Unlikely sources of songwriting inspiration

Walk this way Igor!

Musical inspiration strikes at the oddest of times; while taking the dog for a walk, picking up a fork in a restaurant, or the old favourite, in the shower. But the stories behind these tunes takes things to a whole new level. From dreams of Lemmy Kilmister to 80s slasher flicks, the inspirations for these songs are… well, let’s just call them odd.

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit

It’s the song of a certain generation and although repeated airplay sort of ruined it for many, it’s still one of the most groundbreaking songs ever released and the first single from their worst album ever. But the story behind the song is pretty funny. Most take it as a rebellious display of angst, and that was of course how Cobain intended it to be. But the whole thing came about in a rather unusual way.

The lead singer of Bikini Kill, Katherine Hanna, wrote the song title on Cobain’s wall suggesting that he smelled like a girl’s deodorant. It was a joke, but Cobain thought it was something completely different and wrote a song about it. So yes, your teenage years of jumping around alternative discos were inspired by a deodorant for teenagers.

High on Fire – Electric Messiah

High on Fire’s Matt Pike claims that his inspiration for ‘Electric Messiah’ was a dream he had that featured Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister. Apparently, Lemmy ranted at him saying that he was trying to take his throne and that inspired the track. Yes, it’s really weird.

To be honest, we prefer Lemmy’s tale of writing the all-time classic ‘Ace of Spades’. He based the song on as much casino and cards terminology as possible while sitting in the back of a speeding Ford Transit. Besides, the fact that Pike dreamed of Lemmy thinking that he could be held in the same regard says a lot about his self-confidence.

Aerosmith – Walk This Way

It’s as classic a rock tune as you can get, and the version with Run DMC was one of the most well-received collaborations of opposing musical genres. But the inspiration for this song didn’t come from Steven Tyler’s unusual on-stage gait, nor did it come from his obsession with models.

While recording Toys in the Attic, the band took a break and watched some TV. Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein was on, and they heard the line “walk this way” uttered by Igor. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The Beatles – I Am The Walrus


John Lennon liked to mess with peoples’ minds.

Ask any diehard fan what this song is about, and you’ll no doubt hear a different story from each. It’s one of the most confusing songs ever written, and throughout the years there have been innumerable attempts to decipher its meaning. But there really was no need.
The story goes that John Lennon received a letter from a fan explaining that their professor was making them study the meaning behind their lyrics. So being the man that he was, Lennon decided to write the most nonsensical lyrics he could imagine. We’re not entirely sure if this is true, but we really hope it is.

The Carpenters – We’ve Only Just Begun

It’s an easy-listening tune that your older relatives hum along to every time it’s on the radio. It’s so perfectly endearing a song that it simply had to have some uber-romantic inspiration, right? Well if you find the world of finance romantic then yes, this is about as romantic as you can get.

The music for the song was actually penned for a bank commercial. And when Richard and Karen Carpenter heard it on the TV, they asked the composer Roger Nichols and songwriter Paul Williams to write them a full-length version. Your parents will be crushed.

Michael Sembello – Maniac

Pick up any ultimate 80s compilation and the chances are ‘Maniac’ will be one of the first five tracks on the album. It was a one-hit wonder, but what a wonder it was. However, the inspiration for lead single for the movie Flashdance wasn’t the enthusiastic dance moves of a young Jennifer Beals.

Sembello and his writing partner, Dennis Matkosky, actually wrote the song about a 1980 slasher pic also called Maniac. The lyrics were a little different, mentioning the nailing of a cat to a door, but it was reworked for the film and became an instant hit. Flashdance as a slasher flick sounds quite good though!

So, if you’re an aspiring songwriter and stuck for inspiration, stop beating yourself up. These songs are proof that inspiration comes in all kinds of weird shapes and sizes and can strike at any time. Take note of your dreams people; there could be a hit in there somewhere.

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Jamie Coughlan is the founder of Overblown. He talks a lot about himself and is totally pretentious. Terrible with personal finances. Loves beer gardens. He has written for the RTE Guide, A Music Blog, Yea?, The Thin Air, Gigwise, and is a contributor to The Tipping Point.