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Song Stories

“Planet Rock”

Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force | 1982

One of the more unlikely pop-song fusions to ever to hit the charts, “Planet Rock” brings the Bronx-based hip-hop of Afrika Bambaataa and his funky crew together with the futuristic synthesizer sounds of Kraftwerk. A DJ who often spun the German electronic band during his sets, Bambaataa asked keyboardist John Robie if he could play like Kraftwerk. Robie said, “I’ll tear that s--- up.” Jazz pianist Jason Moran recorded a version of this song in 2002 and often performs it live.

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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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