Song Stories

  • “Drifter's Escape”

    Jimi Hendrix | 1974

    Jimi Hendrix was a great interpreter of Bob Dylan's work, from his definitive version of "All Along the Watchtower" to more rare takes of "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" He liked "Drifter's Escape" from the moment he heard it on Dylan's 1967 album John Wesley Harding. "Oh, yeah, I liked that. 'Help me in my' — what's that? That was groovy. I want to do that one," he said. Recorded in 1970 at Electric Lady Studios, Hendrix's tripped-out version, delivered with a blast of funk, first reached release on the 1974 Loose Ends comp, and again on the South Saturn Delta collection of demos and alternate tracks.

  • “Crosstown Traffic”

    The Jimi Hendrix Experience | 1968

    "Crosstown Trafic" was recorded at the Record Plant in 1968, and, as Jimi Hendrix explained, "I was playing piano on it." In addition, as legend tells it, he also played a homemade kazoo made from paper and a comb on the track. Traffic's Dave Mason was a guest vocalist (cleverly making the most of the word "traffic"), which is to say that "Crosstown Traffic" wasn't necessarily meant to be a  focal point of Electric Ladyland, and yet it was released as the album's third single. "You have the whole planned-out LP, and all of a sudden they'll make 'Crosstown Traffic,' for instance, a single, and that's coming out of a whole other set," Hendrix complained. Despite his protestations, the song hit the U.S. Hot 100 Singles chart in 1969 and hit again in 1990 in the U.K.; the Red Hot Chili Peppers have been doing a punked-up version of it since the 1980s.

  • “Voodoo Chile”

    The Jimi Hendrix Experience | 1968

    "Voodoo Chile" took the funky blues of greats like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker into the psychedelic age, the 15-minute track putting Jimi Hendrix's guitar improvisations into a loose jam-like setting. Backing him were Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady (subbing for usual Experience bassist Noel Redding) and Traffic's Stevie Winwood on organ, with guitarist Larry Coryell declining an invitation to join them. "Jimi asked me to play," Coryell recalled, "but for the first time in my life, I said, 'No. There is nothing I can add to this.'"

  • “Purple Haze”

    The Jimi Hendrix Experience | 1967

    Although"Purple Haze" is often associated with acid culture, Jimi Hendrix biographer Charles R. Cross explained that the song's basis wasn't drug-related. "Though the tune would forever be linked in the popular imagination with LSD, Jimi said it was inspired by a dream he had that mirrored the novel Night of Light: Day of Dreams, by Philip José Farmer." There has been some talk over the years about an often misunderstod line from the song, in which Hendrix sings, "Excuse me while I kiss the sky." When Frank Zappa's band covered the tune in 1988, they went with "Excuse me while I kiss this guy."

  • “All Along the Watchtower”

    The Jimi Hendrix Experience | 1968

    Jimi Hendrix got hold of Bob Dylan's early John Wesley Harding tapes and in late 1967 recorded a version of "All Along the Watchtower" with the Experience in London. Dissatisfied with that first development, Hendrix brought those tapes with him to New York in early 1968 when he began work on Electric Ladyland. Eddie Kramer, Hendrix's engineer at the time, told Rolling Stone that Hendrix "was still looked upon by his basically white audience as the mammoth black guitar hero. There was a constant fight within him to expand himself." Hendrix's successful take on Dylan's work has long been recognized by the songwriter. "I liked Jimi Hendrix's record of this and ever since he died I've been doing it that way," Dylan wrote in the liner notes to his Biograph box set. "Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it's a tribute to him in some kind of way."

  • “Handle With Care”

    The Traveling Wilburys | 1988

    The Traveling Wilburys formed spontaneously one day at Bob Dylan’s house in Malibu, California, where George Harrison had invited his pals Tom Petty and Roy Orbison to help him and producer Jeff Lynne record a B side for his just-released Cloud Nine. “Jeff and George roughed out the music in the afternoon, and Bob actually barbecued chicken for us,” Petty remembered. “While we ate, we all sat around throwing lines out, got the lyric done, sang it and cut the track. And that became ‘Handle With Care.’ George came up with the title from a road case.” They hadn’t recorded a B side, they’d cut a hit – and become a band.

