The 10 love triangles that changed rock for ever

George Harrison and Pattie Boyd in Monaco, 1966
George Harrison and Pattie Boyd in Monaco, 1966 - Wolfgang Kuhn/United Archives via Getty Images

Doomed love provides the backbone for the vast majority of songs in the rock and pop canon. But what about when relationships involve more than one person? Pattie Boyd has announced that she is to auction the letters from her relationships with Eric Clapton and George Harrison, claiming that she still finds them heartbreaking to read.

But that particular love triangle – and nine more below – spawned some of music’s most memorable tunes.

1. George Harrison, Pattie Boyd and Eric Clapton

Probably rock’s most famous love triangle. In 1966 the model and muse Pattie Boyd married Beatle Harrison, who wrote the Abbey Road track Something about her. However, the marriage frayed, with the last straw coming when Boyd returned to their Friar Park home from a shopping trip to reportedly find Harrison in bed with bandmate Ringo Starr’s then-wife Maureen. Boyd left Harrison in the summer of 1974.

Rock's most famous love triangle: (left) George Harrison and Pattie Boyd; (right) Pattie Boyd and Eric Clapton
Rock's most famous love triangle: (left) George Harrison and Pattie Boyd; (right) Pattie Boyd and Eric Clapton

Meanwhile Boyd had been relentlessly pursued by Harrison’s close friend Eric Clapton, who wrote the song Layla about her – based on his nickname for Boyd – as well as a series of passionate letters, now being sold. Boyd and Clapton married in 1979 but divorced a decade later, with Boyd citing infidelity and unreasonable behaviour. “Not everything goes the way that we want it or we plan it to go,” Boyd recently told the Telegraph. “We have to be open to what life throws at us.”

Inspired the songs: Something (Harrison), Layla and Wonderful Tonight (Clapton)

2. Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood

The mind-boggling tangle of relationships within Fleetwood Mac during the recording of the Rumours album in the mid-Seventies resembled less of a love triangle and more of a love hexagon. Going into the studio, the band were a mess. Drummer Mick Fleetwood and his wife Jenny Boyd, sister of Pattie, had separated after he discovered she’d been having an affair with his friend and touring band member Bob Weston.

Fleetwood Mac: (from left) Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks and John McVie
Fleetwood Mac: (from left) Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks and John McVie - AP Photo/Cliff Watts

Christine McVie and her husband John (on bass) were divorcing after eight years of marriage, and the romantic relationship between relatively new members Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks has collapsed. The situation wasn’t helped by widespread cocaine abuse (“Music through chemistry,” was how Buckingham described it). Christine then started an affair with the band’s lighting director Curry Grant, while after the album was released in February 1977, Nicks coupled up with Fleetwood. But from emotional trauma came artistic gold.

Inspired the songs: Second Hand News and Go Your Own Way (Buckingham), Dreams (Nicks), Don’t Stop and You Make Loving Fun (Christine McVie)… in fact, all of Rumours.

3. Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell and David Crosby

David Crosby met Joni Mitchell shortly after he left The Byrds, they dated and he produced her first album Song to a Seagull in 1968. But he was unfaithful and she wrote the excoriating 1969 track That Song About the Midway about him (“I thought I saw you cheatin’ once or twice.”). Enter Blackpool-born Graham Nash. He met the Canadian songstress at a 1968 party in Ottawa thrown for his band The Hollies and was “instantly smitten by the woman with the stately cheekbones and the penetratingly observed songs,” according to biographer David Browne.

David Crosby and Joni Mitchell, 1968
David Crosby and Joni Mitchell, 1968 - Henry Diltz/Corbis via Getty Images

Nash moved into her home in California’s Laurel Canyon as his band with Crosby – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – was taking off. But Nash and Mitchell’s relationship wasn’t to last. She broke it off via a telegram to their house when she was on holiday in Greece. “If you hold sand too tightly, it will run through your fingers,” she wrote. Nash penned the 1970 track Our House about their relationship. Rarely has domestic bliss been so perfectly immortalised in song (“I’ll light the fire/ You place the flowers in the vase that you bought today”). Shortly after, Mitchell got together with James Taylor.

