In Hear This, The A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: In honor of the Oscars, songs named after celebrities.
The Rentals, “Friends Of P.” (1995)
Songs about other people’s spouses or significant others are littered throughout popular music, with Eric Clapton’s allusive ode to Pattie Boyd, “Layla,” serving as the most immediately recognizable example. But not all songs named after someone else’s lover are inherently fidelity-eschewing, or attempts at musical wooing. When then-Weezer bassist Matt Sharp formed The Rentals in 1995, he also found inspiration in the name of a friend’s wife, though his objective was considerably different than Clapton’s. “Friends Of P.,” the charting single off the debut album Return Of The Rentals, was named after Paulina Porizkova, the supermodel/actress married to The Cars’ Ric Ocasek.
Sharp met Porizkova through Ocasek, who had produced Weezer’s self-titled debut album more commonly known as the Blue Album. According to band lore, Porizkova either told Sharp she’d never had a song written for her, or that she’d only inspired some heavy metal tunes. She had appeared in The Cars’ video for “Drive,” in which she played Ocasek’s girlfriend who breaks down after their break-up (cheer up, they married five years later), but she hadn’t found her way into any song lyrics. So Sharp sought to remedy that oversight, and named what became The Rentals’ most popular song after her.
“Friends Of P.” is neither amorous nor all that directly related to Porizkova, who isn’t invoked in the song beyond the title and the chorus, which is a testament to her good judgment: “If you’re friends with P./ Well, then you’re friends with me / If you’re down with P. / Well, then you’re down with me.” Instead, Sharp spends most of his time laying out, then lamenting, his rock-star future (he left Weezer for good in 1998, and The Rentals released a third album in 2014 after many years off and on). The singer predicts he’ll get “two loves” in his life as well as a windfall of “fame and fortune,” even as he acknowledges that he’s “not quite a stallion” and “mentally slipping.”
As the song rose on the Billboard modern rock charts, curiosity grew over just who “P.” might be. Some people thought it was Patrick Wilson, Sharp’s former Weezer bandmate who was featured on the song and album, while others thought it might refer to the Psychic Friends Network. But while there was plenty of interest in what turned out to be Porizkova’s sobriquet, the catchiness of the song could not be ignored.
All of Sharp’s wondering and prognosticating is set to bouncy synthesizers seemingly borrowed from Ocasek’s Cars hit “You Might Think,” despite the accompanying video featuring the band dispassionately playing their instruments. But even as Sharp struggles (in verse) with the unknown, he includes distorted guitar licks to comfort any Weezer fans who followed him to his new project. More than just an enduring pop song, “Friends Of P.” bridges the gap in Sharp’s musical career from Weezer bassist to Rentals frontman.