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Who’s Melissa? Mysterious Women of Song

December 1, 2010

this Melissa hopefully doesn't sing about herself in the third person.

While driving down the highway in downstate Illinois singing along to Barry Manilow’s “Could It Be Magic”, it suddenly hit me:  who is this Melissa anyway?  And why does she come up so much in songs?

Now of course in today’s age, one can wikipedia most lyrics and find out that in some interview the artist explained the original inspiration for the name, but that is not really the full answer.  The inspiration might start out about one specific woman, but the song is it’s own creature.  When a singer namechecks a girl in a lyric, suddenly the character of the song changes, it really is about somebody.  What made them so special that they got a song written about them? A heartbreaker, a muse, a poet….a beard.  Are you that somebody, like Aaliyah?  Today is an ode to odes, songs that mention a name and leave us wondering, who is that person anyway?

We’ll start with the Melissas.


I already mention Barry singing about the possible magic of sweet Melissa, but the Allman Brothers have the most famous Melissa song.  It’s been covered by dozens of folks, too.  But did you know that Pat Benatar has a song mentioning Melissa too?


I kept thinking there was a James Taylor song, but those are all “sweet baby James”, not Jane.  Why does he sing about himself?  That always weirded me out a little.  No matter, there are plenty of other Jane songs.

Lou Reed’s classic Velvet Underground track (also did well as a Cowboy Junkies cover).

Shawn Colvin warns Jane about bringing bad news.

Of course, once you put “Mary” in front of Jane, there’s a whole other slew of songs about her.


According to most songs, a Sara is a beautiful heartbreak — dating back to the Dust Bowl.

Jefferson Starship wasn’t the only 80s hit about Sara.  If you haven’t heard the Hall & Oates tribute album by The Bird and the Bee, it’s worth a listen.

“Wait a minute baby, stay with me awhile.”  There are a lot of songs with a Sara, but Stevie singing her name is my favorite.


Do you have a favorite Melissa, Jane, or Sara song not mentioned?  What other songs with a woman’s name do we love?


25 Comments leave one →
  1. December 1, 2010 10:33 am

    This is also a favorite of mine.

  2. December 1, 2010 10:43 am

    “Of course, once you put “Mary” in front of Jane, there’s a whole other slew of songs about her.”

    The first thing that comes to mind is The Vulgar Boatmen’s “Mary Jane.”

    They’re an obscure little band from Indiana (I think?). I always thought they sounded like what would happen if the Velvet Underground and the Everly Brothers had a baby. Unfortunately, this is the best clip of this song I could find.

  3. IrishUp permalink
    December 1, 2010 10:47 am

    Jefferson Starship has 2 entries, and “Jane” is my favorite of the two. Mickey Thomas at his cheesy-yet-killer best:

  4. December 1, 2010 10:49 am

    I kept thinking there was a James Taylor song, but those are all “sweet baby James”, not Jane. Why does he sing about himself? That always weirded me out a little. No matter, there are plenty of other Jane songs.


    In other Sara news, I was stunned to find out that Hall and the song’s subject parted ways after a 30 year partnership (professional and personal).

  5. December 1, 2010 10:59 am

    @Kathy: thanks! I’d never heard the Vulgar Boatmen before, but I am digging their Mary Jane song.

    @IrishUp: good call on double Jefferson Starship, I forgot about their Jane, too.

    @SnarkysMachine: that makes me a little sad. though 30 years is certainly a good run!

  6. vanessa permalink
    December 1, 2010 11:09 am

    i really like cecilia. what’s funny about that is that it’s a sexy song about a woman with my great-grandmother’s name.

  7. December 1, 2010 11:18 am

    From the Smooth Jazz Collection:

  8. December 1, 2010 11:19 am

    Hm. I wonder why I’m no longer able to embed video.

  9. December 1, 2010 11:21 am

    @vanessa: Cecilia is a great one, I love that song. I can imagine it might be slightly odd to have it be grandma’s name, but hey, grandmas are sexy too!

    @nycpenpusher: I finally figured out if you just post the http link alone, it automatically embeds!

  10. December 1, 2010 11:24 am

    Another Sarah song. I used to wear this Jellyfish album out.

  11. evmaroon permalink
    December 1, 2010 1:06 pm

    If you ever take on “Jennifer,” I hope to god that you include Styx, because nobody gives them any respect after their Kilroy antics.

    Great idea for a series, Ray! I wondered how you were going to follow up the US States song mix…this could run a long time.

    Now I’ve got “storms are brewing in your eyes, Sara….”

  12. hollo permalink
    December 1, 2010 1:25 pm

    I love any post that mentions Hall & Oates and the Vulgar Boatmen at the same time. One of my fave songs is named after a gal & sung by a gal –

    Jolene by Dolly Parton: so much heartbreak! Even though I know he probably wants you more, I’m begging you to stay away. Yikes.

  13. December 1, 2010 1:34 pm

    Jolene might be the queen of these songs!! so good, no matter how many hundreds of times I hear it.

  14. December 1, 2010 1:36 pm

    oh, and Everett, I don’t mean for this to be a series at all! there just happened to be three names that had multiple entries, right off the top of my head. are there any jennifer songs?

  15. December 1, 2010 1:41 pm

    I probably should have done a section on “Mary”s too!

  16. evmaroon permalink
    December 1, 2010 1:43 pm

    Aww, no series? Well, okay. Yes, there are a few Jennifer songs. I’m well aware of anything in popular culture with the name Jennifer. Ugh.

  17. December 1, 2010 1:51 pm

    like this one?

  18. December 1, 2010 2:44 pm

    Delayed LOL at “…a beard”

  19. December 1, 2010 2:46 pm

    I mean, really, who was Barry fooling, singing about Melissa and Mandy?

  20. December 1, 2010 5:54 pm

    alright, no one else has mentioned Rosanna, so here come Toto.

  21. hsofia permalink
    December 1, 2010 8:40 pm

    My favorite Sara song is the one by Dylan …

    And Lorraine and Jolene are the names that feature most in songs I like!

  22. cara permalink
    December 1, 2010 11:17 pm

    I love tomorrow wendy by concrete blonde

    and Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie

    my all time fav is Gloria

  23. December 2, 2010 3:31 am

    @cara: Me too! I love Gloria too! Self Control is also one of my favorites. She looks great here! This is about 1982 if memory serves me right.

  24. December 2, 2010 9:29 am

    Gloria is a great one! I’ve rocked that at karaoke a couple times, too. I think both Gloria and Wendy have a few songs with those names, now that you mention it.

    and would this one count since I thought was “Wendy” for a long time?

  25. Patricia permalink
    December 4, 2010 5:08 pm

    I’m very fond of my musical namesake, after all she’s the best stripper in town:

    Caetano Veloso also sang about a Patricia (in portuguese):

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