4 Songs Inspired by Headlines

True stories can elicit some of the most visceral reactions. While most musicians tap into their own lives for their songwriting, others have looked to the headlines to co-opt other people’s love, heartbreak, and pain. Find four songs inspired by headlines, below.

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1. “Polly” (Nirvana)

Nirvana was never afraid to get dark, but “Polly” is perhaps their darkest offering. Kurt Cobain wrote “Polly” after reading about the kidnap and rape of a young girl in a local newspaper. Cobain sings from the perspective of the assailant: Polly wants a cracker / Maybe she would like some food / She asked me to untie her / A chase would be nice for a few.

“That song ‘Polly,’ it’s a true story,” bassist Kris Novoselic once explained. “It’s about a young girl who was abducted. The guy drove her around in his van. Tortured her, raped her. The only chance she had of getting away was to come on to him and persuade him to untie her. That’s what she did, and she got away. Can you imagine how much strength that took?”

[RELATED: 4 Songs You Didn’t Know Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic Wrote]

2. “American Pie” (Don McLean)

Don McLean created his timeless classic, “American Pie,” after reading about the deaths of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens. The retrospective song perfectly encapsulates the loss felt by the music-loving world. And in the streets, the children screamed / The lovers cried and the poets dreamed / But not a word was spoken / The church bells all were broken, McLean sings in the bridge, showcasing the raw emotion it took to create a song like “American Pie.”

3. Love It If We Made It” (The 1975)

The 1975‘s “Love It If We Made It” is a pulse read on modern society. From refugees to the drug crisis to Donald Trump, frontman Matty Healy covers it all. “A lot of the things that I say [are] direct quotes of people or their headlines I’ve read,” Healy once explained (per Genius).

4. “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (Billy Joel)

“We Didn’t Start the Fire” is arguably one of the most famous headline-centric songs. Billy Joel covers some historical ground with this song, highlighting some of the biggest moments from 1948 to 1989. It’s an impressive feat for a songwriter to be able to capture that many pivotal events without sacrificing melody and expert musicianship.

(Photo by Clayton Call/Redferns)

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