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Song Stories

“Hanky Panky”

Tommy James and the Shondells | 1964

Tommy James' first hit was raw garage rock urging his baby to do the "Hanky Panky," accentuated by wavering raunchy guitar notes at the end of the choruses. Hit songwriting team Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich wrote it in 20 minutes for a 1963 B side by their studio group the Raindrops; James first heard it via a live version by a club band in South Bend, Indiana. "I really only remembered a few lines from the song, so when we went in to record it, I had to make up the rest," he confessed.

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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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