on The Story of Layla and Majnun in which a young man is driven mad by an unattainable love. Though the song failed to win Boyd, “Layla” is now considered a rock-n-roll masterpiece.

Fortunately for Clapton, however, Boyd’s marriage to Harrison ended in 1977 following the latter’s affair with bandmate Ringo Starr’s wife. The jaded guitarist tried to win Boyd’s affections just as he’d done before — only this time, he was successful.

CNN

Boyd married Clapton in 1979 and became yet another legendary musician’s muse. Both “Bell Bottom Blues” and “Wonderful Tonight” were inspired by Boyd, though the good times wouldn’t last.

Unable to cope with the stress of this new marriage Boyd began drinking heavily, and Clapton soon followed suit. Infidelity strained the relationship much as it had with Harrison, and by the late ’80s, the couple was on the outs.

Boyd divorced Clapton in 1989, citing his numerous affairs and “unreasonable behavior.” In Boyd’s mind, Clapton’s infatuation had only been a product of his competitive relationship with Harrison: “Eric just wanted what George had.”

Genesis Publications

In the wake of two failed marriages, Boyd decided the music industry was no place for her heart. She began dating property developer Rod Weston in 1991, and the couple wed 24 years later in 2015.

Despite the heartache, Boyd still continues to look back on her days as one of music’s most influential muses. Her candid photos of both the Beatles and Clapton have been featured in exhibitions across the globe, and in 2007, she released her autobiography, Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me.

Even today, Boyd is still asked which of her two great loves had the biggest influence on her life. “That is so difficult,” she once confessed, “but I would say George. He will always stay with me.”

beatles beatles beatles / Tumblr

Though Harrison died of lung cancer in 2001, his legacy lives on through McCartney and Starr, who are still alive and kicking today — or, at least, that’s what some people believe. For the better part of five decades, one dark rumor about McCartney followed the band.

Starr may be the only person who knows the real truth. While he doesn’t like to address it in interviews, one question about a former bandmate still comes up again and again. Ringo admitted that it was a troubled time for the Fab Four.

The Independent

See, ever since the mid-1960s, rock listeners have had questions about the whereabouts of Paul McCartney. Sure, he and Ringo appeared in public together as recently as 2018, but not everyone is convinced both men onstage were real Beatles.

Rolling Stone

How could that be? Since Beatlemania erupted on a worldwide scale in 1964, not one of John, Paul, George, or Ringo have been able to go anywhere without being recognized. They reached an unprecedented level of fame.

NME

Everywhere they went, throngs of frenzied girls followed them. But after one 1969 radio broadcast, Beatles fans were screaming for a completely different reason. Many feared one of their heroes had met a grisly end.

Katie Greenwood

One night, Detriot disc jockey Russ Gibb took a call from an anonymous source who claimed that Paul McCartney had secretly died and been replaced with a double. Russ entertained the crackpot for a while but never imagined listeners would believe him.

Ultimate Classic Rock

In the ensuing weeks, tabloids and reporters began running the story as if it were fact. The “Paul Is Dead” rumors actually started years earlier – back when The Beatles stopped touring and changed their look — but now it had hit the mainstream.

Here’s the myth: Paul was speeding down a long-and-winding road one November night in 1966. Amid the icy conditions, he lost control of his car and veered into a pole, killing him instantly. Before the press picked up the tragedy, the band covered it up.

YouTube / freakineagle

Allegedly, manager Brian Epstein predicted that Paul’s demise would sink The Beatles and cause mass panic. So, in secret, he organized a search for a McCartney lookalike. They found their double in a man named William Shears Campbell.

Peter Kaye

At the same time, the three surviving musicians supposedly wrestled with extreme guilt. They could only bear it by hinting at Paul’s secret death and replacement. Before long, fans claimed to identify clues all over The Beatles’ catalog.

For example, conspiracy theorists thought the band’s alter-ego experiment in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was all a nod to the cover-up. The Beatles did name drop Billy Shears in “With A Little Help From My Friends,” after all.

Far-fetched as it sounded, a number of fans bought into the story. They pulled out photos of Paul from 1964 and 1967 and claimed there were enough facial differences to prove these were two different men! Naturally, they ignored the effects of aging and facial hair.

The Beatles added fuel to the fire by acknowledging the rumors in their work. For instance, a garbled voice appears at the end of the song “I’m So Tired.” When played backwards, it chants aloud, “Paul is a dead man. Miss him, miss him!”

The Beatles Bible

In addition, the cover of Abbey Road resembled a funeral procession. John led the way in a minister’s white outfit, Ringo followed in a black undertaker’s suit, Paul signified his death with a cigarette and no shoes, and George wore the blue-collar denim of a gravedigger.

With the Detroit radio broadcast, the “Paul is dead” conspiracy reached its peak. Though after The Beatles broke up in 1970, Paul disappeared from the public eye. Was there some truth to his downfall?

No, not so much. Following the band’s breakup, Paul and his wife Linda retreated to their Scotland farm. He did regular interviews to prove to everyone he was still alive and kicking, but a small group of naysayers just weren’t buying it.

Daily Mail

Many hit singles and sold-out tours later, tinfoil hat wearers still insisted that this man simply wasn’t Paul McCartney. They alleged that the same impostor from 1966 was coasting off of The Beatles’ success, as he knew most people would never believe his secret.

Los Angeles Times

These days, Paul has mostly laughed off the hoax. Maybe the Fab Four shouldn’t have indulged the paranoids out there, but they were mostly just making fun of it. However, he admitted he did get into a crash in 1966.

