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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

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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