Marilyn Monroe was a film icon, as well as a cultural icon. Although she was absolutely an artist in her own right, she also became a muse for so many of the great creators of history, including musicians and bands.
Even though you might not know it, there are actually a lot of songs that were written with Marilyn Monroe in mind, both of the vintage variety and of the modern variety. Although some artists have directly named their songs after her, there are others that simply find inspiration from her character and life in subtle ways.
From the obvious to the deep cuts, there are actually a lot of great songs about the film legend. Here are just a few of the very best, some of which you may know about, some of which might be entirely new.
Five best songs written about Marilyn Monroe:
5. ‘Vogue’ – Madona
Yes, the Madona classic actually shares somewhat of a very specific origin with plenty of the others on this list. Marilyn Monroe is mentioned by name in the song, specifically in the bridge, where the song has a spoken rap section, in which Madonna references sixteen Golden Age Hollywood stars ranging from the 1920s to the 1950s.
The lyrics of the bridge go, “Greta Garbo and Monroe/ Dietrich and DiMaggio/ Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean/ On the cover of a magazine/ Grace Kelly, Harlow, Jean/ Picture of a beauty queen/ Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire/ Ginger Rogers, dance on air.” Maybe it doesn’t go too far in depth, but it does toss her a mention.
4. ‘Candle In the Wind’ – Elton John
This is one of those fun facts that becomes clear upon examination. The song, which was written in 1973, was written specifically about Monroe. The opening lines reference her given name, Norma Jean, and the song paints a sympathetic portrayal of the actress and her life.
Bernie Taupin, who co-wrote the song with John, has said that the song is, above all else, about fame and tragedy. He’s said before, “I think the biggest misconception about [this song] is that I was this rabid Marilyn Monroe fanatic, which really couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not that I didn’t have respect for her. It’s just that the song could just as easily have been about James Dean or Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Sylvia Plath, or Virginia Woolf. I mean, basically, anybody, any writer, actor, actress, or musician who died young and sort of became this iconic picture of Dorian Gray, that thing where they simply stopped ageing. It’s a beauty frozen in time.”
3. ‘Celluloid Heroes’ – The Kinks
In a similar fashion to Madona’s ‘Vogue’, Marilyn Monroe is mentioned by name in this Kinks track, alongside a variety of other Hollywood stars of the era. The song is mostly about the 20th-century film industry overall, which leads her to having a place of mention.
The lyrics of the song mention each of the celebrities as their stars on Hollywood Boulevard, with Marilyn’s part saying, “But please don’t tread on dearest Marilyn/ Cause she’s not very tough/ She should have been made of iron or steel/ But she was only made of flesh and blood.”
2. ‘1963’ – New Order
This song was the original B-side to New Order’s ‘True Faith’, and it’s actually about the Kennedy assassination, hence the title ‘1963’. The song posits a cheeky theory that Kennedy arranged for Lee Harvey Oswald to shoot his wife, not him, so that “J.F. could do one with M. Monroe” at which point Monroe kills herself because Oswald hit the wrong target.
However, this is clearly fiction, considering that Monroe passed away in 1962, a year before Kennedy’s assassination. However, this does make for a good song, at the very least.
1. ‘National Anthem’ – Lana Del Rey
It should come as no shock to anybody that Lana Del Rey is a little obsessed with Marilyn Monroe—among other Hollywood starlets of the era. Of course, Lana Del Rey takes nearly every possible chance to mention Monroe or utilise her image (such as in the song ‘Body Electric’).
Although the song mostly focuses on instances of classic Americana and generic imagery, the introduction features the classic rendition ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ as it was performed by Marilyn Monroe, making a direct reference to the actress.