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Song Stories

“Chain Gang”

Sam Cooke | 1960

Inspired by Sam Cooke’s running into a chain gang of prisoners while on tour, the song pays homage to their hard work. Cooke was reportedly so moved by the plight of the prisoners that he and his brother gave them cartons of cigarettes. In exchange, the R&B crooner got his second-biggest hit, a song that hit Number Two on the pop charts. "Chain Gang" has lived on in tributes such as the Pretenders' "Back on the Chain Gang," with its prisoner chant that echoes Cooke's original. The song also changed the life of one Rod Stewart. "I heard Sam Cooke singing this on the transistor radio," he told Rolling Stone. "Up until then, my whole world was Eddie Cochran and Woody Guthrie."

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Song Stories

“Bleeding Love”

Leona Lewis | 2007

In 2008, The X Factor winner Leona Lewis backed up her U.K. singing competition victory with an R&B anthem for the ages: "Bleeding Love," an international hit that became the best-selling song of the year. The track was co-penned by OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder (whose radio dominance would continue with songs such as Beyonce's "Halo" and Adele's "Rumour Has It") and solo artist Jesse McCartney, who was inspired by a former girlfriend, Gossip Girl actress Katie Cassidy. Given the song's success, McCartney didn't regret handing over such a personal track: "No, no," he said. "I'm so happy for Leona. She deserves it. There are really no bad feelings."

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