Times Square in New York City wasn't always a family-friendly place filled with fake Elmos. In the '70s, it was rather seedy, and it gave Joan Armatrading the idea for this song, which is about an attention-getting guy with lipstick, a red umbrella and his hair piled high. In a Songfacts interview with Armatrading, she told the story:
"I was in New York and I'd just seen somebody off at the airport. I got into a taxi and I was talking to the taxi driver and he says, 'Have you ever seen...' whatever this place was in New York. And, I said, 'No, I haven't.' So, he took me to this place, and it's a view that I've never seen before because I don't even know where it was, so I can't even say to somebody, 'Take me there again.'
Anyway, it was a view that allowed me to see a lot of the city and all the lights and everything. And then he said, 'Have you ever been 'round 42nd Street and Broadway and all that area?' And, at that point I hadn't really. So, he said, 'I'm going to take you 'round.'
So, he drove me all around there. And I think it was 42nd Street or a street like that, there were all these gay guys and they were in their little shoes and their little shorty shorts. And that's where I got 'Rosie' from, watching all the young boys in their kind of Rosie gear. That's how I came up with 'Rosie.'
And, I have to say, the taxi driver didn't charge me any more than I paid for going to the airport."