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Song Stories

“Uncle John's Band”

The Grateful Dead | 1970

Spotlighting close vocal harmonies that recall those of the Grateful Dead's friends Crosby, Stills & Nash, the easygoing country-folk-rock "Uncle John's Band" nonetheless had a wariness suggesting oncoming danger, the enigmatic Uncle John supplying the soundtrack for taking children home. The track was edited to a shorter version in hopes of getting a hit single, but it stalled at Number 69. Garcia was dissatisfied with the edit but proud of the song itself, calling it "a major effort, as a musical piece" in Rolling Stone. "It's one we worked on for a really long time, to get it working right."

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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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