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Song Stories

“Sweet Home Alabama”

Lynyrd Skynyrd | 1974

Ronnie Van Zant sang this pissed-off answer (“A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow”) to Neil Young's anti-Dixie diatribe “Southern Man” (“Southern change gonna come at last/Now your crosses are burning fast),” and even Young loved it. “I'd rather play 'Sweet Home Alabama' than 'Southern Man' anytime,” Young said. The admiration was mutual; Van Zant wore a Young T-shirt on the cover of Skynyrd's final album, Street Survivors, and according to legend, he was buried in the shirt.

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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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