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Song Stories

“Sister Ray”

The Velvet Underground | 1968

The highly improvisational "Sister Ray," which riffed on black leather, sunglasses, noise and more noise, was done in one take by the Velvet Underground, who agreed ahead of time that, good or bad, they would live with the results. While the recorded version was 17 minutes long, the band was known for stretching it to twice that length in a live setting. Andy Warhol didn't produce the song, but he did have input on "Sister Ray." According to Reed, "When we were making the second record, [Warhol] said, 'Now you gotta make sure that you do the 'sucking on my ding dong song.'"

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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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