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Song Stories

“Out of Left Field”

Percy Sledge | 1967

After Percy Sledge helped put Muscle Shoals, Alabama, on the map with "When a Man Loves a Woman," local songwriters Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham got in on the action, writing songs for Sledge in hopes of getting them cut and released as singles. One of their tunes, "Out of Left Field," was only a mid-chart hit, but it's now considered a soul classic. "People say it's a baseball metaphor, but I think of it as a farm metaphor, like an old tractor bringin' some hay in," said Penn. "I love it 'cause it's a heck of a way to say, 'She walked in out of nowhere.'"

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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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