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Song Stories

“Last Kiss”

Pearl Jam | 1999

Teen tragedy songs were popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s. After Eddie Vedder heard this musical tale of a fatal wreck, written in 1961 and later recorded by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, he introduced the song to the band, who recorded it for $1,000 and offered it to fan club members as a Christmas gift. Later, the ballad--featuring Vedder's mournful vocals--became one of their biggest hits. "It just reaffirmed the fact that you don't have to think about it, and that a sound check record can do well," Vedder said.

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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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