Learn the meaning the behind these 7 iconic rock songs

Source: Tom E. Puskar/AP

Who would have guessed that Mel Brooks was the inspiration behind Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" or that a song by the Clash was actually about a fear of drowning? Some of the most popular and well-known songs in the history of rock music come with surprising stories about how and why they were written. Read on to learn the hidden meaning behind some of the most iconic songs in music history. 

"London Calling"

Source: YouTube

The Clash's song is often perceived as a condemning political statement, but it's actually an account of Joe Strummer's fear of drowning as a result of the Thames River flooding London. 

"Sympathy for the Devil"

Source: YouTube

This six-minute atmospheric narration mentions religious figures like Jesus Christ and Pontius Pilate as it examines the question of good and evil. Inspired by the novel The Master and the Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov, the 1968 Rolling Stones track also references the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia, the Kennedys and World War II. 

"Hotel California"

Source: YouTube

This famous Eagles song has inspired numerous theories about its meaning, but Don Henley cleared up any confusion in 2002 when he told 60 Minutes, "It's basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about." He elaborated on this thought further in Rolling Stone, saying, "We were all middle-class kids from the Midwest. 'Hotel California' was our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles." 

"Walk This Way"

Source: YouTube

This popular song was inspired in part by Mel Brooks' movie Young Frankenstein, in which a character mimics another's distinctive gait after being instructed to "walk this way." Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler wrote the first lyrics that night at his hotel, but he left them in a taxi the next day. 

"Hey Jude"

Source: YouTube

The inspiration for this lengthy Beatles song came to Paul McCartney as he was driving to visit John Lennon's wife, Cynthia, and their son, Julian, shortly after Cynthia and John had separated. 

"I was going out in my car, just vaguely singing this song, and it was like, 'Hey, Jules...'" McCartney told Rolling Stone. "And then I just thought a better name was Jude. A bit more country and western for me." 

"Paul and I used to hang out quite a bit — more than Dad and I did," Julian said in Rolling Stone. "Maybe Paul was into kids a bit more at the time."

"Gimme Shelter"

Source: YouTube

Given the cultural and political atmosphere when the Rolling Stones recorded this song, it's no surprise that Mick Jagger told NPR, "It was a very moody piece about the world closing in on you a bit. When it was recorded, early '69 or something, it was a time of war and tension, so that's reflected in this tune. It's still wheeled out when big storms happen ... It's been used a lot to evoke natural disaster."

"Bohemian Rhapsody"

Source: YouTube

This six-minute-long allegorical karaoke favorite by Queen has many suggested meanings, and while rumors exist that the song narrated Freddie Mercury's coming out, that hasn't been confirmed. Mercury has said, "'Bohemian Rhapsody' didn't just come out of thin air. I did a bit of research, although it was tongue-in-cheek and it was a mock opera. Why not?"

He has also said, "I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them."

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Carey Purcell

Carey is an arts writer based in New York who focuses on diversity and gender parity in her work. She has been published in Vice, Playbill, Politico, The Nation, The Village Voice, Salon, Elle and Glamour, among others. She can be reached at Carey@mic.com. Twitter: @CareyPurcell

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