Inspired the songs: That Song About the Medway and River (Mitchell), Our House (Nash)

4. Bryan Ferry, Jerry Hall and Mick Jagger

Texan model Jerry Hall started dating Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry in 1975. They were the archetype of the glamorous showbiz couple – with Hall appearing on the cover of Roxy’s Sirens album – and got engaged. Hall also appeared in the 1976 video for Ferry’s cover of Let’s Stick Together. However, Rolling Stone Mick Jagger pursued Hall, reportedly once hosting a dinner in London where he didn’t hold back his attraction, despite Ferry being there. Describing the situation in 2010, Hall wrote, “Bryan was flattered by Mick’s attention, but he could also see that Mick was smitten with me. It couldn’t have been nice for him.”.

Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall: 'Mick started chasing me around the Ping-Pong table, trying to kiss me'
Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall: 'Mick started chasing me around the Ping-Pong table, trying to kiss me' - Patrick SICCOLI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Jagger even visited her at the home she shared with Ferry. “Mick started chasing me around the Ping-Pong table, trying to kiss me, and Bryan came in and chased him out,” Hall wrote. She got together with Jagger in 1977. They had four children together and held a wedding ceremony in Bali in 1990. However, the marriage was declared null and void by the High Court of England and Wales in 1999 when the couple split. Ferry is long-speculated to have written the harsh 1988 track Kiss and Tell about Hall’s tell-all book Tall Tales a few years before.

Inspired the songs: Kiss and Tell (Ferry), Miss You (The Rolling Stones)

5. Brett Anderson, Justine Frischmann and Damon Albarn

Britpop’s famous love triangle involved the singers in three of the era’s highest-profile bands ­– Suede, Elastica and Blur – and it was as bitter as they come. Frischmann and Anderson started dating in the late-Eighties and formed the band Suede, who landed a support slot for Blur in 1990. Here, Frischmann asked Blur singer Albarn for a poster. “F------ buy it then,” was his rude reply, Frischmann has recalled. But soon after, Albarn started tracking her down. “I’ve never been pursued like that… Damon didn’t stop phoning me,” she said. Frischmann left Suede in 1991, got together with Albarn and formed Elastica. Anderson was left heartbroken.

Britpop's famous love triangle: Damon Albarn and Justine Frischmann
Britpop's famous love triangle: Damon Albarn and Justine Frischmann - Stephane Cardinale/Sygma via Getty Images

She went out with Albarn until 1998 and the couple became the indie equivalent of Posh and Becks – royalty for NME readers. The pair moved into what the tabloid newspapers called a “£350,000 love nest” in Kensington. But they split up in 1997 due to hectic agendas, Albarn’s apparent dalliances and disagreements over their future. Frischmann had also become platonic friends with Anderson again and even tried – disastrously – to get them into the same room together. “It was like a cat and dog meeting each other. Just, ‘Sssssss!’ I got Bret out of there within two minutes,” she told John Harris’s The Last Party. Still, some great music came out of it.

Inspired the songs: No Distance Left to Run and Tender (Blur), Never Here (Elastica), Animal Lover (Suede)

6. Tommy Lee, Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock

Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee and Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson’s already high-profile marriage in 1995 attained notoriety due to a leaked sex tape (which was turned into the Pam & Tommy miniseries in 2022). The couple divorced in 1988. Anderson then had a relationship with musician Kid Rock, whom she married – and also filed for divorce from – in 2006. The relationship didn’t go down too well with Lee. According to People magazine, he would telephone Kid Rock and taunt him down the phone when the pair were dating. But things got dark at the 2007 MTV Awards (where else?). Here, Lee went to chat with rapper Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs but found himself in the vicinity of Rock’s table. “All hell broke loose,” said TV personality Carson Daly, who was there. Lee and Rock had to be separated by minders.

A high-profile marriage: Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson
A high-profile marriage: Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson - Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

According to some reports, Lee said something that Rock did not appreciate. But Lee said that he was “minding my own biz [when] I get a tap on my shoulder from Kid Pebble” and was then punched. Rock was cited for misdemeanour battery after the incident. The canon of popular music has not, it has to be said, gained greatly from this love triangle. But Rock wrote a jauntily satirical county number about finding someone new, thought to be about his relationship with Anderson (“She’s half your age and twice as hot”).

