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Song Stories

“He Will Break Your Heart”

Jerry Butler | 1960

A lightly swinging Latin-influenced, almost cha-cha groove and close harmonies decorated Jerry Butler's early soul hit "He Will Break Your Heart," delivering a stately warning that his rival would never love his girl like he did. The melody came to Butler as he was driving on the highway from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Philadelphia with Curtis Mayfield, and as Butler told Rolling Stone, "I just sang the melody and Curtis put the chords to it." The song's premise, Butler added, "was something that I'd lived ...The lyric was an experience rather than a revelation. Whereas music is usually a revelation."

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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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