Song Stories

“El Condor Pasa”

Simon & Garfunkel | 1970

Indicating a growing interest in world music that would flower in Paul Simon's solo career, Simon & Garfunkel's "El Condor Pasa" set a haunting, dramatic melody to enigmatic lyrics expressing preferences to be a hammer, not a nail; a sparrow, not a snail; and a forest, not a street. As Simon disclosed in Rolling Stone, he heard the song performed on a record by the Argentinean-Uruguayan group Los Incas. Recalled Simon, "I said, 'I love this melody. I'm going to write lyrics to it. I just love it, and we'll just sing it right over the track.'"

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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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