  • “Don't Dream It's Over”

    Crowded House | 1986

    Early in the sessions for Crowded House's debut album, the band and producer Mitchell Froom were still feeling each other out, and at one point Froom substituted session musicians for the band's Paul Hester and Nick Seymour. "At the time it was a quite threatening thing," Neil Finn told Rolling Stone. "The next day we recorded 'Don't Dream It's Over,' and it had a particularly sad groove to it — I think because Paul and Nick had faced their own mortality." As for the song itself, "It was just about on the one hand feeling kind of lost, and on the other hand sort of urging myself on — don't dream it's over," Finn explained.

  • “Louder Than a Bomb”

    Public Enemy | 1988

    Gangsta rap was the controversial music of the late Eighties, but Public Enemy were creating waves of its own. “That song was simply about the fact that the FBI was tapping my phone,” Chuck D says of “Louder Than a Bomb.” “My phone would go dead between one and two o’clock in the morning every night, even when I got the phone people to fix it. I was saying, ‘I’m not keeping any secrets because everything I’m saying, I’m saying on the record.’” Even though this was one of Chuck’s favorite PE songs, it’s never been performed live.

  • “Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin's Revenge)”

    De La Soul | 1989

    De La Soul is best known as the clown princes of hip-hop, yet the group spent a lot of time rapping about sex, though in their typically lighthearted style. One of the most notable examples is 3 Feet High and Rising's second single (the flip was the popular "Potholes in My Lawn"), which details a clumsy early hookup. According to De La Soul rapper Dave, "Derwin is a friend of ours who we used to crack on because he never got no girls. He loved the song, of course. It put him on the map."

  • “I'm in Trouble”

    The Replacements | 1981

    The A side to the Replacements' first single, this Paul Westerberg song also showed up on their debut album, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash. It was, according to Westerberg, the first song that he was proud of and a watershed moment in his songwriting. "It was an actual song with a beginning, a middle, an end and a bridge," he recaled. "Also, it was melodic and it rocked. It had everything I wanted and it was easy to write." Leaving in the "trash," the song was recorded live in the studio with few overdubs.

  • “History Lesson — Part II”

    The Minutemen | 1984

    The Minutemen were a tightly knit trio, but the relationship between guitarist D. Boon and bassist Mike Watt goes back to their childhood growing up in the blue-collar California town of San Pedro. This nostalgic song's narrative (sung by Boon but written by Watt) details the duo's friendship and coming of age as music lovers and musicians. "I wrote that song to humanize us," Watt later recalled. "People thought we were spacemen, but we were just Pedro corndogs – our band could be your life! You could be us, this could be you."

  • “That's When I Reach for My Revolver”

    Mission of Burma | 1980

    A popular track from the landmark Signals, Calls and Marches EP, this Clint Conley song highlighted the Boston postpunk band's poppier side. The song's title alludes to an essay by author Henry Miller, which in turn makes reference to an infamous line from the pro-Hitler 1933 play Schlageter, by playwright Hanns Johst, a member of the Nazi Party. "I wasn’t too happy to hear about that because I don't want to be linked to that sort of thing," Conley later said of the Nazi reference. "But it was a phrase, it had power, I had this riff." The song also features a rare example of bass solo in a studio-recorded rock song.

  • “Too Close”

    Next | 1998

    Next was formed in Minneapolis when the uncle of Terry "T-Low" and Raphael "Tweety" Brown, who was a gospel choir director, introduced the brothers to Robert Lavelle "R.L." Huggar. Sounds of Blackness singer Ann Nesby groomed the R&B group before handing them over to Naughty by Nature's KayGee, who wrote and produced "Too Close." The idea for the song was sparked "from a conversation we had with several girls at a nightclub," explained T-Low. "It's talking about the club scene, with guys getting out of hand and the female telling him to back up, asking, 'What are you doing?'" 

  • “South Bronx”

    Boogie Down Productions | 1986

    KRS-One would soon position himself as a teacher, but rather than the empowerment messages the rapper would become known for, this track is a gritty "dis record" aimed at a rival. According to KRS, one of his friends played some demos for Mr. Magic, and the noted radio DJ pronounced them wack. "We was like, 'What? Are you crazy? MC Shan is wack, not me.' And I went home and wrote 'South Bronx.'" The crew then went into the studio and cut the track in two hours for $50 because that was how much money they had.

