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Song Stories

“My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist”

The Decemberists | 2001

Colin Meloy's songs encapsulate detailed narratives about other people's lives, but for this one, the Decemberists frontman truly let his imagination run wild. After viewing the Wim Wenders film Wings of Desire, in which an angel becomes smitten with a female trapeze artist, he got inspired. "I thought, 'Wow, wouldn't it have been amazing to have your parents be traveling gymnasts and what if they had been Chinese trapeze artists?" Meloy told Rolling Stone. "I started with the line, 'My mother was a Chinese trapeze artist in prewar Paris,' and kept going."

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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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