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Song Stories

“1999”

Prince | 1982

“I don’t consider myself a great poet,” Prince told Rolling Stone. “I just know I’m here to say what’s on my mind.” In the case of the apocalyptic party anthem “1999,” he was worried about then-president Ronald Reagan’s foreign policies. The song’s melody is based on a riff borrowed from the Mamas and Papas’ “Monday, Monday,” and Prince originally envisioned the first verse with three-part harmony but later split the vocals between himself and members of the Revolution. Because Warner Bros., with whom Prince was locked in a contractual battle, owned the original’s masters, Prince rerecorded the song and appropriately released that version in 1999.

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Song Stories

“American Girl”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | 1976

It turns out that a single with "American" in its title--recorded on the Fourth of July during the nation's Bicentennial, no less--can actually sell better in Britain. Coupled with the Heartbreakers' flair for Byrds jangle and Animals hooks, though, is Tom Petty's native-Florida drawl that keeps this classic grounded at home. Petty dispelled rumors that the song was about a suicidal student, explaining that the inspiration came from when he was 25 and used to salute the highway traffic outside his apartment window. "It sounded like the ocean to me," he recalled. "That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by."

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