Inspired the song: Half Your Age (Kid Rock)

7. Billy Corgan, Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love’s relationship was the grunge equivalent of Albarn and Frischmann’s Britpop romance. And, like Albarn and Frischmann, another musician paid the price for their relationship. Prior to dating Cobain, Hole singer Love was seeing Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan. The relationship was largely long-distance due to both of their touring commitments, but Love was said to be enthralled by the love letters that Corgan would write her. She dumped him for Cobain. But Corgan and Love’s relationship continued after the Nirvana singer’s death in 1994.

The Smashing Pumpkins man co-wrote five tracks on Hole’s fantastic 1998 album Celebrity Skin, while Rolling Stone magazine suggested the pair even dated again. But rancour between Love and Corgan has also continued over the years. In 2010 they had a very public Twitter spat, with Corgan telling Love to “go [somewhere] nice and live off [Kurt Cobain’s] money”. The beef seems to have stemmed from some songs that Corgan wrote for a Love solo album and then tried to claw back.

Inspired the songs: Heart-Shaped Box (Nirvana), Doll Parts (Hole), Tonight, Tonight (Smashing Pumpkins)

8. Brian Jones, Anita Pallenberg and Keith Richards

German-Italian actress and model Anita Pallenberg first met the Rolling Stones backstage in 1965 in Munich. She struck up a relationship with guitarist Brian Jones and the pair had a two-year relationship. However they split up in 1967 after Jones assaulted her on a holiday in Morocco. It was witnessed by his bandmate Richards, who took Pallenberg back to the UK. The pair ended up as a long-term item. In his autobiography Life, Richards admits to having been “fascinated by [Anita] from what I thought was a safe distance… I thought certainly that Brian had got very lucky”.

But on the next page he calls her “one of the prime women in the world” – so perhaps a relationship was always on the cards. Pallenberg also shared a screen (and possibly more) with Jagger in Nicolas Roeg’s 1970 film performance. Richards and Pallenberg had three children, one of whom Tara suffered a cot death. Pallenberg had a profound inspiration on the Stones as a whole. Her criticism of some mixes on the Beggars Banquet album was said to have encouraged Jagger to have them remixed. And she is credited with singing background vocals on Sympathy for the Devil.

Inspired the songs: All About You, Gimme Shelter

9. Linda Daniele, Joey Ramone, Johnny Cummings

Punk was not immune from love triangles. Queens-born Linda Daniele first met New York band the Ramones at legendary club CBGB, and she soon became an item with frontman Joey Ramone. Their romance lasted for a little over three years and inspired songs including She’s a Sensation. However, on tour with the Ramones, Linda became chummy with Joey’s bandmate Johnny Cummings. She ended up leaving the former for the latter, who she married in 1984. Some reports have suggested that Joey never forgave Johnny.

Linda Daniele and Joey Ramone in New York, 1994
Linda Daniele and Joey Ramone in New York, 1994 - Catherine McGann/Getty Images

Indeed, Joey was quoted in the book On the Road With the Ramones as saying that Johnny “crossed the line… He destroyed the relationship and the band right there”. Meanwhile Linda herself has acknowledged that some fans will always see her as “Yoko Ramone”, in reference to Yoko Ono and her alleged (and inaccurate) role in breaking up The Beatles. “The three of us always put the band first. No matter what. So, ‘Yoko Ramone’ did not break up the band,” Linda said.

Inspired the songs: She’s a Sensation and Danny Says

10. Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus

This one kept the tabloid grapevine buzzing. In 2009, rumours abounded that Justin Bieber was in a relationship with Selena Gomez. Although the romance was initially kept under wraps, the pair soon went public. Very public – in 2011 Bieber rented out the cavernous Staples Centre in Los Angeles for a date night with Gomez (the pair enjoyed a candlelit dinner in the middle before watching a private screening of Titanic). They split up in 2012, seemed to get back together the following year, broke up again before being spotted hanging out and then – yup ­– got back together. You get the picture.

But the whole thing was made more complicated by the fact that Bieber and Miley Cyrus were spotted having a dinner date in 2010. Were the young stars seeing each other on the sly? No, they claimed. Just good friends. Cyrus went so far as to say that Bieber was “like family”. Still, his relationship with Gomez spawned soul-searching songs such as Ghost and Mark My Words (“And I won’t let us just fade away”). Unfortunately, Bieber did let it fade away. He married the model Hailey Baldwin in 2018. Still, the period provided great song fodder.

Inspired the songs: Boyfriend (Bieber), Bad Day (Bieber)