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Song Stories

“Killing in the Name”

Rage Against the Machine | 1992

This opening salvo from Rage set the tenor for the band's career as the song spewed venomously against racism perpetraed by the U.S. establishment. The track's conception began simply, with Tom Morello coming up with the riff while teaching a guitar lesson. It ended up a modern anthem, being covered live by Phish, remixed by Deadmau5 and used by Bill Hicks in one of the political comic's final standup performances before he died. "We were melding hard rock, punk and hip-hop, and I was the DJ," Morello told Rolling Stone. "It allowed me to emulate a lot of noises that I heard on Dr. Dre and Public Enemy records."

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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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