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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

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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