When Paul W. Klipsch began his quest for live music in his living room, the person seated beside him in that room was his wife, Belle. It has been said that behind every great man is a great woman. The same might be said about a great song. Melody certainly matters. A memorable hook helps, along with clever or compelling lyrics to stick with us. But even if a song has all this going for it, it will fall flat if it’s missing authentic passion.
What do singers and songwriters draw upon to create this passion? Frequently, from their own life experience. Phil Collins’ famous break-up song “Against All Odds” begins with the line: “How can I let you just walk away / Just let you leave without a trace?” The song told the story of Collins’ own failing marriage, and in 1984 the crash and burn story resonated with music fans enough to see it hit number two on the Billboard Hot 100 U.K. and spent three weeks at number one in the U.S.
Hit songs about love and relationships get even more interesting when the song is about another musician. Iconic music couples have clashed and harmonized to create some of our best-loved songs throughout history. For example…
Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 album Rumours is widely considered to be one of the greatest rock albums of the 1970s, if not of all-time. Producing hits such as “Don’t Stop” and “Go Your Own Way,” Rumours won the 1978 Grammy Award for Album of the Year. The album’s greatness was born, however, from simultaneous meltdowns in the intertwined romantic relationships of several band members:
Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were Fleetwood Mac’s American members. Long-time lovers, their relationship was crumbling by the late 1970s. In “Go Your Own Way,” Buckingham expressed his anger with Nicks, even including the line “Packing up, shacking up is all you want to do” despite her strong objections. The line stayed in the song and the beleaguered couple recorded it together as bandmates. To be a fly on that wall…
Two other members of the band, Christine and John McVie, were going through their own break-up while Rumours was being written. In the other best-known song from the album, “Don’t Stop,” Christine tells her ex-husband repeatedly, “Yesterday’s gone.” Although the song sounds cheery and optimistic, it was Christine’s way of telling John that their relationship was over, and it was time to move on.
Sonny and Cher
Cher was a tender 16 years old when she met Salvatore “Sonny” Bono in a coffee shop. Sonny was 27 and working for legendary music producer Phil Spector. Before long, he had Cher singing backup for acts like The Righteous Brothers and The Crystals.
The couple’s romantic relationship began in 1962; their marriage in 1964. Their career-making song about one another: “I Got You Babe” was a hit in 1965. Ten years after singing the foreshadowing lyrics, “They say we’re young and we don’t know / We won’t find out until we grow,” Sonny and Cher divorced. Despite Cher having very few kind words about Sonny after the divorce, their relationship was the springboard that launched both their careers, and propelled her ultimately into super-stardom.
Johnny Cash and June Carter
Thankfully, not all iconic match ups end in disaster. For Johnny Cash and June Carter, their 35 year-marriage weathered hard times with the couple staying together through it all. Johnny Cash, Jr. would subsequently write in memoirs about his parents that they “accepted each other unconditionally” and stayed in love until the end of their lives.
Before she met Johnny, June was a musical star in her own right as a performer with her family’s group, The Carter Sisters. Johnny started performing with the family and fell in love with June almost right away. He insisted that he would marry her one day, but she cited his drug addiction as the reason she’d never be with him. Biographers of Cash claim that it was largely his love for June providing the motivation to get his addiction under control. The two married in 1968 and stayed married until their deaths in 2003. Over the years, they sung a multitude of duets together, including hits such as “Jackson.”
Who is your favorite musical power couple? Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale? Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood? Marc Anthony and J-Lo? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.