GQ

Fortunately, this accident wasn’t nearly as horrific as the urban legend. The Beatle fell off his moped, resulting in him chipping his tooth. Paul actually grew a mustache shortly after to hide a small scar on his lip too!

As for Ringo, he never suspected his longtime friend of being replaced by a lookalike. That theory is simply too absurd and convoluted, he claims. Plus, The Beatles never could’ve found a quality double — there is only one Paul McCartney.

Cincinnati Enquirer

Dead or alive, Paul McCartney attained the rare status of a living legend; he’s been through it all, even developing a friendship with other music legends like Mick Jagger, with whom he’s exchanged a few stories.

For anyone who’s ever turned on a radio, Mick Jagger is the embodiment of the rock and roll frontman. Charismatic, provocative, and enduring, he cemented himself as a musical icon. But he came of age at a time when nobody bet on a British rock band to succeed.

Chicago Sun-Times

Born to a middle-class family in 1943, Mick enjoyed a happy childhood outside London. He enjoyed singing from his earliest days, and he almost never stopped. Whether in the shower or the church choir, he belted it out — though his tastes were a bit scandalous.

Stones Archive

As he came of age, Mick felt the closest affinity to American blues singers like Muddy Waters. This music didn’t fit in with the ideals of respectable English life, but Mick wanted nothing to do with that. Soon, he met friends who felt the same way.

Muddy Waters

In 1961, Mick bumped into an old classmate, Keith Richards, at the Dartford train station. They didn’t know each other well, but like magnets, they attracted when they saw what the other was holding. Mick had a bundle of rock records, while Keith clutched a guitar.

IORR

Keith and Mick joined forces and played around London. In 1962, they responded to a newspaper ad for rhythm and blues musicians. The final lineup brought in Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, and Bill Wyman and took its name from the Muddy Waters’ song, “Rollin’ Stone.”

GQ

With British rock suddenly exploding on the charts, the Stones got serious and hired a manager. The caustic Andrew Loog Oldham transformed them into the anti-Beatles, with a crude attitude and shabby appearance. Still, they took one big idea from the Fab Four.

Oldham understood that performers writing their own songs would define the future of pop music. Banking on the natural chemistry of Jagger and Richards, he locked them in a kitchen one night and wouldn’t let them out until they penned a single.

Bob Bonis Archive

Crazy as it sounds, the plan worked! The Stones had hits with covers before, but now their original singles were setting the charts on fire. In 1965, the scorching “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” reached Number One all over the world. Still, stardom wasn’t all perks.

Decca

Authorities didn’t take kindly to Mick’s rebellious attitude, so they sought to take him down. In an overpowered sting, police raided a Stones party and arrested Jagger for drug possession. The singer evaded jail time but saw legal fees drain his bank account.

The New York Times

Jagger’s personal life wasn’t the only source of strife. The musicians had to fire Brian Jones, an original Rolling Stone and close friend, when his substance use made it impossible for him to play. Brian drowned in his swimming pool a month later.

Even in the face of tragedy, the Rolling Stones kept pushing the envelope and pumping out the hits. They seemed invincible, outlasting every rock group of their generation. Of course, they all paused when they heard about a death warrant for Mick Jagger.

See, in the twilight of 1969, the Stones organized the Altamont Free Concert, a festival they hoped would top Woodstock. The short-sighted band hired the Hells Angels, a notorious biker gang, for security. Tragically, the thugs got out of control and murdered a fan right in front of the stage.

Daily Mail / Beth Bagby

Jagger and his bandmates swiftly denounced the bloodthirsty bikers, who vowed to seek revenge. The most ruthless Angels plotted to assassinate the singer throughout the 1970s, but it didn’t phase Mick. In fact, he took his career in completely new directions.

Vogue

Already a dynamo onstage, Mick tried his luck in front of the camera. His starring roles in films like Ned Kelly and Performance got decent reviews. Notably, the singer almost nabbed the lead role in The Rocky Horror Picture Show before Tim Curry won the part.

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones continued success into the ’80s belied a fracture within the group. Mick’s growing flamboyance and attempt at a solo career enraged Keith Richards. For a long time, the lifelong partners stopped speaking to each other.

NME

However, Mick believed he didn’t need Keith’s friendship. For one thing, he had the attention of countless beautiful women. He was married to the stunning Bianca Perez-Mora Macias for years before entering a long relationship with model Jerry Hall.

All the while, Mick carried on a number of other dalliances, which resulted in quite a complicated family tree. The frontman has fathered eight children with five different women over the years. Most recently, he welcomed a baby boy at age 73!

The Sun

In every facet of life, Mick dedicated himself to being the consummate bad boy, but he received an unexpected honor in 2003. Britain knighted him! The singer accepted with a smile, though of course his old pal Keith accused him of selling out.

Daily Mail

Despite the ego-fuel squabbles, the fans and music kept the Rolling Stones out on the stage. Although they surpassed retirement age, they sought to reach new heights, like when they played a free concert to a newly opened Cuba in 2016.

The New York Times

But how long would Mick and company be able to keep it up? Fans feared the worst in 2019, when the Rolling Stones canceled a slew of concert dates so that their vocalist could undergo heart surgery.

TMZ

However, Mick was back up and rehearsing in no time! He shared a video of himself practicing his dance moves to prove that he wouldn’t leave the limelight until he was bloody ready. Nobody else can quite move like Jagger.

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