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Song Stories

“Hickory Wind”

The Byrds | 1968

Roger McGuinn, who added Gram Parsons to the Byrds lineup for Sweetheart of the Rodeo, considered this haunting evocation of a Southern childhood -- written by Parsons during a cross-country train trip from Florida to L.A. -- to be his best song. Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers mainstay Chris Hillman concurred: "If Gram had never written another song, 'Hickory Wind' would've put him on the map. If you know the guy's life story, however he conjured up that scenario, it's right at home. Gram was shuffled off to prep school, lots of money ... that's a lonely song. He was a lonely kid."

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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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