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Song Stories

“Great Balls of Fire”

Jerry Lee Lewis | 1957

Despite the fact that "Great Balls of Fire" is now considered one of rock 'n' roll's early landmark tunes, Jerry Lee Lewis was spooked by the song when it came time to record it. "At one of these sessions, everyone in the studio got to drinking," Lewis biographer Nick Tosches explained. "Jerry Lee became filled with the Holy Ghost, and he decided that the song 'Great Balls of Fire' was of the devil and that to sing it was to sin." Eventually, Lewis reconsidered, and sung the tune, written by Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer -- with Blackwell also enjoying success penning hits for Elvis Presley ("Don't Be Cruel," "All Shook Up" and "Return to Sender").

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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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