Popular music is a funny thing. A song can become wildly popular, garnering constant radio play and delighting millions, while harboring a backstory unknown to most. Alanis Morissette’s 1995 mega-hit “You Oughta Know” broke huge well before it was commonly known to have been written about Full House actor Dave Coulier. Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”? Secretly about Edie Sedgwick. Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl”? Written about supermodel Elle Macpherson, as hinted by the song’s original title “My Song About Supermodel Elle Macpherson”.
Anyways, you might not believe it, but some well-known pop hits are also about notable figures from college football! (I know, right?)
Let’s explore some of these classic songs and their hidden meanings.
YOU’RE THE ONE - SWV
This song topped the R&B charts in 1996, and was a huge crossover success for the group, ultimately being certified gold. The song describes an unrequited romance with a very special man:
I know that you’re somebody else’s guy
But these feelings that I have for you I can’t deny
She doesn’t treat you the way you want her to
So come on stop running, I wanna get with you
What your girl don’t know won’t hurt her
Anything to make this love go further
You’re the one
(You’re the one for me)
When in need
(You can call on me)
When in love
(Is all I want us to be)
’Cause you’re the one
(You’re the one for me)
Well, it’s not widely known, but the subject of this song? Ohio State offensive tackle Orlando Pace, fresh off winning the Lombardi Award in his sophomore season in 1995.
ALWAYS BE MY BABY - MARIAH CAREY
This song was huge for Carey at the height of her career, marking her 11th single to top the Billboard Hot 100, tying the record for female artists at the time (with Madonna and Whitney Houston). A lament for a love that has passed on, it could’ve been about many people - perhaps Carey’s husband at the time, music producer Tommy Mottola, whom she would eventually divorce, or perhaps Jermaine Dupri, who co-produced the song.
Carey wrote this not about love at all, at least not in the traditional romantic sense. She wrote it about the fleeting nature of football careers - she knew that stars would rise in college football, and then quickly depart. As soon as they enter our lives, they’re gone, off to the NFL, and then retirement.
Her specific subject?
Orlando Pace, soon to graduate from Carey’s beloved Ohio State Buckeyes and move on to a Hall of Fame career with the St. Louis Rams.
I’LL BE MISSIN’ YOU - PUFF DADDY AND THE FAMILY
“Wait, hold up, hold on,” you say. “This song is about the Notorious B.I.G., everyone knows that. Puff Daddy wrote this about his best friend after he was killed in a 1997 drive-by shooting.”
Look, songs can take on secondary meanings. Elton John wrote “Candle In The Wind” about Marilyn Monroe, but it’s much more commonly associated with Princess Diana, after it was used in the royal’s funeral services.
Similarly, yes, while Puff Daddy did record the song to lament the passing of his best friend and musical co-collaborator Christopher Wallace, you can look at the lyrics and see the original intent:
Every day I wake up / I hope I’m dreamin’ / I can’t believe this shit
Can’t believe you ain’t here /Sometimes it’s just hard to wake up
It’s just hard to just keep goin’ / It’s like I feel empty inside without you bein’ here
I would do anything man, to bring you back
It’s well-known that Puffy is a huge Ohio State Buckeyes fan, and in 1997, he would’ve been lamenting losing the man who brought his team great success while spurring the coining of the term “pancake block”: recently departed Outland Trophy winner Orlando Pace.
HOLDIN’ OUT FOR A HERO - BONNIE TYLER
Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where’s the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds?
Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn
And I dream of what I need
I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ‘til the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong
And he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight
Tyler wrote this song in 1984, addressing it to future college football star and Heisman Trophy finalist Orlando Pace, who was nine years old at the time.
THE WRECK OF THE EDMUND FITZGERALD - GORDON LIGHTFOOT
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and crew was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early
That’s about Orlando Pace.
WIPE OUT - THE SURFARIS
LED ZEPPELIN - GOIN’ TO CALIFORNIA
This is about the 1997 Rose Bowl, which was won by Ohio State behind the fine play of standout Orlando Pace.
LET YOU DOWN - NF
That’s about John O’Korn.