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Song Stories

“Donna”

Ritchie Valens | 1958

"Donna" was a plaintive ballad of painful teen sincerity that could have passed for doo-wop had it not been more guitar-oriented than the style's norm. Ritchie Valens, who died at age 17 in the 1959 plane crash that also killed Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper, wrote the song about his real-life girlfriend Donna Ludwig. "Typically, Ritchie had only the title and its first line figured out ... with no structure or meaningful lyrics to fill out the song," said producer Bob Keane. "I helped him rearrange the melody and its chord changes, and helped him write the guitar break."

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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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