  • “Jimbrowski”

    Jungle Brothers | 1988

    Jungle Brothers sampled, among other things, jazz, James Brown and house music. The New York crew's lyrics were equally diverse but never short on clever wordplay or a playful sense of humor, as exemplified by this song from 1988's Straight Out the Jungle. "The idea for that came at the end of a studio session, with Mike, me, Red Alert and a woman Red was dating at the time," says the group’s Afrika Baby Bam. "Red was flirting with her and kept saying 'Jimbrowski' the whole night. Mike and I wrote the rhymes on the way back from the subway."

  • “Me and My Woman”

    Roy Harper | 1971

    Roy Harper's vocals and transcendent acoustic guitar work carry this 13-minute epic. "Me and My Woman" is full of folk music elements, but there are also weird, unsettling strings and odd vocals floating in the background of this densely layered song about the environment. Talking about this song, Harper said, "What is our destiny? Does it matter? Is it bound up with 'our' planet? In my opinion, yes." This songs and the other three tracks on the album Stormcock feature fellow guitarist Jimmy Page (billed as "S. Flavius Mercurius"), who had earlier paid homage to his friend on "Hats Off to (Roy) Harper," from Led Zeppelin III.

  • “Penetration”

    Iggy and the Stooges | 1973

    Iggy Pop had descended into dark place marked by heroin addiction and the dissolution of his band, only to have David Bowie come to the rescue by helping get the Iggy and the Stooges a new record deal and producing the album. On the resulting Raw Power LP, James Williamson's buzzsaw guitar replaced Ron Asheton's primal blues licks, and Iggy moved lyrically from playful and scary to aggressive and lurid. "I created 'Penetration' at Williamson's mother's house one afternoon," Iggy recalled. "From that riff and that vocal I was able to conjure with it." The two "conjured" the rest of the album after this song.

  • “A Nickel and a Nail”

    O.V. Wright | 1971

    Southern soul singer Overton Vertis Wright first sang gospel before switching to secular music in 1964. This is one of several songs Wright did with producer Willie Mitchell and his acclaimed Hi rhythm section, which recorded many of Al Green's biggest hits around the time this track was done. "When you gave O.V. Wright a song, the song belonged to him!" Mitchell would later point out about Wright, who died in 1980 at age 41 from a heart attack after years of drug abuse. "Nobody'd ever do it that way again! In fact, I think O.V. Wright was the greatest blues artist I've ever produced." 

  • “Our Love ”

    Natalie Cole | 1977

    The daughter of pop-jazz vocal legend Nat King Cole, Natalie Cole spent the early years of her career singing light R&B before transitioning into a smooth brand of jazz in the late Eighties. This song from her third album, Thankful, was written by the production team of Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy (the latter was married to Cole at the time). "Marvin just sat down at the piano and started playing something and he told me to sing," Cole says of her first meeting with the songwriters. "Chuck would give me some lyrics that I'd sing — and Marvin and I just went into another zone completely."

  • “Verses From the Abstract”

    A Tribe Called Quest | 1991

    Although there are bass samples all over The Low End Theory, thus giving the album its name, jazz legend Ron Carter plays upright acoustic bass live on this track. "He was a great guy — We definitely had a good conversation," Q-Tip said. "He was definitely interested in what we were doing with hip-hop, or I don’t think he would have done the track for us." Despite the title of the song, this is one of Q-Tip’s less abstract raps, with vocalist Vinia Mojica also lending a hand on the track. 

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Song Stories

“You Oughta Know”

Alanis Morissette | 1995

This blunt, bitter breakup song -- famous for its line "Would she go down on you in a theater?" -- was long rumored to be about Alanis Morissette getting dumped by Full House actor Dave Coulier. But while she never confirmed it was about him (Coulier himself says it is, however), she insisted the song wasn't all about scorn. "By no means is this record just a sexual, angry record," she told Rolling Stone. "The song wasn't written for the sake of revenge. It was written for the sake of release. I'm actually a pretty rational, calm person."

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