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Song Stories

“Go On”

Jack Johnson | 2008

Danny Riley, a cousin of Johnson's wife, was diagnosed with brain cancer while in high school. Some time after graduation, he went to live with Johnson and his family. While attending college in Santa Barbara, Caifornia, he succumbed to the disease at age 19. A year later, Johnson released this song, which juxtaposed coming to grips with Riley's death and watching his own son grow and learn to tread water for the first time. "It's about learning to let go of someone you love," he told Rolling Stone, "watching them swim away."

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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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