The Meaning Behind “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield and How a Class on Making Stained Glass Fits in

Ask a bunch of people to name a song that defines the ’80s. We bet you’ll get a wide range of answers, but we also bet that somebody in that group, maybe a few actually, will choose “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield. The 1981 smash rejuvenated Springfield’s career and still holds up today as a power pop gem.

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What is the song about? Had Springfield really managed to break big in music with just a soap opera acting background? And how did he put together this invigorating song? Let’s take a look back to find the answers, which we can guarantee you, are anything but moot.

Jessie Is a Friend

Because his star rose fast in the wake of “Jessie’s Girl,” there’s a misconception about how Springfield reached that point in his career. To a certain segment, he was known right before the song’s release for his role in the popular soap opera General Hospital. People connected the dots and thought he had parlayed that TV success into a recording career.

But pop music fans with longer memories knew that Springfield had been recording music since the early ’70s. He had even managed to squeeze a few singles onto the Billboard pop charts, and did even better in his native Australia. Unfortunately, that success diminished as the decade progressed, so much so that Springfield started looking into other career options.

One of those options was to be, of all things, a stained-glass artisan. He took a class to try to learn the skill. Alas, all he did was fixate on a girl in the class who was already seeing somebody else. The seeds for one of the biggest hits of the upcoming decade had been planted.

A Smashing Comeback

Because he was wary of still being labeled a teen idol, Springfield had intended to record an album with a band to take his music in a more rock-oriented direction. But the General Hospital success made his record label want to capitalize on his rejuvenated brand. Hence, he’d record the album Working Class Dog as a solo artist.

Springfield doesn’t get enough credit for how well-constructed that album turned out to be. He went through a meticulous demo process to get the songs in fighting shape. And his method of doing those demos played into how “Jessie’s Girl” developed into such an explosive track, as Springfield explained to this author for the book Playing Back the ’80s: A Decade of Unstoppable Hits:

“I did pretty thorough demos on my TEAC 4 track, even using pillows for drums and a pawn shop bass, so the song arrangement and dynamics were already in the demo. I’d been heading towards the small verse/big chorus thing for a while and it crystallized with ‘Jessie’s Girl,’ I think. Some of that was due to my low-fi recording techniques, because I wanted all the choruses to explode. The only way to do that on my limited equipment was to totally break the verses down, so that when the cushions and the bass kicked in, it had a bigger impact.”

The Meaning of “Jessie’s Girl”

Springfield does an excellent job of setting the scene of the song quickly so he can use the rest of it to deal with his frustrated feelings. We know quickly that Jessie is a friend and that Jessie’s got himself a girl and I wanna make her mine.

I’ll play along with the charade, Springfield claims in the second verse. Clearly, the charge the protagonist gets out of seeing the girl outweighs his disappointment at not being able to hold her. Or maybe he’s holding out hope he can win her over. In the middle eight, he admits to being at a loss as to why she’s ignoring him: And I’m lookin’ in the mirror all the time / Wonderin’ what she don’t see in me.

Tell me where can I find a woman like that, Springfield bellows. Of course, the rub is that he’s already found her, and she’s completely unavailable to him. It’s an age-old quandary. But thanks to the invigorating music and melody and Rick Springfield’s lived-in angst, “Jessie’s Girl” details the problem as well as anything in pop culture, ’80s and beyond.

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Photo by Rebecca Sapp/WireImage for The Recording Academy

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