Song Stories

“Tales of a Brave Ulysses”

Cream | 1966

After visiting islands made famous by Homer's Odyssey, artist Martin Sharp (who would go on to do the cover art for Cream's Disraeli Gears) wrote this poetic tune to the melody of "Suzanne," specifically, Judy Collins' cover of Leonard Cohen's song. Through a mutual acquaintance, Sharp got the lyrics to Eric Clapton, who worked them into a guitar riff inspired by the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City." The song marked Clapton's first use of the wah-wah guitar effect. "I always liked that song," said Jack Bruce, who sang it. "I think it was the wah-wah that did it for me. I'm a sucker for wah-wah."

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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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