Taylor Swift – We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
Renowned as something of a serial kiss-and-not-quite-teller, Taylor Swift has many songs rumoured to be about old flames. One of the best, though, is this love-hate number, believed by fans to be about her relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal (telltale clues in the video, they claim, include a scene in which the actor playing Taylor’s ex gives her his scarf to wear – Swift had been pictured wearing Gyllenhaal’s scarf in public – and a bracelet similar to one gifted to her by Gyllenhaal).
Although the power of the on-off infatuation is clear, it doesn’t paint a flattering picture: “I’m really gonna miss you picking fights and me / Falling for it screaming that I’m right and you / Would hide away and find your piece of mind / With some indie record that’s much cooler than mine.”
Swift told USA Today that the song was about an ex who “made me feel like I wasn’t as good or as relevant as these hipster bands he listened to… So I made a song that I knew would absolutely drive him crazy when he heard it on the radio. Not only would it hopefully be played a lot, so that he’d have to hear it, but it’s the opposite of the kind of music that he was trying to make me feel inferior to.”
Rick Springfield – Jessie’s Girl
Highlight of a hundred 80s teen movie nostalgia playlists, Rick Springfield’s air-punching anthem actually takes inspiration from a real-life forbidden crush, only the friend in question was named Gary, not Jessie. In fact, he wasn’t much of a friend – he was an acquaintance that Springfield briefly met while they were both, along with Gary’s girlfriend, taking a stained-glass-making class in Pasadena, California.
“I was completely turned on to his girlfriend, but she was just not interested,” Springfield told Songfacts. “So I had a lot of sexual angst, and I went home and wrote a song about it… He was getting it and I wasn’t, and it was really tearing me up. And sexual angst is an amazing motivator to write a song.”
All that pent-up frustration gave Springfield a global hit. After a few weeks the couple moved out of his life, never to be heard of again, despite his subsequent attempts to contact them.
Feargal Sharkey – A Good Heart
Crosby, Stills & Nash – Guinnevere / Lady of the Island
The 70s LA singer-songwriter scene was notoriously incestuous and self-referential. There are particularly juicy examples on the debut album by folk-rock supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash, which opens with Stephen Stills’s Judy Blue Eyes, a suite of songs dedicated to his soon to be ex-girlfriend, folk singer Judy Collins. Even more interesting, though, are Guinnevere and Lady of the Island, sung by David Crosbyand Graham Nash respectively about the same woman – Joni Mitchell. Mitchell had dated Crosby for a while in 1967, but when ex-Hollie Graham Nash moved to the US in 1969, she moved him into her house almost immediately. As such, Crosby’s song is more elegiac, a reflection on loves lost (“She turns her gaze down the slope to the harbour where I lay anchored / Turned out to be such a short day”), whereas Nash’s song reflects intensely on new intimacy: “The brownness of your body in the fire glow / Except the places where the sun refused to go / Our bodies were a perfect fit in afterglow we lay.”