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Song Stories

“Biko”

Peter Gabriel | 1980

In 1977, Stephen Biko, an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, was seized at a roadblock and taken to a police station, where he was interrogated several days. On September 12th, he died from head injuries, the result of police brutality. Biko's death would draw worldwide attention to the brutality of apartheid, with Gabriel's dirge bringing South Africa's injustices to the younger generation. "I was uncertain about getting engaged in a political song," Gabriel told Rolling Stone. "Because I'd never directly taken on an issue in that way. I just tried some ideas, and I felt the spine tingling."

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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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