Song Stories

“Born Under a Bad Sign”

Albert King | 1967

One of the most famous down-on-my-luck blues, "Born Under a Bad Sign" found Albert King thankful for bad luck if the alternative was no luck at all, his laments punctuated by some trademark stinging guitar licks. The song reached a wider audience when it was covered by Cream on their 1968 hit album Born Under a Bad Sign. "Astrology and all that stuff was pretty big then," explained William Bell, who co-wrote the song with Booker T. Jones, in Soulsville U.S.A. "I said, 'Hey, we've never had a blues tune done about astrology. I got this idea that might work.'"

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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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