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Song Stories

“Say Man”

Bo Diddley | 1959

Bo Diddley and his maracas player Jerome Green were fooling around in the studio trading good-natured insults to a blues-Latin beat when "Say Man" was taped, resulting in Bo's only Top Twenty hit. Although it sounds like a spur-of-the-moment jam, Diddley maintained it was written down long before it was recorded. "A lot of the things I did in the Chess studios, we were just goofin' around," he said. "They played it back, and it shocked all of us! Of course, they cut out all the dirty parts."

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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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