Songs Based on Real Events

How Various Actual Events, Sometimes Catastrophic Ones, Led to the Creation of Some of Music’s Biggest Hits
Musicians are artists and their canvas is the melody and lyrics that put together their songs. Talk to any musician and they will tell you that they pull their inspirations from a wide variety of emotions including love, heartbreak, pain, rebellion, hope, imagination and so much more. Some musicians even prefer that their songs be interpreted by the listener themselves so they can take their own individual messages away from the lyrical content.

But there are actually quite a few hit songs out there that were inspired by actual real-life events that took place throughout history, some good and some bad, but all the same, these events had a great influence on the artists and helped created some incredibly memorable songs. We have taken a look at a few hit songs that were inspired by actual events and the impact those events had on the artists, as they felt the need to immortalize them in song. Some of the songs on this list may surprise you, but it certainly provides great insight into the mind of the artist and their reactions to various life events.

Smoke On The Water from Deep Purple – On December 4, 1971, Deep Purple was in Monteux, Switzerland recording their new album at the Casino Complex. It so happened that Frank Zappa was playing a show at the same Casino Complex when a fan set off a flare gun during the show that ended up starting a fire that burned down the entire Casino Complex. Thankfully there were no major injuries during the incident, but it led to the creation of what was to become Deep Purple’s biggest hit song.
Ballroom Blitz from The Sweet – This song was inspired by an incident that took place in 1973 where the band was performing live and they were driven offstage by a barrage of bottles being thrown at them. The song hit the top five in 1975 and we are guessing at that point in time no more bottles were being thrown!
The Streak from Ray Stevens – It seems that everyone was getting naked at public events in the year 1974 and this was Ray Steven’s commentary. The song was number one for roughly three weeks.
We Didn’t Start The Fire from Billy Joel– Billy Joel is the master of crafting a song about events, he didn’t just choose a single event. Joel’s song covers nearly every world event that took place from his childhood in 1949 till the time he was forty years in 1989 when the song was released. To be exact, he mentions 117 events that changed the world, or if you want to be precise, 118 as he mentions Richard Nixon twice! The song covers a lot of ground and just try to sing it all from memory …we’ll wait!
Castle On The Hill from Ed Sheeran– Following Billy Joel’s playbook singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran crafted this 2017 song speaking about a variety of personal events that took place for him during the trajectory of his career starting from his childhood at age six to the time in which he began his rise to superstardom.
American Pie from Don McLean – This deeply sad song was penned by McLean after the tragic deaths of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens due to a plane crash that occurred in 1959. McLean also wrote a tribute to the life and death of artist Vincent Van Gogh with the beautiful song Vincent.
The Night Chicago Died from Paper Lace – This catchy pop tune was actually inspired by gangster Al Capone and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
When The Levee Breaks from Led Zeppelin – This song is actually is a cover song that was written during a great Mississippi River flood that occurred in 1929. Led Zeppelin without a doubt made it their own and secured the tragedy in everyone’s memory, as it will not be forgotten.
Winds Of Change from The Scorpions – This song was inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. If you truly listen to the lyrics you can definitely pick up the theme.
Fortunate Son from Creedence Clearwater Revival – Many looked at this song as being patriotic, however, John Fogerty was actually commenting on just the opposite. It was about Fogerty’s discharge from the army during the Vietnam War and how upset he was becoming with soldiers being forced into combat.
The Little Things You Give Away from Linkin Park – This song was penned after Hurricane Katrina devastated the South and is a call for action to correct the unjust practices that the U.S. government was taking in helping the storm victims.
Uprising from Muse – This track was inspired by the G20 riots that took place in London in 2009 against the dishonesty of various global corporations around the world. It was Muse’s way to express their anger and commentary about the situation.
Darkness from Eminem – This deeply haunting song off of Eminem’s recent album Music To Be Murdered By was inspired by the horrific 2017 shooting deaths of over fifty people who were attending a concert festival in Las Vegas. The song is told from the perspective of the shooter and is both deeply disturbing and thought-provoking at the same time.
A Day In The Life from The Beatles – This song was inspired by the tragic death of one of the band’s acquaintances named Tara Browne. Browne had died in a car crash a few months prior to The Beatles entering the studio to record. The lyric “he blew his mind out in a car” is the reference as Lennon is searching through a newspaper to find the story.
The Ballad Of The Beaconsfield Miners from the Foo Fighters – The beautiful interlude was created by The Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl after learning that during a coal mine collapse in Beaconsfield, Australia where two miners were trapped for two days, one of the trapped miners only requested water and an iPod containing the new Foo Fighters album. Grohl penned the track in tribute to the man’s bravery and the loyalty of their fan base. He even offered to have a beer with the man the next time the band was in town.
Candle In The Wind from Elton John – This song is actually a twofer for Elton John as the song was originally written as a tribute to the late Marilyn Monroe, as the beginning lyric uses her real name “Goodbye Norma Jean”. The song later had a huge resurgence when Princess Diana tragically died in a car accident in 1997. Elton and Princess Di were very dear friends and the opening lyrics were changed to “Goodbye England’s Rose”.
Alice’s Restaurant from Arlo Guthrie – This 18-minute long satire song is based on 1960’s counter culture, but is inspired on a real event that took place. It is also a Thanksgiving staple, at least on Philadelphia, PA radio, as 93.3 WMMR plays it twice on that day as a tradition.