Pattie Boyd was working as a model and actress in the early 1960s when she was cast as a schoolgirl in Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night (1964). Though she had just a single word of dialogue—”Prisoners?“—it was the role that changed her life, as it was on the set of that classic Beatles movie that she met George Harrison, and began a journey that would lead to her becoming one of the most important muses in rock and roll history.
Harrison and Boyd married two years later, but the beloved Beatle wasn’t the only iconic rock star who was vying for Boyd’s attention, and putting pen to paper to craft songs about her. Guitar deity Eric Clapton, one of Harrison’s best friends, also fell madly in love with Boyd, and wrote much of Derek and the Dominos’ 1970 album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, about Boyd and his forbidden love.
Boyd and Harrison eventually divorced in 1977, but not before she had a brief fling with future Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood. In 1979, Clapton got his Layla when he and Boyd married, though even that didn’t last. The couple divorced a decade later, and in 2015, Boyd married for a third time—to property developer Rod Weston, whom she had met in the late 1980s. Weston, as far as anyone knows, is neither a songwriter nor an instrumentalist. But the string of hits that Boyd inspired are still some of the most iconic songs in music history.
“I Need You” was only the second song written by Harrison to make it onto a Beatles album, which in this case was 1965’s Help! Notably, during the February 15, 1965 recording session, Ringo Starr played on the back of an acoustic guitar while John Lennon played the snare drum on beats two and four throughout the track.
2. THE BEATLES // “SOMETHING” (1969)
Harrison grew as a songwriter between Help! and 1969’s Abbey Road, during which his tunes were clearly about police (“Piggies”), the government (“Think For Yourself”, “Taxman”), or generally about the human condition (of “I Want to Tell You,” Harrison said that it was about “the avalanche of thoughts that are so hard to write down or say or transmit.”). However Harrison, according to Boyd, said “Something” was about her in a “matter-of-fact way.” In her memoir, Wonderful Tonight, Boyd also revealed that Harrison’s favorite cover of the song—of which there are hundreds—was James Brown’s. Her favorite version was George’s, when he played it for her in their kitchen. In 1980, Harrison said that he had first written “Something” on the piano during the making of The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album).
3. THE BEATLES // “FOR YOU BLUE” (1970)
Harrison would, predictably, only have one sentence to say about his Let It Be contribution. “‘For You Blue’ is a simple 12-bar song following all the normal 12-bar principles, except that it’s happy-go-lucky!” Still, it’s widely considered to be about Boyd. Lennon used a shotgun shell as his slide when he played the lap steel guitar on this song.
4. DEREK AND THE DOMINOS // “LAYLA” (1970)
Clapton used Derek and the Dominos’ lone studio album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, as a more than 77-minute declaration of love to Pattie Boyd Harrison. The name “Layla” came from the fifth-century Arabian poem-turned-book The Story of Layla and Majnun, adapted by Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. A mutual friend gave copies to both Clapton and Boyd. It was about forbidden love. Clapton secretly met with Boyd one afternoon in a South Kensington flat and played the song for her off of his tape machine. Boyd wrote that it was “the most powerful, moving song I had ever heard” and noted that Clapton had identified with Majnun and was determined to know how she felt. Boyd went home to Harrison, at least on that day.
5 AND 6. RONNIE WOOD // “MYSTIFIES ME” (1974) AND “BREATHE ON ME” (1975)
“Mystifies Me” was on Wood’s solo record I’ve Got My Own Album to Do, while he was still a member of the band Faces, and was released one year before he joined the Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger, along with George Harrison, helped with some of the writing and performing). Wood had “sort of a warped rock star wife swap” in which he had an affair with Boyd and Harrison had an affair with Wood’s first wife, Krissie Findley. Wood wrote in his autobiography that he had actually “pinched” Findley from Eric Clapton to begin with, further complicating things, and knew full well Clapton was in love with Boyd. Wood and Boyd enjoyed a holiday in the Bahamas.
“Breathe on Me” was released on Wood’s next solo album, Now Look, and reimagined on his 1992 effort Slide on This. Harrison and Wood would later joke about the wife swapping.
7. GEORGE HARRISON // “SO SAD” (1974)
“So Sad,” off of Harrison’s 1974 album Dark Horse, is regarded as the only Harrison work about the marital problems between him and Boyd. The album was released the same year they separated; their divorce was finalized in 1977.
8. ERIC CLAPTON // “WONDERFUL TONIGHT” (1977)
Clapton and Boyd eventually got together. In her book, Boyd recalled one incident in which she spent hours deciding on which dress to wear for a night out, while Clapton waited in the other room, playing his guitar all the while. Inspired by the country singer Don Williams, who wrote “beautifully simple” lyrics about quotidian events, Clapton came up with the chorus to “Wonderful Tonight” while he waited. When Boyd finally came downstairs and asked him if she looked alright, he played her what he had just written.
9. ERIC CLAPTON // “SHE’S WAITING” (1985)
“She’s Waiting” was released on 1985’s Behind the Sun, an album Warner Bros. forced Clapton to tinker with a bit because his initial interpretation of the project was not commercial enough for the record company. “They said it had no singles and no relevance to anything else that was out there, and I needed to wake up and get with what’s going on,” Clapton remembered. Since the song was released one year after Clapton and Boyd separated, and features the lyrics, “She’s waiting for another love” and “Get ready now, ’cause pretty soon/She’ll be gone and you’ll be on your own” have strongly indicated to rock critics that it’s about Mrs. Boyd-Harrison-Clapton.
10. ERIC CLAPTON // “OLD LOVE” (1989)
Clapton and Boyd officially divorced in 1988. In a letter from New York, Clapton wrote to Boyd saying he was working on an album (Journeyman) with Harrison and had written a song about her. “I think it will be the best one on the album,” he claimed. “It’s called ‘Old Love,’ don’t be offended, it’s not about you being old, it’s about love getting old, and it’s great, well, you’ll see it when you hear it.” In 2008, Boyd told The Guardian she didn’t think it was so awesome. “The end of a relationship is a sad enough thing, but to then have Eric writing about it as well. It makes me more sad, I think, because I can’t answer back.”
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